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Chapman, born in distant Volgograd and having spent little time in the Russian capital, hardly knew her way around town. Nor did her driver, a good-looking kid from the regions who was perpetually late, lost, and insubordinate, but for whom Chapman displayed a particular weakness.
Everyone in Moscow looks out for everyone else, as long as you’re on the inside. The power vertical decided that Chapman needed a little domestic heft on her C.V., and she got a job at a financial institution in October of 2010, specifically at the fiscal arm of the Russian space agency, Fund Service Bank. The bank has a questionable profile around town. It was involved in an embezzlement scandal with Russian Railways a few years ago; masked police once stormed the office.
The Porsche fits well with what is presumably Chapman’s ornamental role at the bank.
“These guys in the bank told me I can get however much money I need,” she explained to a friend. “I just tell them, and it’s there the next day.”
Yet according to the bank her compensation is well-deserved. She does nothing less than protect the planet from annihilation: “Chapman will address the theme of protecting the planet from asteroids, meteor showers and other factors that affect the civilization of the Cosmos.”
With these celestial credentials Chapman has gotten what amounts to the keys to the country. She appeared at Baikonur, the Russian Cape Canaveral, blessing a cosmonaut crew on a ride through Kazakh cloud cover. She met with President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss involvement in Skolkovo, Russia’s new answer to Silicon Valley.
And so shortly after our first conversations, I understood why it was that Chapman had become too busy to take my calls. I was happy simply to maintain contact, and every once in a while I received text messages from numbers I didn’t recognize but that were clearly sent on instruction by Chapman to steer me to certain parts of the city, where she would appear.
One afternoon, following such a directive, I took a cab to Moscow’s Kitai-gorod neighborhood. Locating the address, I walked through a post-industrial mash-up of tattoo parlors, hollowed-out Soviet factories, and exotic dancing schools, graffiti gripping the walls. On an upper floor of one building, I entered what I presumed to be an atelier, the sewing machines and supercilious expressions giving it away. I pushed aside a curtain and found Chapman trying on a red coat.
“Like the tsar!” she said, air kissing my cheek, then twirling around for the camera crew that was shooting video for her website, which collects pictures of her, news of her charity work, and other Chapmania.
A designer, Kirill Murzin, flipped through his sketchbook, displaying the militaristic coats and shirts and skirts that he planned to manufacture and sell under the Chapman brand, tentatively titled AC. The two had met playing cards, Murzin told me.
“I play poker like an artist,” he said. “But Anna is a very dangerous player. Your first mistake with her will be your last mistake.”
Murzin appeared sincere. Most others I met around Chapman seemed otherwise, drawn by curiosity and opportunity.
Chapman joined me at a drawing table in the center of the room, over which several women swished scissors. I ran my fingers over a dress that had yet to be sewn together, and asked Chapman what kind of material it was. She felt the fabric, looking suddenly crestfallen, having been cornered in her ignorance. “I don’t know,” she said.
When I left the place, Chapman was sitting in her Porsche on the street, uttering for the camera crew the words “Welcome to my line.”
Whenever I raised the topics of her espionage, her arrest, her contact with high-ranking Kremlin officials, Chapman’s face always tensed. Several times, she accused me of being an F.B.I. agent. She was no longer playful once she began to suspect me, and then eventually she was not even suspicious. She was just scared and did a poor job of hiding it, mumbling about how powerful people had advised her to keep quiet.
But what had she ever done in the United States? What did she learn that would be damaging to tell? Nobody seemed to know. Nothing had ever been leaked or even suggested with any seriousness.
After the meeting at the fashion house, Chapman canceled our next appointment and disappeared from my life, for a while.
A YEAR AGO I MET VIKTOR CHERKASHIN FOR LUNCH near Moscow State University. As the K.G.B.’s Washington station chief in the ’80s, Colonel Cherkashin had recruited both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, the two most destructive U.S. double agents of the Cold War.
I'd first met Cherkashin some years earlier, and have always found his company worth the time. He was raised on Cold War espionage, in an era when clear battle lines gave operatives a strict sense of commitment, allegiance, what was at stake. You could talk to this man and get straight answers, unlike with so many of the current crop of spooks and spies and wannabes, bereft of purpose, unsure of what or whom they are fighting for: The country and its people, or the oligarchs and politicians whom they seem to serve more directly.
Soldatov has asserted that Chapman, like many others in Russian society, had simply used her father's connections (he had been a K.G.B. agent) to bankroll a dream-like, dilletantish life in Manhattan—and had done nothing more.
Cherkashin, on the other hand, believes that Chapman had been at the beginning of a serious, lengthy assignment. He cautioned me not to be deceived by her public demeanor.
“I like her appearance,” he said. “No one suspects her. It means she’s a real professional. She’s very clever. A sober person.”
I was surprised. The security expert figured Chapman for a sham, while the real spymaster admired her tradecraft.
Then, Cherkashin asked me to arrange an introduction to Chapman for himself. (I didn't, precaution leading the way in Russia.)
Standing on the sidewalk after lunch, I sensed that Cherkashin had, in his time-tested, friendly, conversational manner, tried to fleece me.
Last Spring I had a similar feeling when, working from Kiev, I interviewed the agents who headed the case against the Illegals in a Skype conference.
They said they were irritated by the way the media had portrayed the case, as a mere curiosity. Beyond that they said little of interest. Frequently protesting that they were not trying to get information from me about Chapman or Russian intelligence circles for themselves, they gave vague answers to my questions, and invariably ended up by asking more questions of me.
I'll never know why, but a month after that, Chapman resurfaced with a request for a meeting.
“Did I disappoint you?” she asked as she strolled into a steakhouse near her office. We took a table, and she scanned her iPad.
“I’m in the news again,” she said, pretending to be indignant about her resurfacing elsewhere—in the pages of the New York Post after her poker app went live.
She was talking fast, switching from one topic to the next. She relayed the detail of a recent experience, how she had cut the ribbon at a watch boutique opening in the city center. She mentioned a wealthy man she had met. She was finding her life thrilling, and she became visibly excited.
“I have developed my three-part formula for personal success,” she said. “Would you like to hear it?”
I said I would.
“You must be active. You must be positive. And you must bring value. It just came to me. Sometimes I just know. I woke up one day and I just knew. And these three things correspond exactly to who I am. I am active, I am positive, and I bring value.”
From here the relationship picked up again, just as friendly and cheerful as ever. A week after meeting at the steakhouse I went with Chapman to a movie premiere. Elizaveta Boyarskaya, a popular Russian actress, had invited Chapman to her new film, Ne Skazhu. The title (in English, I Won’t Tell) suited the spy, who arrived late to the theater after her driver got lost, and therefore eluded the paparazzi on Nastasinsky Lane. But when news spread she had arrived, photographers snuck into the theater as the movie began. Camera flashes popped, one after another, stunning the dark auditorium.
“Oh, my God,” Chapman said, with nowhere to hide. Several males shouted threats across the hall, and the photographers retreated.