The Steganographers

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One of the captured steganographic files. Spot the message.
"Anna Chapman": she sure doesn't look like a steganographer!
Totally dedicated

A gang of eleven Russian super-spais was arrested in the United States in June 2010. They were Russia's most 1337 specialists in steganography, and other cutting-edge tech. Steganography is the art and science of hiding text messages and unrelated sekrit images inside innocent-looking graphics files. They had also mastered the use of Wi-Fi networks and flash memory sticks. Their mission: to exchange information and destroy the US Government.

The plan

When the Iron Curtain fell in the early 1990s, the new Russian government concocted a devilish scheme to smash the greedy American capitalist pigs. It was a daring plan to to establish close ties with American policymakers, including White House officials, and infiltrate the highest levels of the US military and diplomatic elite. Choosing carefully from the ranks of Служба Внешней Разведки ("Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki"), or SVG, Russia's foreign spy agency and the successor to the KGB, Soviet spy-masters selected the top 11 young steganographers for a long-term mission. They were to take new names, act in new personalities, make up new life histories for themselves, and live in the USA for as long as it would take to topple the US government steganographically.

Moscow does not believe in failure

The decades rolled by. Communicating with these agents by hiding notes inside newspapers tossed in front of suburban homes near Washington DC, Moscow wondered: Why is this taking so long? Using steganography, the spais wrote back that it was hard to put their plan into effect because of counter-espionage by the Chinese and al Qaeda, who were involved in similar work. As soon as the steganographers made a little progress, their adversaries would delete all their JPG files, and they would have to start all over again.


But Homeland Security was watching the steganographers, almost from the get-go. Eventually, they were raided. Barely familiar with the sophisticated principles of steganography, the US agents referred to them as the Illegals.

"Law-enforcement agents observed and forensically copied a set of computer disks" when searching some of the defendants' residences, according to a statement from FBI agent Maria Ricci. "Based on subsequent investigation as described below, I believe that the password-protected disks contain a steganography program employed by the Illegals."

According to the FBI, the Russian agents were also instructed to steganographically report secret infos about US policies in South America, US military policy, and even "United States policy with regard to the use of the Internet by terrorists."

Technical details

Ricci said the steganographic program was activated by pressing control-alt-E and then typing in a 27-character password, which the FBI found written down on a piece of paper during one of its searches.

In World War II, both Axis and Allied spies used a primitive, analog form of steganography with invisible inks such as milk, fruit juice, and urine. They also used tiny punctures above key words in documents that formed messages when combined.


One of the spais, "Anna Chapman," is actually kind of hawt!

Future Map

The best of the steganographers, "Donald Howard Heathfield", had mistakenly assumed the identity of a dead Canadian baby on arriving in the USA, according to an FBI affidavit.

Public records indicate that Heathfield was operating a company called Future Map Strategic Advisory Services LLC, whose registered address includes that of his home in Cambridge as well as France and Singapore. Its website says the company’s “mission is to help governments, enterprises and international organizations better prepare for the future and make better strategic decisions.”

“We build and lead global expert communities in order to develop comprehensive pictures of anticipated future in various domains,” the Future Map website states. “We strive to establish Future Map as a global repository of information about anticipated events and a platform for collaboration in this emerging domain.”

So close, so far

Heathfield in 2005 made contact with what the FBI describes as a “former high-ranking United States government national security official,” as well as someone working for a government research facility who specialized in nuclear weapon development, the affidavit alleges.

He “had conversations with him about research programs on small yield high penetration nuclear warheads recently authorized by US Congress (nuclear ‘bunker-buster’ warheads),” according to Heathfield’s steganographic report of the encounter.

The court papers described a new high-tech, spy-to-spy communications system used by the steganographers: wireless communications between laptop computers.

Cast of Characters

  • "Anna Chapman"
  • "Mikail Semenko"
  • "Christopher R. Metsos"
  • "Richard Murphy"
  • "Cynthia Murphy"
  • "Donald Howard Heathfield"
  • "Tracey Lee Ann Foley"
  • "Michael Zottoli"
  • "Patricia Mills"
  • "Juan Lazaro"
  • "Vicky Pelaez"

See also


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