When the FBI raided his home, a woman from the FBI’s cyber unit came to speak with him.
It was July of 2017, and the man had just gotten his divorce, and he was desperate to start a new life.
“We talked for a couple of hours, and she said that her name was Anna Kovalchuk and that she worked for the Russian intelligence agency.”
The FBI didn’t think much of that until they learned that he had been caught selling sensitive US military technology to Russia.
“I said, ‘You’re a Russian spy, what are you doing here?'” he says.
But Anna was actually just a computer programmer in the US, and it was in her interests to sell the technology.
“So she offered me $200,000 to sell my software,” he says, “and then we met in the apartment.
Kovalukch started to tell her stories to the FBI. “
She was very smart, she knew what she was doing, and there was nothing she would tell me.”
Kovalukch started to tell her stories to the FBI.
She began to suspect that the Russians had been stealing US technology, and they had been spying on her and her family for years.
So in March of 2018, she met up with FBI agents and told them her story.
And she was arrested.
She was a Russian citizen and had worked for a Russian company for nearly 20 years.
The FBI was concerned, and in 2018, they began investigating her, but the FBI couldn’t figure out how to prosecute her.
The Russian Embassy was worried too, and called US authorities.
“The Russian embassy in Washington was really frustrated by what we were doing in terms of prosecuting her,” says Richard Fisher, the FBI agent who was assigned to the case.
“They were asking, ‘How are we going to prosecute someone for doing something they did not want to do, but they did?'”
So the FBI decided to put her on a list of people they believed were engaged in espionage.
“This is a case of treason,” Fisher says.
“That is what they’re looking for.”
And that’s exactly what they found.
The woman who helped sell the Russian spy software was in Russia, but she had been living in the United States for several years.
She told the FBI that she had used her real name and lived in a suburb of Washington.
“You know, I have to say, it is not exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from a Russian intelligence agent.”
The Russian spy she was selling to was a senior Russian official.
But there was something more at work here.
In March of 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Anna to an official event in St. Petersburg.
She went along, but when the Russian delegation arrived, she was whisked away to a secret location.
“And I thought, what’s the problem?
I’m not even Russian,” she says.
So she called the FBI and told her story, but it was too late.
They had already arrested her.
It wasn’t until a year later, in 2021, that she was formally charged and sent to prison.
She had lied about her identity and her place of residence to get into the US.
The man who had helped her sold her software to Russia and the Russian Embassy, but he was also trying to recruit her into the Russian government.
The spy she sold to the Russians is now in custody and awaiting trial.
“It was very important to me that she not be punished,” Fisher recalls.
“For her, it was important that she did not get in trouble.”
“There’s a lot of things that I think are really problematic about how we are trying to prosecute these people,” Fisher adds.
“There is a real lack of cooperation with Russian law enforcement, and that’s one of the reasons we had to do this investigation.
And there is a very troubling pattern of corruption and espionage that’s occurred.”
The way the investigation was run, it’s clear that Anna was targeted for her role in selling software to the Russian Intelligence Agency.
And that led to a very different outcome.
She served 18 months in prison.
The case ended in a guilty verdict.
“Anna Kovalch was a very vulnerable individual,” says Fisher.
“Her story was so sensitive and was so important to the investigation, that it was not appropriate to take that case away from her.”
The investigation led to one very big lesson for law enforcement.
It’s not that they should not investigate.
But they shouldn’t do it to try to get a conviction.
“At the end of the day, we do not have the tools to go after people for committing treason,” says FBI Special Agent Richard Fisher.
He explains that the FBI will often charge people who do things they shouldn’s, but if there’s evidence that they did something wrong, they can prosecute them.
But it’s the case of Anna Kralchuk, who was