Smart, sexy and socially savvy, Anna Chapman gave off the high-voltage vibe of an ambitious Russian emigré who'd crossed the Atlantic to claim her slice of the American dream. "If you can dream it," she wrote on her Facebook page, "you can become it." With the high life firmly in her sights, Chapman, 28, worked tirelessly by day to build an online real estate business that showcased properties on several continents, leaning on her charm, confidence and grasp of high-tech lingo to court wealthy influential clients. By night she worked the club scene, where she mixed pleasure with business. "She was an exceptional entrepreneur," says a business associate. "It's well known that entrepreneurs are adventurous by character."
So are spies-and according to U.S. authorities, Chapman was both. In a scene worthy of a John le Carré novel, she was among 10 men and women rounded up in four states by the FBI on June 27 on suspicion of spying for Russia. The Justice Department charges all with conspiring to act as agents of a foreign government and alleges that their mission was "to search and develop ties in policymaking circles" in the U.S., then send intelligence reports to Moscow. Americans, who consider the Cold War a distant memory, were shocked to learn Russian spies might be in our midst. But Boris Korczak, a former double agent who worked for the CIA while spying on the now-defunct KGB, says, "This little network, it is one of many around the United States."
While most of the suspects maintained the sort of unremarkable profiles that left neighbors in shock (see box), Chapman, with her glamorous looks, has attracted special attention. The tabloids paint her as a real-life Bond girl, capitalizing on her allure to extract state secrets. But associates say she's a credible businesswoman with a talent for meeting high-powered types. "She probably networked her way into the wrong place at the wrong time," says Said Abdullaev, who in 2008 worked with Chapman in Moscow. Ilya Ponomarev, a member of the Russian parliament, is convinced any contact Chapman might have had with Russian authorities was nothing more than routine questioning of a citizen living abroad: "It's normal practice."
The daughter of a Russian diplomat, Chapman studied economics in Russia, then moved to London. There, at a rave, a young Englishman named Alex Chapman spotted her across a dance floor. Five months later they married; after four years, they divorced."Toward the end of our marriage," Alex told the Daily Telgraph
, his once-Bohemian wife "became very secretive ... going for meetings on her own with 'Russian friends.'"
Now Chapman is in the least glamorous of places: solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. "She has no access to cell or TV," says her public defender, Robert Baum, "and is out one hour a day." He calls the charge against her "legally insufficient" and points out that Anna has been living in the U.S. only since January and that, unlike many of the other suspects, she was never seen passing information to a Russian handler. Baum says the only time Chapman met with a U.S. agent posing as a Russian official, she ignored his instruction to deliver a forged passport and instead "the next day she went to the New York police and delivered it to them." Chapman would love to return to her 52nd-floor apartment in a high-rise near Wall Street with views of the Hudson River. But if she's found guilty, she could be staring at bars for the next five years.
- Reported by Nicole Weisensee Egan,
- Diane Herbst,
- Simon Perry.