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Espionage is just one of the services I offer

June 29, 2010

As a real estate agent, I have access to all sorts of records but I had no idea I could sell them to other countries for cash. That would be quite the niche market indeed!

Well maybe I can’t get my hands on those kind of documents but for one Boston real estate agent and her husband, consulting and real estate seemed like a good cover under which to try and obtain US nuclear secrets to sell back to Russia.

I’ll bet if the Feds hadn’t caught them they would have eventually been sighted for some RESPA violation.

Also caught in the mix is Redfin. It’s been a tough month press-wise for the Seattle-based brokerage. First they list the Whitehouse for sale and now we come to find that they have a spy on the payroll! To be fair though, this could have happened to any brokerage. It is pretty simple to get a real estate license and find an office to hang it in.

Just glad it wasn’t us.

Anyway, here’s the spy story from the Washington Post:

Accused Russian spies lived perfect Boston lives

They were such a typical, 40-something Cambridge couple–he a clean-cut international consultant, she an attractive, vaguely European blonde selling real estate around the influential university town.

Nice covers for Russian spies, according to the FBI. Perfect location, too: ground zero of the area’s academic-industrial-scientific-government complex.

His global connections ranged from Harvard, where his resume said he attended the Kennedy School of Government, to Paris, China, Singapore and Brazil. She claimed to be from Montreal and educated in Swiss and French schools.

Business must have been good.

In April, the man known as Donald Heathfield, the “wife” known as Tracey Foley and their two teenage sons moved a few blocks up Trowbridge Street, trading in a dowdy duplex for a $900,000 unit in an upscale, faux-colonial spread only a block from Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, according to the Wicked Local Cambridge Web site.

Foley, a licensed broker, has been operating her own business, according to the Web site. Also sometimes called Ann, Foley “has been an agent at Redfin Corp. in Somerville for the past five months and at Weichert Realtors under Channing Real Estate in Cambridge for two prior years,” the Web site said.

Heathfield seemed to be prospering, too. His international consulting and management development firm, Global Partners Inc. has offices at One Broadway in Cambridge, a beehive of cutting-edge technology firms with close ties to MIT and the Pentagon. He also operates Future Maps, “a software system that helps map a picture of anticipated future events,” Wicked Local Cambridge reported.

Two of Heathfield’s associates raved about his business acumen on his Linked-in social networking page.

“Refreshing to work with him, as he puts complex initiatives together that always fit with the end goal that was laid out as our objective,” wrote Gerard Bridi, the president of Accor Services, which lists itself as “near Paris.”

“Working with Don is very enjoyable,” Robert Whittaker, owner of Shared Future, a global human resources company in Singapore, wrote. “He has a pleasant style, whilst always acting professionally.”

He is “very results and solutions focused,” Whittaker added. “He does not get flustered when problems occur, patiently facilitating teams to craft a way through to their end goal.”

But Heathfield’s end, if not the goal the FBI attributes to him, came Sunday night, when the FBI arrested him and the woman known as Tracey Foley in front of their former
house on Trowbridge Street, on charges of being Russian spies.

Neither Bridi or Whittaker could be reached early Tuesday to answer questions about the man they had done business with and endorsed.

Their neighbors, of course, were shocked.

“All I knew about them was when I saw them pull in and out of their driveway,” Vicky Steinitz, 71, told the Associated Press. “They were really nice and kept to themselves.”

“I’m surprised, very surprised,” Montse Monne-Corbero, a next-door neighbor, told the Boston Herald.

“She was a friendly neighbor. She was gorgeous. She was nice. They were European but I didn’t know what kind.”

The FBI isn’t sure either, by the looks of its 37-page affidavit. The man known as “Heathfield” was almost certainly a Russian trained for years in Moscow’s most elite intelligence school to pass as a Canadian or American, its affidavit suggests.

The real Heathfield, the FBI says, was a Canadian who died a few years ago. His birth certificate was obtained by Moscow Center to fashion a new identity for its spy, whose real name and background may never be learned.

But investigators, journalists and amateur sleuths have plenty to chew on in the electronic trail “Heathfield” left on his personal and company Web sites.

His Linked-in page alone lists over 30 professional alumni, business, academic and international relations associations in which he had sought membership, ranging from Harvard and “Ivy” groups to a business groups focused on China to — ominously, considering the charges against him — groups organized around U.S. homeland security, such as the National Emergency Management Resource Center, a unit of DHS.

According the FBI’s affidavit, “Heathfield” was looking for information on U.S. nuclear weapons, among other subjects. Moscow also tasked him to report on “United States policy with regard to the use of the Internet by terrorists, United States policies in Central America, problems with United States military policy and ‘Western estimation of (Russian) foreign policy,”’ the affidavit said.

Heathfield also had contacts with unidentified former congressional staff members, the FBI affidavit said — no surprise, considering Harvard’s Kennedy School alone is full of them.

His Linked-in site lists 86 “connections,” none publicly available.

None of Heathfield’s worldwide business associates could be immediately reached for comment early Tuesday.

E-mails to them, as well as to employees of Global Partners and Future Map, went unanswered.

By Jeff Stein | June 29, 2010; 5:20 AM ET

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