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The Illegals Program (so named by the United States Department of Justice) was a network of Russian sleeper agents under non-official cover. An investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) culminated in the arrest of ten agents on June 27, 2010, and a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States on July 9, 2010. Canada was a common place for Soviet, and later Russian, illegal immigrants to go so they could create a "legend" of being Western citizens before their deployment to target countries, often the United States or the United Kingdom. The spies were planted in the U.S. by the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (known by its Russian abbreviation, SVR). Posing as ordinary American citizens, they tried to build contacts with academics, industrialists, and policymakers to gain access to intelligence. They were the target of a multi-year investigation by the FBI. The investigation, called Operation Ghost Stories, culminated at the end of June 2010 with the arrest of ten people in the U.S. and an eleventh in Cyprus. The ten sleeper agents were charged with "carrying out long-term, 'deep-cover' assignments in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation." The suspect arrested in Cyprus skipped bail the day after his arrest. A twelfth person, a Russian national who worked for Microsoft, was also apprehended about the same time and deported on July 13, 2010. Moscow court documents made public on June 27, 2011, revealed that another two Russian agents managed to flee the U.S. without being arrested. Ten of the agents were flown to Vienna on July 9, 2010, soon after pleading guilty to charges of failing to register as representatives of a foreign government. The same day, the agents were exchanged for four Russian nationals, three of whom had been convicted and imprisoned by Russia on espionage (high treason) charges.
On October 31, 2011, the FBI publicly released several dozen still images, clips from surveillance video, and documents related to its investigation in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.
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