Biggest spy swap since Cold War

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Ten Russian agents who infiltrated suburban America and acted as spies have been put on a plane to Moscow.

The spies left New York for Moscow hours after pleading guilty to conspiracy in a Manhattan court and being sentenced to time served and deported, said a law enforcement official. They are being exchanged for four people convicted of betraying Moscow to the West in the biggest spy swap since the Cold War.

The swap carries significant consequences for efforts between Washington

The defendants were captured last week in homes across the north east of the US. They were accused of embedding themselves in ordinary American life while leading double lives, complete with false passports, secret code words, fake names, invisible ink and encrypted radio. One spy worked for an accounting firm, another was an estate agent and another a columnist for a Spanish-language newspaper.

US attorney general Eric Holder said on Friday night the "extraordinary" case took years of work "and the agreement we reached today provides a successful resolution for the United States and its interests".

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said President Barack Obama was aware of the investigation, the decision to go forward with the arrests and the spy swap with Russia. But whether the agents provided Russia with valuable secret information is questionable.

"None of the people involved from my understanding provided any information that couldn't be obtained on the internet," defendant Anna Chapman's lawyer, Robert Baum, said.

In Russia, the Kremlin said President Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree pardoning four convicted foreign spies so that they could be exchanged for the 10 US defendants.

They are Russian citizens Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko, Sergei Skripal and Igor Sutyaginso. Sutyagin, an arms analyst, was reportedly plucked from a Moscow prison and put on a plane to Vienna. Skripal is a former colonel in the Russian military intelligence, and Zaporozhsky a former colonel in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

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