An FBI sting brought down a Russian spy cell that was trying crash the stock market. That might sound like the plot of a new espionage thriller, but it's not. The events played out in real life in New York City recently, not on the silver screen.
Three Russian spies were trying to learn more about high-frequency trading systems, so they could disrupt the systems and cause major problems on Wall Street. Those trading systems use computers and algorithms to trade lots of stocks quickly and were partially to blame for the stock market Flash Crash in 2010.
During the Flash Crash the Dow Jones lost 1,000 points within minutes only to bounce back right away, sparking fears that automated or ‘robot’ trading could be vulnerable to hackers or terrorists.
Apparently, financial espionage isn't as exciting as it sounds. The FBI has recordings of the men complaining that their lives aren't more like a James Bond movie. They were caught wishing that they could pretend to be someone else, or at least hoping to travel with a different passport.
The FBI started looking into Igor Sporyshev, Victor Podobnyy and Evgeny Buryakov after the high-profile arrest of 10 Russian spies in the U.S. in 2010. It found that the spies were trying to recruit women in the financial sector and at a New York university to learn more about high-frequency trading.
The FBI took down the spy ring on Monday, but Sporyshev and Podobnyy had already skipped town. Buryakov is currently awaiting trial.
It's not clear how close the spies got to fulfilling their goal, and I'm glad the FBI got to them before something serious happened. In addition to the stock market, the men were also interested in new alternative energy sources and U.S. sanctions against Russia.