Advertisement
  1. News

Bought during Cold War, Russian mansions accused of housing spies in the U.S.

The Killenworth estate was purchased by the Soviet Union for its diplomats, in Glen Cove, N.Y.
Published Jan. 1, 2017

Without warning, American agents descend on a Russian-owned compound in rural Maryland. A similar surprise unfolds at an estate on New York's Long Island. Both locations are accused of hosting Russian spies on American soil, and once again, two nuclear powers stand at each other's throats.

Except there's no need to dramatize, nor any need to set the story in the past. All this happened Thursday, as American officials punished the Russian government for allegedly hacking Democratic officials to influence the presidential election.

The measures ordered by President Barack Obama included the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomatic officials accused of working as intelligence officers, plus sanctions against Russian cyberagents and firms accused of supporting hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

But it's Obama's order to shut down two Russian-owned mansions — best known as getaways for diplomatic apparatchiks — that has raised eyebrows the most.

On Maryland's Eastern Shore, about 60 miles east of the nation's capital, a three-story, red-brick mansion and almost a dozen cottages sit on the banks of the Corsica River.

The Soviet Union bought the property in 1972 and transferred it to the Russian Federation in the 1990s. The 45-acre compound includes tennis courts, a swimming pool and playground equipment. It's mostly known to the local community of Centreville for parties and sailing regattas on Labor Day, if it's known at all.

"If you didn't know they were here, you wouldn't know they were here," said George Sigler, president of Centreville's town council and a retired Marine, describing the compound as a place where Russians working in the embassy in Washington could "come to let their hair down and relax."

The ordered shutdown of the compound caught Sigler by surprise. He said he couldn't recall hearing of anything suspicious happening there, nor of Russian guests misbehaving in the community, where they would shop, eat, get haircuts and buy groceries and alcohol; one local liquor store had stocked up on vodka to serve Russian customers.

"They're good neighbors, and have been the whole time they've been there," Sigler said.

After Obama ordered the compounds closed Thursday, a woman who flashed an FBI badge and a man who said he worked for the State Department shooed people away from the Maryland property, the Baltimore Sun reported. A 14-acre property in Upper Brookville, Long Island, was also ordered closed.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin complained that the sites were popular getaways for diplomats' families.

"I think it's quite scandalous that they chose to throw out our kids," Churkin said, according to the Associated Press. "They know full well that those two facilities they mentioned, they are vacation facilities for our kids, and this is Christmas, and this is vacation time for our schools."

During the Cold War, a high-ranking Soviet defector, diplomat Arkady N. Shevchenko, said at least one of the Russian-owned mansions on Long Island served double duty as electronic surveillance posts for the Soviet Union's intelligence agency, the KGB.

"When I first came to the United States in 1958, there were three or four KGB communications technicians and their gear sharing the former servants' quarters in the attic," Shevchenko wrote of the Soviets' Killenworth mansion on Long Island in a 1985 memoir, Breaking with Moscow.

Shevchenko, who died in 1998, also told the Norwich Bulletin that the Soviets were pleased after buying the Maryland compound in 1972 and that the property's location was "not accidental."

On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the sanctions package "provocative and aimed at further weakening the Russia-U.S. relationship."

But this was not the same old Cold War story. While Putin's foreign minister had called for Russia to expel an equal number of American diplomats and close their dacha outside Moscow in addition to another facility, Putin said he would not retaliate, instead hoping to "restore Russian-U.S. relations based on the policies of the Trump administration."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  2. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
  3. Reclaimed water rates are increasing 6 percent in St. Petersburg.
    Potable, waste and reclaimed water fees will all increase. So will garbage fees, though the stormwater fee will drop for some.
  4. Joshua Russell, 26, faces a charge of aggravated manslaughter, according to deputies. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A dose of kratom caused the caretaker to fall asleep for hours inside the hot car with the disabled man in the back seat, investigators said.
  5. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announces federal grants Friday that will equip at least 600 officers with body cameras. CHARLIE FRAGO  |  Charlie Frago
    Mayor Jane Castor announces a nearly $600,000 Department of Justice grant Friday.
  6. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri spoke Friday about a child protection investigator who was arrested on charges of falsifying reports. JOSH SOLOMON  |  Josh Solomon
    It’s the second time in two years a Pinellas child protection investigator has faced falsification charges.
  7. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    The Challenger K-8 student didn’t have access to a gun, deputies said.
  8. Life changed for Chad Cagley with the birth of daughter Aaliyah, now 3. Cagley was killed Monday when a drunk driver slammed into the back of his motorcycle on Interstate 75, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. FAMILY PHOTO  |  Courtesy Stephanie Coomes
    The drunk driver who ran into Chad Cagley was caught after a witness followed him, troopers said.
  9. Former Tarpon Springs police Officer Steven Bergren, seen in this 2012 picture with his K-9 partner Dobies Jr. Bergren resigned before he could be fired by the Tarpon Springs Police Department for threatening a mass shooting. Bergren said he was joking. Tampa Bay Times
    The detective said he was joking. The Tarpon Springs Police Department said it would have fired him had he not resigned.
  10. A student holds a sign while participating in a "Global Climate Strike" at the Experiential School of Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Across the globe, hundreds of thousands of young people took the streets Friday to demand that leaders tackle climate change in the run-up to a U.N. summit. KHADEJEH NIKOUYEH/NEWS & RECORD  |  AP
    With a coastline stretching 1,350 miles, Florida faces some of the gravest risks from rising ocean levels.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement