Flame-haired Russian spy Anna Chapman is back in the news after the FBI this week released a trove of documents and surveillance tapes depicting her and her fellow agents carrying out espionage activities during their years of living under deep cover in the United States.
But back at home, Ms. Chapman has suddenly found herself accused of a less glamorous sort of crime: plagiarism.
Since being repatriated last year in a classic cold war-style spy swap, Chapman has defied the old KGB rule that exposed agents should fade away, and instead reinvented herself in a variety of roles, including TV hostess, lingerie model, Internet entrepreneur, high living socialite, and youth leader for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
But making her debut as newspaper columnist this week in the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, with a gushing piece about Russia's most famous poet, Alexander Pushkin, she triggered what could become a major scandal.
According to several Russian bloggers, Chapman's surprisingly thoughtful reflections on the historical consequences of Mr. Pushkin's untimely 1837 death in a duel with a French officer, were lifted word-for-word from the published works of a well-known pro-Kremlin publicist, Oleg Matveyechev.
"A half-century (after Pushkin's death at the age of 37), liberals and socialists swamped Russia and killed the Czar, and later set the course for revolution. I'm convinced that everything would have been otherwise if Pushkin had managed to write his mature works," Chapman wrote.
If Pushkin had lived longer, she writes, he could have become the "Plato and Newton" of Russia, more important than Homer or Shakespeare, but his premature demise condemned Russia to to be stuck in "eternal youth." Exactly the same hypothesis, in almost the same words, occurs in Mr. Matveyechev's 2009 nationalistic potboiler, "The Sovereignty of the Soul."
No comment – yet
Chapman has not commented on the allegations.
But Matveyechev, who currently serves as deputy governor of the central Russian region of Volgograd, says he's a big fan of the lady's, and it's perfectly OK with him if she wants to lift his prose.
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Matveyechev said "I have no complaints, and I am thankful to Anna as a person who is my disciple. I think authors' rights are an obstacle that we should dispense with. ... Once an idea is out in the open, it belongs to everyone."
Matveyechev says he's a big admirer of Chapman's espionage exploits. "She's a very clever girl," he says. "It's not her fault that when she was in US she was betrayed. She was victimized and imprisoned through no fault of her own. It's painful to see her being persecuted today by a bunch of bloggers, who have done nothing for their Motherland."
But some analysts say that plagiarism shouldn't be treated so lightly.
"You can't call this a normal situation," says Alexei Lukatsky, an Internet specialist. "It's becoming rather common to appropriate someone else's ideas, without giving proper attribution. If there are no consequences, it will just become more common."
Renewed debate on spies
The release of the FBI materials about Chapman and her fellow sleeper agents has reinvigorated a debate among Russian security experts about what Russian secret services thought they were doing by planting so many spies in seemingly ordinary, suburban American lives.
Some argue that the 10 agents, who never uncovered a single classified secret during a decade of working in the US, were not actually spies at all but just "moochers" living off the budget of the SVR, Russia's intelligence service.
"It's probably senseless to deny that these people belonged to an illegal network of Russian spies," says Gennady Gudkov, deputy chair of the State Duma's security commission. "Agents like that take a long time to establish themselves before they can become useful. They were betrayed before they could accomplish anything, so it was a failure."
As for Chapman, "she was obviously some kind of experiment," Mr. Gudkov says. "Secret services have their experiments, you know. You can't blame her now for trying to make the best of her situation, to use [her notoriety] to build herself a career. She's being logical and pragmatic."