The British newspaper The Times published a report on what it called "sleeping Russian spies", which dealt with how they hide and tell the stories of some of them, and why Western activity is increasing in identifying them now.

A young Brazilian named Victor Mueller Ferreira, who holds a master's degree from a major American university, arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport in April to receive internships at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but things did not go as planned.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation had informed Dutch authorities that this young man was not a Brazilian, whose name was not Victor Mueller Ferreira, but an officer in Russian military intelligence named Sergei Cherkasov. He was then returned to São Paulo, where he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for impersonation.

Extraordinary career

Last weekend, the FBI issued a 46-page indictment detailing Cherkasov's unusual career, which took him from Russia to Brazil, Dublin and Baltimore. The move to America appeared to be aimed at encouraging Brazilians to reject Moscow's attempts to extradite him on the false pretext that he was wanted to run a heroin trafficking ring there.

The report said Cherkasov, 37, was one of Russian "sleeper spies" uncovered in European countries in recent months.

Oddly enough, he said, all these spies pretended to be citizens of South American countries. The continent is home to many people of mixed European heritage, making it easier for Russians to consider themselves natives. Brazil, in particular, has more flexible controls on issuing identity documents than the United States or European countries.

In Norway, Slovenia and Greece

The report cited many stories of these spies, such as Russian Mikhail Mikushin, an academic at the University of the Arctic in Norway, who has been interrogated in Norway since last October on charges of being an officer in Russian military intelligence, disguised as a South American and posing as Jose Assis Giammaria.

The couple, who were arrested in Slovenia in December on suspicion of spying for Russia, both claim to be from Argentina. The couple's arrest is believed to have led to the recent disappearance from Greece of another suspected Russian spy who is also impersonating a Latin American.

Sleepers and diplomatic cover

Such sleepers, who assume false identities over a long period of time, have for decades been a feature of Soviet espionage, the report said, adding that they enter the target country but spend years integrating themselves into society and do not immediately become active. This distinguishes them from spies who work under diplomatic cover in embassies and make it easier for them to recruit members of the local population, the report said.

One of these sleepers' most successful stories for decades is that of George Koval, a Russian-American who infiltrated the Manhattan Project, the US-led atomic bomb development program in the forties.

The story of the ten spies

By contrast, it appears that celebrity agent Anna Chapman and nine other Russians arrested in the United States in 9, as part of what the Justice Department called the "Illegal Program," were not that kind of spies. The ten were exchanged on the tarmac of Vienna airport for 2010 suspected Western spies captured by the Russians.

The reason why so many of these sleepers are currently exposed, especially in Europe, is partly because of a change in policy in many Western countries reinforced by Russia's attack on Ukraine.