This weekend, the Sunday People (the Daily Mirror’s Sunday newspaper) reported that Russian spy Anna Chapman was allegedly ordered to seduce former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Sex! Spies! Scandal! Intrigue! Hot damn, this story has everything.
But is it true?
The claim about Chapman, who was arrested and deported from the U.S. in 2010, comes from ex-KGB agent named Boris Karpichkov. Karpichkov, who defected to the U.K. in the 1990s, told Sunday People politics reporter Nigel Nelson that Chapman’s bosses at the Russian intelligence agency, the FSB, ordered her to not only seduce Snowden but to convince the 31-year-old, who is on temporary asylum in Russia, to marry her.
“If Snowden had accepted, he would have a right to Russian citizenship,” Karpichkov said. “That would lock him in Russia. As a citizen he’d need permission to leave.”
Chapman, who became a major celebrity in Russia as a model and actress after her return, reportedly met with Snowden once. But Snowden, whose girlfriend Lindsay Mills eventually joined him in Russia, was allegedly uncomfortable with having a relationship with a known Russian spy. Crazy, right?
The real benefit of the plan, Karpichkov said, was that the Russian government would be able to question Snowden as they pleased.
Karpichkov’s story leaves out a few key details that undercut the supposed need for the marriage plot. For one thing, Snowden is already in Russia, and cannot leave without the risk of landing in U.S. custody for violating the Espionage Act. There is almost certainly nothing preventing Russian intelligence agents from questioning him. Why go through an elaborate, high-profile scheme to effectively gain what they already have? (What they have, incidentally, is likely to be next to nothing, since Snowden and the journalists who worked with him say he no longer has access to the trove of documents he leaked.)
The only credibility Karpichkov has comes from a tweet Chapman posted in 2013 asking Snowden to marry her.
Suspicions arose over the nature of Chapman’s Snowden proposal after she refused to answer a question about it during a 2013 interview with NBC’s Today Show.
Weird, right? Well, not necessarily. As she mentioned in the video, the terms of the interview mandated that NBC correspondent Richard Engel not ask any questions about Chapman’s personal life. A public tweet, as Engel mentions, is far from private, but clearly Chapman considered it off-limits.
“I’m a very private, discreet person and I still don’t do many interviews because I just don’t like to share,” she told Engel. “I don’t believe that people would be interested in knowing about somebody’s life.”
Then there’s the matter of Karpichkov. For years after his 1998 defection, he led a private life in the U.K. and did not give many interviews. He surfaced in the news in 2010 after claiming that Dr. David Kelly, a government scientist who revealed that Tony Blair’s government had ‘sexed up’ a report justifying war with Iraq, did not die from suicide, but had been murdered. Karpichkov said he got this information from contacts at the British intelligence agency MI5. (Karpichkov claims to still have friends within the FSB who told him about Chapman’s Snowden mission.)
Karpichkov was later featured in an expansive 2012 profile by the Guardian, and has since become a fairly regular source for British tabloids, particularly for Nigel Nelson, the Sunday People journalist who broke the Chapman seduction story.
Karpichkov first inserted himself into the Snowden story in July, when he told Nelson that Russian spies began monitoring Snowden six years before he landed in their country, and that they had tricked him into going there for asylum.
None of this proves that the Chapman seduction story is false—it’s a crazy world and anything can happen. But the absurdity of the story, the talkativeness of a source who is only related by broad association to the characters involved, the sensational nature of the publications, and the naked clickbait factor all suggest that we should all read this one with a sultry eyebrow firmly raised.
Chapman did not respond to a request for comment. Snowden was unavailable for comment.
Photo via US Marshal Service/Wikimedia Commons (PD) | Remix by Jason Reed