Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Redhead of the Week a Spy!

By TOM HAYS and CRISTIAN SALAZAR, Associated Press Writers

NEW YORK – Anna Chapman has been called the femme fatale of a spy case with Cold War-style intrigue — a striking redhead and self-styled entrepreneur who dabbled in real estate and mused on her Facebook page, "if you can dream, you can become it."

Chapman's American dream, U.S. authorities say, was a ruse.

The 28-year-old Chapman, they say, was a savvy Russian secret agent who worked with a network of other operatives before an FBI undercover agent lured her into an elaborate trap at a coffee shop in lower Manhattan.
Though the U.S. has branded the operatives as living covertly, at least in Chapman's case, she had taken care to brand herself publicly as a striver of the digital age, passionately embracing online social networking by posting information and images of herself for the world to see.

Prosecutors have charged Chapman and 10 other suspects with following orders by Russian intelligence to become "Americanized" enough to infiltrate "policymaking circles" and feed information back to Moscow.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Farbiarz has called evidence against Chapman "devastating." She is "someone who has extraordinary training, who is a sophisticated agent of Russia," he said.

Her mother, who lives in western Moscow, said she is convinced of her daughter's innocence.

"Of course I believe that she's innocent," Irina Kushchenko told The Associated Press. She refused to comment further.

Chapman and nine others accused of being ring members were arrested across the Northeast and charged with failing to register as foreign agents, a crime that is less serious than espionage and carries up to five years in prison. Some also face money laundering charges. An 11th suspect was arrested in Cyprus, accused of passing money to the other 10 over several years.

Prosecutors said several of the defendants were Russians living in the U.S. under assumed names and posing as Canadian or American citizens. It was unclear how and where they were recruited, but court papers said the operation went as far back as the 1990s. Exactly what sort of information the agents are alleged to have provided to their Russian handlers — and how valuable it may have been — was not disclosed.

The FBI finally moved in to break up the ring because one of the suspects — apparently Chapman, who was bound for Moscow, according to court papers — was going to leave the country, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.
The court papers allege that some of the ring's members were husband and wife and that they used invisible ink, coded radio transmissions and encrypted data and employed methods such as swapping bags in passing at a train station.

Farbiarz called the arrests "the tip of the iceberg" of a conspiracy by Russia's intelligence service, the SVR, to collect information inside the U.S. The arrests raised fears that Moscow has planted other couples.
Such deep-cover agents are known as "illegals" in the intelligence world because they take civilian jobs instead of operating inside Russian embassies and military missions.

Russian officials initially denounced the arrests as "Cold War-era spy stories" and accused elements of the U.S. government of trying to undermine the improving relationship between Moscow and Washington. But the White House and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed confidence that the arrests would not damage ties between the two nations.

At a court hearing Monday in federal court in Manhattan, where Chapman was jailed without bail, her attorney called the case against her weak. He said she had visited the United States on and off since 2005 before settling in Manhattan to start a business.

Chapman took an apartment a block from Wall Street and began using online social networks, including LinkedIn and Facebook, to develop business contacts and to market her skills. On her LinkedIn page, Chapman is listed as the chief executive officer of PropertyFinder Ltd., which maintains a website featuring real estate listings in Moscow, Spain, Bulgaria and other countries.

Biographical information on Chapman on the Lifenews.ru website said she was the daughter of a Russian diplomat, who at one time worked in Kenya. It said she moved to Britain after marrying a Briton whose father was Europe director for Auchan, the French supermarket chain, which operates many stores in Russia.

"Love launching innovative high-tech startups and building passionate teams to bring value into market," Chapman's LinkedIn summary says.

She lists previous jobs at an investment company and a hedge fund in London. The summary also says she earned a master's degree in economics at a Russian university in 2005.

In more than 90 photos posted to Facebook, Chapman is pictured in various countries, including Turkey, where she is in one of the rooms of the luxurious Hotel Les Ottoman, in Istanbul. There are also what look like family photographs from Russia and photographs of her dressed in a student uniform.

Her Internet footprints also include a photo of her posing with a glass of wine between two men at the Global Technology Symposium at Stanford University in March — it cost more than $1,000 to attend — and video clips, speaking in Russian about the economic opportunities in her adopted home.

Media reports quickly branded her a femme fatale, and tabloids splashed her photos on their front pages.
An acquaintance, David Hartman, owner of a New York real estate company, described Chapman as "pleasant, very professional, friendly."

"There's nothing too crazy about her that I knew of," he said.

A criminal complaint alleges that, unbeknownst to her business contacts such as Hartman, Chapman was using a specially configured laptop computer to transmit messages to another computer of an unnamed Russian official — a handler who was under surveillance by the FBI.

The laptop exchanges occurred 10 times, always on Wednesdays, until June, when an undercover FBI agent got involved, prosecutors said. The agent, posing as a Russian consulate employee and wearing a wire, arranged a meeting with Chapman at a Manhattan coffee shop, they said.

During the meeting, they initially spoke in Russian but then agreed to switch to English to draw less attention to themselves, the complaint says in recounting their recorded conversation.

"I need more information about you before I can talk."

"OK. My name is Roman. ... I work in the consulate."

The undercover said he knew she was headed to Moscow in two weeks "to talk officially about your work," but before that, "I have a task for you to do tomorrow."

The task: To deliver a fraudulent passport to another woman working as a spy.

"Are you ready for this step?" he asked.

"S---, of course," she responded.

The undercover gave her a location and told her to hold a magazine a certain way — that way, she would be recognized by a Russian agent, who would in turn confirm her identity by saying to her, "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?"

But Chapman was leery, prosecutors said.

"You're positive no one is watching?" they say she told the undercover agent after being given the instructions.
Afterward, authorities say, she was concerned enough to buy a cell phone and make a "flurry of calls" to Russia. In one of the intercepted calls, a man advised her she may have been uncovered, should turn in the passport to police and get out of the country.

She was arrested at a New York Police Department precinct after following that advice, authorities said.
In a video clip on a Russian website focused on investment in hi-tech start-ups, she talks about her ambitions to create a venture fund that would invest in projects in Russia and discusses the business opportunities offered by New York.

"Nothing has excited me more in life than the number and level of people I have met here. This place is full of ideas," she said, according to a translation from Russian.

"I'm trying to create a project that would connect two capitals — New York and Moscow — the two most important cities for me in the quest for ideas," she says.

Asked how someone new to business can meet the right people in New York, she says, "America is a free country, and it's the easiest place in the world to meet the most successful people. ... Here you can go out for dinner with your neighbor and meet a top venture capitalist."

Authorities say the undercover's parting words to her had been, "Your colleagues in Moscow, they know you're doing a good job. So keep it up."
___
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Pete Yost in Washington, D.C., and David Caruso and Eva Dou in New York and Nataliya Vasilyeva, David Nowak and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Deadline Passes, TFA in Twit

The Famous Author's been married a few times; it took him two decades to sell my first adventure; and his agent has been out there pitching Austin Carr #3 for more than a year. Let's face it, TFA should be used to rejection. But now that he's been writing short stories, sending out submissions, the man has turned into a whining baby.

"I can't believe they didn't like that story," he said this evening.

Some online crime ezine said no, I guess. He didn't explain. Or maybe it was because he was whining and sobbing so loud I couldn't understand him. The jerk.

"Did you look at it again?" I said, "maybe try to figure why they quit reading?"

TFA stared at me. Obviously, the answer was no. The turkey was too busy feeling sorry for himself. I made him open the short story file and read the story outloud to me. I stopped him halfway through.

"I can tell you right now why that story was passed on," I said. "I mean, besides the fact it wasn't about me."

"Why?"

"The hook was in paragraph five. The editors never got that far."

"Are you sure?" he said. "I thought the bit about -- "

"Trust me, TFA."

I'm pretty sure TFA's going to spend the weekend moving up the hook and resubmitting that particular story somewhere else. Let's hope he learns his lesson, too: Do not send out material until it's ready -- let stories stew for a while and look at those words again.

All is not rejection, however. Remember TFA's first short story in 30 years is getting readied for online publication in July. Thank goodness TFA's tale isn't following the current offering at BEAT TO A PULP, an awesomely crafted piece by Edgar-winner Megan Abbott's mom, Patricia.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sookie, Sookie, Fangs for the Memories

Actually, The Famous Author and I both thought the first two episodes slow. Still lots of fun, the season-three premiere of Charlaine Harris's TRUE BLOOD series drew over five million viewers last week on HBO. The Hollywood Reporter says the sexy, violent, bloody show already has been renewed.

HBO programming president Michael Lombardo told The Hollywood Reporter's James Hibberd, "We're looking forward to more chills from Alan Ball and his gifted team next year."

"I am beyond thrilled to be able to continue working with this amazing cast and crew," creator Alan Ball told Hibberd. "This is the most fun I have ever had."

The Hollywood Reporter says "ratings for Sunday's episode are not yet available, (but) last week's third season premiere drew 5.1 million viewers -- up 38% from season two's opener. Season four will debut next summer. HBO has ordered 12 episodes, same as this year."

Fangs to Hollywood and Charlaine for making it all happen.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kobe Wins His Fifth Ring



Yes, I know this is not a photo from the finals. But then I would have had to show those green gomers from somewhere in New England. Apologies to the East Coast Posse, but TFA and I have been rooting for The Lakers since the lineup included Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Jerry West. And that means, like all Laker fans, we hate green.

Special hat tips to Ron Artest for the five steals, Sasha Vujacic for the clutch, last-second free throws, and Coach Jackson for trusting Sasha cold off the bench. But honestly, I think the green gomers would have won last night if Perkins had played. Without his size and presence, Gasol and Kobe killed the boards. 33 rebounds between them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Two New Books to Read

So The Famous Author opened one of those mass-marketing letters from American Express the other day. He must have been really bored. But instead of the usual promotions for insurance or travel deals, there was $140 worth of Amazon gift certificates. Wow! A home run. Now TFA can buy even more books to add to his TBR pile. Actually, it's more like a whole room. But anyway, just so you know, here are his first two purchases, both brand new:

First off, our former Redhead of the Week, Sophie Littlefield is out with her second novel, apparently a strong follow-up to A Bad Day for Sorry, which garnered more awards and medals than Napoleon. Of the new one, Publishers Weekly says: "When a tornado uncovers a mummified woman buried at the Prosper, Mo., fairgrounds, the police suspect Neb Donovan, whom (our hero) Stella Hardesty once helped kick an OxyContin addiction. Littlefield wields humor like a whip, but never lets it dilute the whodunit." Oh, boy, I'm gonna grab this one before TFA.

Another easy pick for TFA was Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman. TFA knows (unike a lot of people on Amazon) that E.J. Copperman is a nom de plume for one of the best, easiest-reading mystery writers around, Jeffrey Cohen. The premise sounds interesting -- Newly divorced Alison Kerby wants a second chance for herself and her nine-year-old daughter, but her new Victorian fixer-upper is haunted -- but it's the writing of Cohen that brings TFA to this brand new novel.

Sophie's much better looking.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Catching Up With Shania

Stephen L. Betts of The Boot, a country music blog, has a great feature story today on our beloved Shania Twain.

After Shania's very public separation and divorce from her husband-producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange after 14 years of marriage, The Boot looks back at the past two years of Shania sightings. Hell, this picture's good enough for us, but we were curious where our dream woman has been hiding. According to Betts and The Boot:

In June 2009, a year after her separation, Shania blogged about the past difficulties she'd endured and expressed her hopefulness about the future. She also candidly wrote of how her son Eja (who was seven at the time) sweetly comforted her in one of her more vulnerable moments.

"One time when I was having a weak moment, listening to some sad music and sobbing and slobbering over my computer's keyboard, Eja walked up behind me and asked me why I was crying. He wasn't sad at first -- just totally surprised to see his mom crying and didn't know what to make of it. During this intense period, I was managing to hide my devastation from Eja and cried only when I was alone; but this one time was just too hard for me to control and I broke down. I was quick on my feet to answer him though and told Eja that music was very powerful and can make people quite emotional. It can make you want to dance, feel angry, happy or sad and that THIS this song was sad and made me cry. He accepted this, hugged me and went back to what he was doing. Phew, that was tough!"

Wait. Shouldn't she tell the truth? That Pop ran off with the housekeeper and I'm humping her ex. Aren't children entitled to know what happened, why Mom is crying?

On August 29, 2009, Shania's 44th birthday, the singer offered fans another glimpse into her personal life via her website, opening up about her budding relationship with Frederic Théibaud.

"A dear friend and true gentleman by the name of Fred, has been the most constant companion of support for both Eja and me," she wrote at the time. "And having gone through the suffering of his family splitting apart at the same time under the same extreme circumstances, he understood me better than anyone. We leaned on one another through the ups and downs, taking turns holding each other up. We've become stronger and closer through it all, as have our children, Eja and Johanna (Fred's 8-year-old daughter)."

Earlier that day, a photo of the couple holding hands and wearing what appeared to wedding bands, sparked rumors of marriage, although a rep for Shania said they were neither engaged nor married, Betts and The Boot say.

I did see her earlier this year when Shania joined the 'American Idol' judges for some auditions. She went on to mentor the top six finalists later in the season, and more or less picked Crystal [Bowersox] and Lee [Dewyze] as the top two finalists.

And the promise of more Shania sightings is a reality -- or more specifically, a reality TV special. In April, it was announced that 'Why Not? With Shania Twain,' an hour-long special on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, would follow the singer "as she begins her climb back to the top, a personal journey filled with risk, revelations and unexpected adventures."

"I feel like in a way I'm starting over," Shania will tell Oprah. "This is a very personal experience that I think is important to share. This is an experience of recovery. I was in a very deep, dark slump, and I needed to find a way to get myself out of it. I had to force myself back out into life, back out into experiencing things."

The show will reportedly air in January 2011, the same month Oprah's network launches.

But when will Shania sing again? No word, but we have a hunch she's in the studio. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Weapon of the Drug Wars

For the American soldier fighting in the Philippine jungles a century ago, Colt's new revolver wasn't cutting the mustard. More specifically, the .38 caliber bullets barely slowed Moro guerrillas stoked on frog juice, mushrooms, and the best pot west of Saigon. Armed with machetes, spears, and knives, these drug-crazed warriors had "high morale," the Army said, and kept charging through a hail of thirty-eights to chop American asses.

In 1902, Chief of Ordnance, General William Crozier, authorized further testing of new service pistols. We need a bigger gun, boys, he pleaded. Stopping power is what we're missing

Some guy named Hiram S. Maxim had already designed a self-loading pistol using bullet energy to reload the chamber. Lots of governments and individuals worked on programs, including people like Mauser, Mannlicher, and Colt. But of the six designs submitted to General Crozier, only three chambered the new .45 cartridge. In field tests from 1907 to 1911, the Colt was fired 6,000 times by its designer, John Browning. Zero malfunctions.

The Colt semi-automatic was formally adopted by the U.S. Army on March 29, 1911, and thus gained the designation, M1911. The Army is nothing if not crudely logical. It was adopted by the Navy and Marine Corps in 1913, and though originally manufactured only by Colt, World War I expanded production to the government-owned Springfield Armory.

The M1911 is a single-action (you can't "cock" the hammer like cowboys do in movies) semi-automatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated handgun. The .45 caliber weapon was the standard-issue side arm for the United States military from 1911 to 1985, and is still carried by some U.S. forces. Browning's design was widely used in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Reliable. Powerful. It even stopped those wild-eyed Moro guerrillas, and the Phillipines (and all that offshore oil) came under U.S. control.

Let's call this one Research #1. Thanks to John Browning, Colt, and Wikipedia.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

TFA Gets His Comeuppance

As we all know, The Famous Author has been sifting through the submission pile at Spinetingler for close to two years now, sometimes asking authors for rewrites, sometimes changing a confusing word, but mostly just reading the story as far as he was able, then clicking REJECT.

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Saying no to all those poor writers trying to have someone read their work. Ha, ha, ha. Now TFA is waiting on his own submissions. That's right, our own TFA is sending out short stories and watching -- with typical and well-earned apprehension -- his inbox for rejection or acceptance.

Eat a piece of your own pie, you old curmudgeon!