Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Russian spies and adhoc wi-fi

On June 28, 2010, the FBI arrested 10 Russian spies. The complaint against two of them, Anna Chapman and Mikhail Semenko is fascinating. Instead of dead drops at cemeteries or brush-passes at crowded restaurants, these spies set up adhoc wireless networks between 2 laptops and exchanged information.

The complaint first describes what an adhoc wireless network is:

and then cites many examples of how when Anna Chapman opened up her laptop, and when a certain Russian government official was nearby (in a van outside a coffeeshop or standing outside a bookstore), an ad-hoc wireless network with the same two MAC addresses sprung up.
Semenko used the same technique. In one instance, he was sitting in a restaurant, while a car with diplomatic plates (issued to the Russian embassy) entered the parking lot and sat there for 20 minutes and then left.

Further down, Semenko described to an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian diplomat how he zipped up the files, opened up his laptop to set up the adhoc wifi and transferred the files.

A number of questions and thoughts:
- Because the FBI knew enough to pose to undercover agents as Russians and arrange meets with the spies, they had penetrated the ring for a very long time. Other documents mention search warrants against safe-deposit boxes as early as 2001.
- Which brings up another question. Why did Russian agent and FBI counter-intelligence honcho Robert Hanssen, not warn them? His position in the FBI should have guaranteed he knew about this.
- Or did Hanssen, who was arrested in 2001, give them up?
- But if Hanssen knew about this team, why didn't the Russians pull them out?
- Anna Chapman must have smelled a rat, and that's why she bought a disposable phone (to call Russia?) and did not show up for the meeting the next day (June 27)
- Which must have led to the arrests on the 28th because the FBI decided the spies were on to them.