The suspects posed as ordinary citizens and led normal lives, but were also tasked with penetrating US “policy-making circles”, according to alleged intercepted messages. This included collecting information on nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear programme, and US-Russian relations.
The ten suspects were charged with conspiracy, for failing to register as agents for a foreign government. Nine were also charged with money laundering, which carries a 20 year prison sentence.
An eleventh suspect remains at large, according to the US justice department.
On Monday, five suspects appeared in a court room in New York and were ordered to stay in prison until a preliminary hearing.
According to court documents, the alleged spies were instructed to secretly penetrate US society and report back to Moscow Center, the headquarters of the SVR intelligence service, the successor to the KGB. It is not clear what sort of secrets the suspected spies managed to find.
One message read “"Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. -- all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policy-making circles in US and send intel to C (Moscow Center)."
The suspects allegedly used encrypted data in images on public websites and coded "radiograms" set at special frequencies to communicate with Moscow Center.
Some of the suspects apparently went to great lengths to hide their identities, working in civilian jobs and living in couples.
Two allegedly pretended to be a married couple called Richard and Cynthia Murphy from Philadelphia; another pair claimed to be Peruvians living in Yonkers and were known as Juan Lazaro and Vicky Pelaez.