The Russian Spies Who Lived Among Us

Russia's post-Cold War efforts against the US didn't start with the 2016 election
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2017 4:01 PM CST
The Russian Spies Who Lived Among Us
Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills seemed like an ordinary couple. They were actually Russian spies.   (FBI)

In the mid-2000s, Michael Zottoli was working at a Seattle-area telecom firm, annoying coworkers with complaints about President Bush and phone arguments with his wife, Patricia Mills. Zottoli and Mills seemed like an ordinary—if unhappy—couple, but they were actually Mikhail Kutsik and Natalia Pereverzeva, Russian spies. The outing of Zottoli and Mills, along with eight others, as spies during the FBI's Operation Ghost Stories in 2010 was greeted with amusement rather than concern in the media. But that was before the 2016 election showed the Cold War was still going. "The other side kept at it by becoming us," Seattle Met states in a look at the spies among us. "The other side spread propaganda in our social media, but it also spirited through our graveyards, took on our identities, left home on Mondays at 7:30 sharp, clocked in at office jobs across the lake."

When the FBI broke into an apartment belonging to Mills and Zottoli—whose ruse apparently wasn't hampered by strong foreign accents belying their supposed origins in Canada and New York respectively—they found a shortwave radio, notebooks full of numbers, and other evidence of covert communications. But it's still unclear what their mission was—Russian spies elsewhere in the US were tasked with collecting personal info on CIA applicants or infiltrating the business world—and FBI records on Operation Ghost Stories won't be unsealed for another 18 years. Ufuk Ince, who taught Mills and Zottoli in a finance course at the University of Washington, has a theory. He says Zottoli was one of his best students and was probably trying to get access to a major company—his students were often hired by places like Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft. Read the full story here to find out what happened to Zottoli and Mills after the jig was up. (Read more Longform stories.)

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