What fate awaits a spy whose cover has been blown? Some spies are just too important to be left by their handlers to rot in a foreign jail after they’ve been captured, and they are traded in a spy swap.
Other times spy catchers are reluctant to consider a trade because the betrayal has been so great a long jail sentence seems deserving.
And then there are the expendables — so low-ranking their handlers don’t care what happens to them once they’re blown and too insignificant to consider for a spy swap.
With spying back in the headlines after three Bulgarian nationals were charged in the U.K. amid an investigation into a suspected Russian espionage ring, POLITICO looks at how past culprits have fared once unmasked.
Life of glamor
For Anna Vasilyevna Kushchenko (aka Anna Chapman), the former Russian sleeper agent, whose flame-colored hair captivated the American and British tabloid press, life after spying has been lucrative and a whirl of fashion shows, television and business opportunities.
Chapman, who took her surname from a Briton she briefly married, was feted on her return home after being traded more than a decade ago in the biggest spy swap since the end of the Cold War.
The United States released 10 Russians, including Chapman, and the Kremlin handed over Sergei Skripal, a Russian intelligence officer convicted of spying for Britain, plus three other people.
She and her fellow sleeper agents met with Vladimir Putin on their arrival and reportedly sang patriotic songs together. Many of them were then given well-paid advisory jobs in state companies but Chapman hit the motherlode with the Kremlin keen to promote her as a poster “Bond girl” for Putin.
She was appointed initially as an adviser to the CEO of a Russian bank. But since then, she has been a catwalk model, a fashion designer, a television presenter, and an entrepreneur. Andrei Bezrukov, known in the U.S. as Donald Heathfield, who also returned in the same swap, has reinvented himself as an academic at the University of International Affairs in Moscow.
Three of the infamous Cambridge Five ring — Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean — managed to escape capture and fled to Moscow. Their roles as double agents still haunt British intelligence — all three were scions of Britain’s upper class, men considered utterly trustworthy.
They did deep and lasting damage to Britain’s intelligence services: between them they handed over thousands of top-secret documents, warned of possible Russian defectors, and betrayed those working for the British and Americans behind the Iron Curtain.
Unlike Chapman, none of them lived a life of glamor in the drab Soviet Union. Philby was frustrated that he was distrusted by the KGB for many years and not put to work. For the first few years he was held under virtual house arrest.
His closest KGB contact, Mikhail Lyubimov, who ran KGB stations in Britain and Denmark during the Cold War, revealed later that the Russians feared Philby might flee back to Britain, prompted by boredom and homesickness.
That possibly wasn’t a misplaced fear — Philby missed cricket, and upmarket stores Harrods and Fortnum & Mason. He later was given a minor role in training KGB recruits and was allowed to write a censored book of memoirs. Burgess and MacLean also struggled to adapt to life in the Soviet Union.
Burgess’ dissolute alcohol-fueled life became more disorderly. Maclean was more disciplined and assimilated into the Soviet Union, serving as a specialist on the economic policy of the West and British foreign affairs. But he, too, turned to drink heavily and his wife, Melinda, left him briefly for Philby before returning to the West.
The nation you have risked your liberty for might not always come calling — particularly if you don’t have any of their own dirt to dish.
British embassy security guard David Ballantyne Smith, originally from Paisley in Scotland, is currently serving a 13-year prison term after being found guilty of spying for Russia. He had copied secret documents he found in unlocked filing cabinets and on desks at the Berlin embassy where he worked.
Left rotting in jail
The CIA’s Aldrich Ames and the FBI’s Robert Hanssen were arrested in the 1990s. Hanssen spied for the Soviet and Russian intelligence services from 1979 to 2001 and his betrayal was described by prosecutors as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history.”
He sold thousands of top-secret documents on U.S. nuclear strategies, developments in military weapons technologies, and American counter-intelligence programs.
Ames supplied the names of KGB agents working secretly for Washington who were executed on their unmasking. There was some talk of them being included in a spy swap, but the Russians have not held any spies of equal caliber to swap — in addition, their treachery was so heinous as far as the U.S. agencies were concerned they didn’t deserve to be traded.
From 2002 until his death this year in June at the age of 79, Hanssen was jailed at a maximum security prison in Colorado where he was held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. Ames, now aged 82, is serving his life sentence in a medium-security prison in Indiana.
It’s a mystery
Not everyone gets arrested. The two Russian men suspected of carrying out the 2018 Salisbury poisonings appeared on Russian state-funded television after being identified as suspects. They famously claimed to be visiting the “wonderful” English city as tourists to see its cathedral. The BBC said in a report in 2021 that they had not been seen since.