Spying a Real Payday

The terms of the U.S.-Russia spy swap that took place last week certainly seemed unbalanced. In exchange for the 10 Russian sleeper agents who were recently exposed living in American suburbia, the Obama administration got only four accused Western spies from Moscow. At least one of the four was indeed a hero, someone who had helped bust top-level Soviet mole Robert Hanssen, according to one current and two former U.S. national-security officials, who requested anonymity when discussing sensitive information. But in another sense, the Russians could be winners too: the confessed spies might be able to cash in.

U.S. prosecutors wove a special provision into the plea deal that the Russians signed, forcing them to give Uncle Sam any proceeds generated by their notoriety. But with the former spies now outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts, can the Justice Department enforce its terms? Don't bet on it, says Geoffrey Robertson, a prominent London lawyer. British authorities successfully seized profits earned by George Blake, a Russian plant who published a popular autobiography after escaping from a London prison in 1966. But Blake had managed to infiltrate MI6, which means he was legally bound to secrecy. Because none of the deported Russians were similarly successful in infiltrating the U.S. government, Robertson thinks they can take advantage of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees free speech (memoir writing included).

Britain's "red top" tabloids are already circling, eager for juicy new tales--and revealing photos--of one spy in particular: Anna Chapman, who was certainly the sexiest, if not the most important, of the captured Russian agents. "She could make herself hundreds of thousands of [British] pounds," says Max Clifford, a London publicity manager who specializes in "kiss and tell" sales. He has already brokered a deal for Chapman's ex-husband, who sold nude photos and testimony about Chapman's transformation. Another veteran of the London tabloids, who asked for anonymity when discussing a controversial issue, noted that the pictures of Chapman that have surfaced so far have been hot enough to inspire creative efforts at finding more.

A spokesperson declined to comment about how the Justice Department might block such profiteering. But one former U.S. government lawyer said he "would not underestimate the resourcefulness of the U.S. Justice Department."