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The Russian Spies Next Door

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses the uncovering of a Russian spy couple, Artem Dultsev and Anna Dultseva, who were living undercover in Slovenia as an Argentine couple named Ludwig Gisch and Maria Rosa Mayer Muños. The couple had carefully constructed a false identity over many years, using fraudulent documents to obtain citizenship in Argentina and Slovenia, and running front companies to conceal their espionage activities. They were eventually arrested by Slovenian authorities in 2022, revealing them as deep-cover "illegal" agents working for Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR. The article provides insights into the methods and risks faced by such "illegals" as they seek to infiltrate Western countries.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Building a Legend

1. How did the couple construct their false identities?

  • The couple began building their cover story in 2012, entering Argentina on tourist visas and then obtaining citizenship through fraudulent documents.
  • They created fake backstories, with Gisch claiming to be an Austrian citizen born in Namibia and Mayer Muños claiming to be Mexican and born in Greece.
  • They lived an ordinary middle-class life in Buenos Aires, attending classes, opening bank accounts, and blending into the community.
  • In 2017, the family moved to Slovenia, where Gisch established an IT business and Mayer Muños ran an online art gallery, further developing their cover.

2. What steps did the couple take to maintain their false identities?

  • They spoke multiple languages (English, German, Spanish) to blend in as global citizens.
  • Their companies appeared legitimate, with tax returns filed and payments made promptly.
  • They avoided drawing attention, keeping to themselves and not engaging with neighbors or their local community.
  • They even trained their children to be prepared for the possibility of their parents being captured.

[02] Uncovering the Spy Network

1. How did Slovenian and Western authorities uncover the couple's true identities?

  • Slovenian authorities received a tip from an allied agency to investigate Gisch and Mayer Muños.
  • Investigators set up wiretaps and collected data showing the couple meeting with sources across Europe.
  • Checks in Argentina revealed discrepancies in the couple's backstories, and fingerprint comparisons confirmed they were actually Artem Dultsev and Anna Dultseva, Russian intelligence officers.
  • Authorities also discovered the couple had been spying on the EU's energy regulatory agency, ACER, located near their home in Slovenia.

2. What happened after the couple's arrest?

  • The couple's two children were placed in state care and moved to a different school.
  • Russia acknowledged the couple worked for the SVR and sought to have them returned, but a deal could not be reached.
  • Slovenian officials were eager to quickly trade the couple but avoided antagonizing the Kremlin.
  • Investigations also uncovered other suspected Russian "illegals" who fled Greece and Brazil after the Slovenia arrests.

3. What is the significance of the case for Russia's espionage efforts?

  • The case reveals the continued importance of "illegals" - deep-cover agents posing as ordinary citizens - for Russia's intelligence operations.
  • With the expulsion of many Russian diplomats after the Ukraine invasion, illegals are becoming a more valuable tool for the Kremlin.
  • The case provides a rare insight into the secretive and sophisticated training and deployment of these "shapeshifting spies" by Russia.
Shared by Daniel Chen ·
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