True Spies Episode 39: The Money Spy
NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position?
This is True Spies Episode 39, The Money Spy.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Basically there is no way back. If we do this move, if we do that, we engage Americans from that moment, it's over. So we are traitors. We are enemies of the state. And for us, it is over. It's done.
NARRATOR: Money. Who’s got it? How do they spend it? What will they do to keep it? This week’s True Spies has the answers. For over a decade, he worked inside the corrupt, clandestine world of Russian finance, working within a vast, state-sponsored money-laundering operation. When he wanted out, he learned that the cost of disloyalty was very high indeed. It’s a story that ends over 5,000 miles away from Moscow in Portland - that’s Portland, Oregon - the gateway to the Pacific Northwest.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Really nice city, nice people, great culture, lots of craft beer, really nice restaurants.
NARRATOR: And it’s in one of Portland’s pleasant little cafes that we find Janosh Neumann, and his wife, Victorya. They’re here for an important meeting.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So they called a meeting and we came to the meeting. Sunny days, Portland, Oregon, and everyone dressed casually except these two guys who came in their business suits.
NARRATOR: Across their table, a man and a woman, dressed in business suits, take their seats. The woman, Christine, places her purse on the table. She’s preparing for a difficult conversation. As the local supervisor for the FBI’s Portland branch, she’s used to that. The two parties greet each other. Janosh looks expectantly at Christine. He’s noticed that her hand stays on her purse.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So basically, it was pretty obvious that she's holding the gun toward me inside the purse and that was kind of [an] indication of something is wrong.
NARRATOR: Janosh and Victorya look at each other and then back to the FBI agents. Something is very definitely wrong. A quick visual sweep of the area confirms that this is not a private meeting.
JANOSH NEUMANN: We all almost immediately identify a few surveillance guys who have been sitting across the street on the open deck toward us because we saw them in the past.
NARRATOR: There’s a reason for the extra firepower. The Neumanns are about to receive some truly terrible news. The FBI isn't sure how they’ll react.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So [the] supervisor and this case agent told us that our relationship is over.
NARRATOR: Since 2008, Janosh and Victorya Neumann had been feeding information about state-sponsored money laundering to the US government. Now, they were being cut loose. No documents. No money. No future. How did it come to this? Their story starts in Moscow.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Hi, everyone, my name is Janosh Neumann.
NARRATOR: Before we go on, no, that’s not his real name. He was born Alexey Artamonov. His reasons for changing it will become all too clear. For the purposes of this podcast, we’ll stick with Janosh.
JANOSH NEUMANN: I'm a former officer, FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) officer from Russian counterintelligence. I've been in service since 1996 up to 2008. From 2008 up to 2014, I've been helping US intelligence government agencies to fight with international money laundering organizations and syndicates, and the organized crime groups.
NARRATOR: Janosh was born in Moscow, at the peak of the Cold War. He came of age during the 1990s, in the years following the collapse of the USSR. The economic and political devastation which followed provided fertile ground for corruption at every level of society. It was during this turbulent period that Janosh first joined the FSB, Russia’s internal security and counterintelligence service.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Country was on the edge of the civil war. It was an absolute mess. Country was run by Yeltsin and his... okay, I can't call it administration, was more as a gang, affiliated with oligarchs.
NARRATOR: Russian intelligence was struggling to keep a lid on the wave of chaos that had engulfed the country. They needed to bolster their ranks. They also needed recruits who would not be easily swayed by the opportunity to make a quick ruble, or the promise of a new life in the West. A new generation of officers whose patriotic loyalty to the State would be deeply ingrained. Spies like that are hard to come by. How do you create the perfect operatives in sufficient numbers?
JANOSH NEUMANN: After the collapse of the Soviet Union system was changed and they started to recruit younger kids to the FSB academy.
NARRATOR: There’s your answer. Get them young. Too young to be disillusioned with the ideals of the Russian state. The FSB Academy is the Russian equivalent of Quantico for the FBI, or the secretive ‘Farm’, where CIA officers cut their teeth. Essentially, it’s higher education with a very specific focus on espionage. But there’s one key difference. FBI agents and CIA officers generally come to the profession in their early 20s, if not much later. When Janosh entered the Academy, he was just 17 years old.
JANOSH NEUMANN: You're just after the, after the school and you've been not spoiled with adult life. Right. So you're not going to the college or university. You don't think, with your most time with your friends, you just directly been taken from the school. So it's a different environment, a different philosophy, different mindset.
NARRATOR: Like many recruits, Janosh came from a household with strong ties to what he calls ‘The System’ - the confluence of the military, the intelligence community, and the civil service that forms the backbone of the State. His service wasn’t exactly a choice. He was under considerable pressure from his family to choose a ‘respectable’ path.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So in my case, it was not my decision. It was more as a family decision and about 99 percent of the people who have been around me inside the academy, my classmates, they all came from the system. The system was supplying itself.
NARRATOR: After graduating, Janosh was assigned to a high-profile counterintelligence unit: FSB Unit One. In Unit One, investigators root out foreign spies working undercover in Russia’s institutions. They build legal cases against those who commit espionage. This can involve a lot of paperwork - following the money, verifying documents, that kind of thing - but it’s not just a desk job. They also have to gather information from first-person sources. They have to run agents.
JANOSH NEUMANN: I think it's one of the most complicated jobs in the counterintelligence service because you not only train to be just an investigator guy who is just working on some legal aspects. But you have to learn all the operative tradecraft as well, and not only for your guys but how the other guys are doing this job as well, basically our counterparts. So [it] is MI6, Mossad, CIA, and so on, because you are investigating them.
NARRATOR: Remember, Janosh joined the FSB at a time when Russia was particularly vulnerable to foreign incursions. Fires were springing up everywhere. To put them out, Janosh and his colleagues needed to get inside the heads of the arsonists.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So every time you're learning and learning, not only from your own experience, like from your guys’ experience but from your counterparts as well. So you learning all the methods, techniques and the way foreign agencies are recruiting sources on the Russian soil, the way they're communicating, the way they are establishing their network of sources on the ground, the way they've been even deployed to Russia, how they be entering the country itself, how they've been able to settle themself or even get the identities. So all of that you have to learn.
NARRATOR: After several years with Unit One, Janosh was transferred to the FSB’s Department of Economic Security. Money and its whereabouts were a pressing concern for Russian intelligence. After the end of communism, several less than legitimate characters had seen opportunity in the chaos.
JANOSH NEUMANN: As I know since the collapse of the Soviet Union from Russia itself have been stolen close to $2 trillion. Of course, guys from somehow related or affiliated with the gas and oil industry, with minerals, with financial institutions like banks, their goal was to make as much money as possible. In a majority of the cases, not just to make it, just basically steal. And I was recruiting sources among the Russian businessmen and foreign businessmen who've been working in the line of finance and precious metals, precious stones. So I've been creating my own network of agents who have been working for me and supplying us with information.
NARRATOR: And that’s only half the story. Banks, both in Russia and around the world, were also playing their part in laundering the ill-gotten cash. Fortunately, the FSB had eyes inside the banks.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Kreditimpeks Bank, idea behind it, FSB idea, was quite brilliant.
NARRATOR: To the casual observer, Kreditimpeks was a bank like any other. But here’s what made it unique. In the 1990s, the FSB realized that it was fighting a losing battle against financial crime. Sure, they could arrest everybody they suspected of partaking, but that wouldn’t be a lasting fix for the broken system. In Russia’s criminal underworld, the next mastermind is always waiting in the wings. The FSB’s solution was to infiltrate Kreditimpeks. In doing so, the agency embedded itself into the country’s culture of corruption. The bank became an avatar of the state. By the end of the 90s, Kreditimpeks - and by extension the FSB - were key players in the biggest money-laundering operation in the country.
JANOSH NEUMANN: The bank took over almost 95 percent, 97 percent of the money laundering market in Russia.
NARRATOR: The operation spanned decades. Think of it as a multi-billion dollar sting. Get involved, take it over, take everyone down eventually.
JANOSH NEUMANN: At some point I received an offer to be transferred to Active Reserve and join, well I can't say I joined the Kreditimpeks bank, but just be in touch to the Kreditimpeks bank as a deputy head of economic security.
NARRATOR: To be on ‘Active Reserve’ means that you’re no longer an active FSB officer. You’re not going into the office every day. To all intents and purposes, you’re working a civilian job, but you’re still sending information back to Russian Intelligence. When Janosh moved to Active Reserve, his new role as Kreditimpeks’ deputy head of economic security put him right at the heart of Russia’s money-laundering boom. He set to work monitoring the activities of the banks’ clients and sending reports back to Russian intelligence but it wasn’t long before he realized that something was very, very wrong.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Initial plan was just to start this as a sting operation. But the listener should understand that if you are swimming in a swamp, it is basically impossible to stay clean. After some time when everyone realized how much money is rolling around this whole money laundering activity inside the country, everyone figured out that just besides doing something for your country, you could make some money for yourself as well.
NARRATOR: Janosh came to this realization a few months into his time at Kreditimpeks. He was asked to meet an old friend from the FSB. In fact, this was the senior officer who had made him the offer to join the bank operation in the first place. As it turned out, he wouldn’t be attending the meeting empty-handed. He was to bring his former colleague a very generous gift.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So in the bank, they gave me like a small... like a package which you're using for the Christmas, like with a bag. And, it ended up inside was about two bricks. One brick is $100,000 cash.
NARRATOR: Janosh met the FSB officer - a general, no less - at a swanky restaurant in downtown Moscow.
JANOSH NEUMANN: I paid for his meal. We had a nice chat and I gave him a bag. And this is the guy who was receiving these lovely bags from now on, every few weeks.
NARRATOR: Remember, this was just the payoff for one man. The sheer quantity of cash that was changing hands between the bank and corrupt officials was astronomical. The FSB had started its infiltration of Kreditimpeks with the goal of exposing those who threatened the social order of the New Russia. Now it was clear that it had lost sight of that objective in the most egregious way. Janosh had been a loyal member of the Russian intelligence apparatus since his teens. The general’s breezy acceptance of dirty money was a blow to his entire world view.
JANOSH NEUMANN: I remember how this person was teaching us how we should love our country, how we should sacrifice everything for our country, how we should protect our country, and that was the moment which changed everything and especially, like, in my understanding of what's going on. And a lot of the people who [had] initially been involved from only the positive side, they've been behind this idea and they knew that they were doing something right. They kind of flip the side, flip the coin.
NARRATOR: Put yourself in that restaurant, opposite the general. What would be your next step? Would you get onside, join in with the culture of corruption inside the FSB? Or would you stick to those rigid ethics? Report him? Well, you could try.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Well, here is the problem. First of all, guys on the level of deputy heads or heads of the directorate, they knew what's going on. I'm not sure if the directors knew what's going on or not, but most likely, yes, they knew. Guys from internal security services, they've been part of it because they had to take care of certain things internally inside the FSB as well.
NARRATOR: Okay, so the FSB isn't going to be much use. But they’re not the only game in town, law enforcement-wise. The Russian State Police have economic crime divisions too. Why not make an anonymous tip?
JANOSH NEUMANN: Police? They were competitors for Kreditimpeks and what FSB was doing. Economic security units were supposed to investigate corruption, money laundering, some illegal activities, tax fraud. They've been involved in this business way earlier than FSB. So when FSB got into this business, it was quite a surprise to figure out how many high-ranking police generals and operatives and units and so on it involved.
NARRATOR: Ah. Not the police then. Reluctantly, Janosh stayed in his position at Kreditimpeks. He kept delivering those ‘gifts’. But that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Well, I mean, at some point, I was the guy who was ruining the party for them. So I was a person who was always complaining and quite unhappy about what's going on, and especially on the level of even why we're doing this.
NARRATOR: And his displeasure had not gone unnoticed.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So it's like 11 pm in the evening. I just had a call from one of the bank owners and the person asked me just, can you, can you visit me, can you just stop by my house.
NARRATOR: A driver from Kreditimpeks picked Janosh up at home. In the back seat, Janosh wondered where this late-night conversation might lead. They approached the bank owner’s house.
JANOSH NEUMANN: It was a pretty quick conversation, about like five, six minutes and they made me an offer and I had a choice. And lucky I had the choice.
NARRATOR: Three choices, to be exact. None of them are ideal. 1) Be an officer. That’s a very specific bit of FSB jargon. To put it bluntly, it means shooting yourself in the head; 2) Someone else can do it for you; 3) Get the hell out of Russia. Naturally, Janosh took the third option.
JANOSH NEUMANN: But that's the tricky part. Well, I had a feeling that it's a trap and by knowing how my former organization had been working, it was pretty obvious that [they had] already put flags on me if I want to leave the country across the border or even travel from the inside.
NARRATOR: Like Janosh said, it was a short conversation.
JANOSH NEUMANN: When I came back home after this meeting, [the] driver drove me back and I spoke with my wife. It was a really complicated, tough, emotional decision which we made together. I think I'm still alive just because of her, because she made this right decision over 10 years ago.
NARRATOR: Put yourself in Mrs Neumanns’ shoes. How would you react? Your partner’s just burst in the door, past midnight, and told you that your life in Moscow is over. If you stay, there’s a good chance that you’ll be killed or imprisoned. Would you cry? Panic? Or act? Suffice to say, Victorya Neumann was not without her own resources.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Here's the deal, she was a part of the system, so we kind of... She has the same training as I am, but a bit more advanced because she's way smarter than I am.
NARRATOR: Together, the couple began to formulate a plan.
JANOSH NEUMANN: We started to figure out how we can get out of my motherland. The first step was to check. Did they put a flag on me or not? Do I have any? Are they trying to trap me and what's going on?
NARRATOR: Yes, Janosh had been told he was allowed to leave but, in reality, this was unlikely. He knew too much.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So I had one of my burner phones and I made a call to my friend. He was like my mentor. And the guy was still in active service and he was really high-ranking. Former KGB and FSB guy.
NARRATOR: Janosh set a meeting with his old mentor. He explained the situation. Luckily, he’d found a sympathetic ear.
JANOSH NEUMANN: He almost instantly called his friend who was kind of part of [a] border patrol and they check what's going on in the system and they found out that I had the flag on me, so it was almost impossible to cross the border and be undetected.
NARRATOR: And it wasn’t just Russia’s international borders they needed to worry about. Janosh’s contact confirmed that there were flags on his name across the country’s rail networks, as well as internal flights. If he was caught... well he might end up having to ‘be an officer’ after all. Luckily, Victorya thought fast. She knew how to throw their pursuers off the scent.
JANOSH NEUMANN: My wife, she - I already mentioned she's a pretty smart person, and she booked and bought quite a few tickets, airplane tickets, all of at the same kind of time slot -plus or minus like 30 minutes or 45 minutes in all major airports in Russia - in the Moscow area. So some flights [were] booked as domestic from Moscow to St Petersburg, some flights [were] booked as international flights.
NARRATOR: Now, if Russian intelligence were monitoring the Neumanns’ spending they wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the airport from which they planned to make their escape. But it wasn’t a zero-risk strategy. They still had to get to an airport. First, they needed to fall off the radar. That meant leaving home. Immediately.
JANOSH NEUMANN: We spend some time in our place. And then basically, we just had like one suitcase per person. My friend, who was in FSB during this time and another guy, he was an operative, he found a place for us where to stay. It was a hotel in Moscow. He kind of... he knew the operative who was FSB guy who was handling the hotel.
NARRATOR: Janosh’s FSB contact smuggled him and Victorya into a hotel room without officially checking in. They had disposed of most of their traceable electronics. All apart from one very important cell phone.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Which had all my FSB business associates, let's put it, bank business associates information was in it. I just kind of took the battery off and the SIM card and I shut down completely.
NARRATOR: Not to mention some other valuable and potentially incriminating data from the murky world of Kreditimpeks.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Of course, I took some of my paperwork, which is kind of, you know, you're meeting with the people, you're meeting with the clients, you were discussing what they want to do, how much they want to send where, bank information on some accounts, information from all around the Europe and globe. Yeah, kind of, I took these files with me. And yeah, we left. We left everything behind.
NARRATOR: On the day of their departure, Neumanns’ friend inside the FSB escorted them to the airport.
JANOSH NEUMANN: He was driving next to us in case of road police want to stop us. So his job was basically to play a rabbit. If someone were to stop, he was going to speed up immediately and get attention on him for speeding or some kind of reckless driving.
NARRATOR: They weren’t stopped. After a tense drive, they arrived at the airport in one piece.
JANOSH NEUMANN: We arrive less than an hour before the departure.
NARRATOR: Their late arrival wasn’t down to poor planning. The less time they spent under the glare of the airports’ CCTV the better. They moved quickly, heads down, toward Departures. The passport control kiosk loomed up ahead. This is where they would find out whether they had outmaneuvered the Russian State or fallen into its clutches.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So my wife, she went first. And this booth where you can see the Border Patrol person sitting, she went smooth. No questions at all. She just passed it. All fine. In my case, they called me. I went there and the female officer lady, she was sitting in there. She checked my passport. She looked at the system and she was looking at me several times, just going back and forward.
NARRATOR: Janosh stared ahead at the passport officer. What was the hold-up? Had he been flagged? Would he be dragged away by armed security? He looked across to the other side of the barrier. Victorya was standing there, watching. Already free. Would he ever see her again?
JANOSH NEUMANN: And then she just, instead of just let me go and put a stamp, she just called her supervisor.
NARRATOR: You’re in an airport. Security is, naturally, very tight. When passport control calls their supervisor, it’s rarely good news. All Janosh could do was watch as the supervisor entered the booth.
JANOSH NEUMANN: He checked something in the system and then he looked at me again, just took the passport from the booth, and said: ‘Are you an exchange student?’
NARRATOR: This was unexpected. Janosh had been an exchange student long ago. Before he’d joined the FSB academy he’d spent time in the US and the UK.
JANOSH NEUMANN: And I figured out that only one person knew that I was [a] real exchange student right before I joined the academy. It was the guy who actually helped me with crossing the border.
NARRATOR: Suppressing his panic, Janosh began to figure out what was happening. To get him out of the country, his friend in the FSB needed an innocent reason for a travel flag next to his name. The fact that he’d spent time in ‘enemy territory’ as an exchange student would qualify. But the years of service Janosh had given the Russian state since his time abroad had, surely, made his loyalties clear. So our nameless FSB contact had let the passport control supervisor know to expect the flag and allow Janosh to carry on unimpeded.
JANOSH NEUMANN: And I said, yes, I am [an] exchange student, so he gave me my passport and they let me go.
NARRATOR: Panic over. After the ordeal at passport control, Janosh and Victorya safely boarded a plane from Moscow to Frankfurt, Germany. Some refreshment was in order. Janosh called over a flight attendant. All they had on board was cognac.
JANOSH NEUMANN: I said yeah, just bring the bottle.
NARRATOR: Janosh was sober when he landed in Frankfurt. The unimaginable stress of the situation had completely negated the effects of the alcohol. This was probably a good thing. He had a connecting flight to catch. Next stop?
JANOSH NEUMANN: Dominican Republic. Straight.
NARRATOR: The Dominican Republic. An island nation in the Caribbean. There are worse places to end up. But beyond the good weather, Janosh and Victorya had practical reasons for their choice of destination.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Back then, in 2008 [there were] not that many Russians on the ground. They had a small, really small Russian-speaking population, but not how it is right now. It was not really a highly popular tourist destination for Russians as well, or people from the former Soviet Union. And actually, there is no Russian embassy in it. Back in 2008, it was just a consulate. And I guess the consul was a local Dominican lady.
NARRATOR: So, a very limited Russian presence. That’s one reason. The other is that you don’t need a visa to travel from Russia to the Dominican Republic. Remember, we’re avoiding a paper trail at all costs.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Thanks to my friend who helped us to cross the border, it was no stamping in our passports that we ever left the Russia. So basically, I left the country without a stamp on it, and that, for quite some time, it was an indication that I never left the country.
NARRATOR: But in their haste to leave Russia, the Neumanns had given little thought to what they’d actually do when they reached the Caribbean.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So we spent it in the Dominican Republic. It was a month, I guess, almost a month of trying to figure out what to do and how to do things and collecting some information. We have been able to find a really safe place, and it's in the north part of the Dominican Republic. It's great weather. It's not that humid like in the south. And we basically integrated into the local surfers and the kitesurfers community. I was not shaving, so I had, like, a beard. I was tanned and drinking some beer with local guys and just hanging.
NARRATOR: But this idyllic lifestyle wouldn’t last long. Using a burner phone, Janosh had managed to stay in contact with some of his friends inside Russia. They were happy that he and Victorya had escaped, but they didn’t shy away from the dangerous reality of his situation. They reminded the runaways that the Russian state did not like being outsmarted, and they were on the hunt. Time to weigh up your options.
JANOSH NEUMANN: We had this discussion. What's next? What we can do? Can we stay in the Dominican Republic, safe or not? Can we get new passports? And how we can get them? How we can leave the country? It's being honest. It's not a really complicated task to get the new documents in the Dominican Republic. It's all doable. It's all about money.
NARRATOR: But money was not an unlimited resource. The Neumanns needed a sponsor. Someone to watch their backs. Someone to pay them for what they knew. But who would do that? If you’ve listened to True Spies before, you probably already know.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Again, it was another tough conversation and this conversation was… we knew it's, basically, there is no way back if we do this move. If we do that - we engaged Americans from that moment - it's over. So we are traitors. We are enemies of the state. And for us, it is over. It's done.
NARRATOR: Remember, Janosh and Victorya had grown up in the system. Patriotism was practically in their blood. The decision to betray their motherland was not an easy one. But, to contact the Americans they would have to use their skills against the state that trained them.
JANOSH NEUMANN: I know how to case American spies, this helped us a lot to get in touch with them because if you know how to find them, that's not really complicated. How to get... how to connect with Americans.
NARRATOR: The CIA, the USA’s foreign intelligence agency, is necessarily low-key but if you were desperate to get in touch you might want to contact your local US embassy. For the Neumanns, that was in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They had dressed for the occasion.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So we were dressed as average tourists. I had some kind of, you know, like a fishing hat with, like, coins on it, and I had the sunglasses for the camera, shorts, flip flops. And my wife was dressed as a tourist as well.
NARRATOR: When it comes to disguise sometimes less is more.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So, yeah, we went to the Santo Domingo and there is a US embassy. We walked a few times around just to checking the... what's going on? US embassy, it looks like a fortress. So it got a huge wall around it and a long line of people standing next to it.
NARRATOR: Janosh and Victorya joined the long line of visitors to the US embassy. After an hour of patient queuing, they were met by a security guard.
JANOSH NEUMANN: And my wife, she speaks Spanish. She explained to him that we need to talk with someone from security, from the embassy.
NARRATOR: At first, the guard was unwilling to fetch a high-ranking American official to speak to mere tourists. After some cajoling from Victorya and a sprinkling of intimidation from Janosh they eventually relented.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So after all, she decided to bring someone from the embassy. So it was a guy, it was a person, lady. She went outside and said: ‘You guys want to talk?’ I said: ‘Yes, we want to talk and we... but we don't want to do it outside.’
NARRATOR: The woman from the embassy, a CIA operative, realized that, despite the flip flops and sunglasses, these people were deadly serious.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So we went inside and she asked me: ‘What you're up to?’ And you have to put, like, all your belongings and your camera, your backpack or something going on - special tray. So anyway, I just opened my backpack and my credential was inside it on the bottom.
NARRATOR: She looked inside the backpack. When she saw Janosh’s FSB credentials she immediately cleared the room. After a brief conversation, she arranged to meet them at a nearby coffee shop a few hours later. Janosh laid their cards on the table.
JANOSH NEUMANN: I basically explained to her who I am and what I am and what I have. And we basically need help. We need from you guys documents from the third country, some kind of money supply. And I will help you guys to bust the international money laundering ring which was operating in Europe and the United States and UK.
NARRATOR: But the CIA wouldn’t just take his word for it. They needed proof. Fortunately, Janosh was ready.
JANOSH NEUMANN: At the meeting, I just put on the table one piece of paper, just one. With a few names, bank names, Western bank names, and a few account numbers and I just ask them just to check. Which they did, and after that we start to talk, they figure out what the hell is going on.
NARRATOR: The names and account numbers were enough to convince the CIA that Janosh and Victorya were worth taking a chance on. A deal was struck.
JANOSH NEUMANN: In this line of work, there is no such thing as a signed contract. You just agreed on something verbally and then you shake hands. Deal is done. That's it.
NARRATOR: In the years to come, the Neumanns would come to regret the informal nature of their arrangement with American intelligence. But hindsight is 20/20. After a month in their tropical limbo, constantly looking over their shoulders, things were finally moving forward. In return for their information, the CIA had offered Janosh and Victorya the opportunity to relocate. First, they needed to get to Puerto Rico, a protected US territory. From there they would be assigned a new place to live. They were instructed to make their way to the town of La Romana, in the south of the Dominican Republic. From there they would take a boat to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. The CIA encouraged them to leave a muddied trail of unused hotel rooms, internet cafe logins, and receipts, to throw off anybody who might be tracking them on behalf of the Russian government. Overall, the journey took three weeks and covered 700 miles. Spies very rarely travel in straight lines. Eventually, they arrived in La Romana. In the small hours of a cool morning, they boarded a catamaran bound for San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So we got in the catamaran, we spent... and again, guys, keep in mind, it was no idea just to go directly. To get from point A to point B, you have to go from point C, D, E, and so on just to make the loop, or make it more complicated, more interesting. So, anyway, we spent about four and a half, five hours on this catamaran. It was insane. You actually can feel like a levitation. You're going to try to lean on a deck due to the waves, you never touching the deck. You're just always in the air because going up and down all the time and it was disaster.
NARRATOR: Mercifully, the catamaran eventually slowed to a stop. A US Coast Guard boat approached the craft. Janosh and Victorya were transferred across to be met by a host of operatives from the US intelligence community. Several hours later they were brought to shore in Puerto Rico. On dry land, the CIA gave the Neumanns an unexpected briefing.
JANOSH NEUMANN: We put on some blue jackets with the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) logo on us. Same as everyone else who was on the boat but not part of the crew. We left the boat and the agency guys came to us and said: ‘Look, we have a bit... ‘ I'll find a polite way, how they said it: ‘We had some difficulties with our counterparts from the Bureau and plans are changed.’
NARRATOR: Essentially, the FBI had muscled in the operation. They had demanded access to the information that Janosh was offering. The CIA officers went on.
JANOSH NEUMANN: ‘So now because of your level of expertise and the level of your knowledge and the way... the work you've been doing, they kind of, they want to talk and they want to just... they want to fly with you guys and they ask us to leave.’
NARRATOR: They were taken to a nearby airport and boarded a private Gulfstream jet accompanied by two FBI agents. They could almost relax but not quite. They still didn’t know exactly where the jet was heading.
JANOSH NEUMANN: On the plane - already took off - and I just asked them guys where we're going. And the guy was near me, like next to me, so that we can say: ‘It's just, it's classified.’
NARRATOR: But their destination wouldn’t stay secret for long.
JANOSH NEUMANN: One of the pilots, he heard what I said, but he didn't hear what the FBI guy said. So he came to the place where we've been... the cockpit... and he just clicked the button and they got a flat-screen with their whole travel map. And that's how we figure we're going to the United States.
NARRATOR: On July 17, 2008, the Neumanns’ jet hit the tarmac in Richmond, Virginia. The days and weeks that followed were filled with interviews with various US intelligence agencies, all vying for Janosh’s unique insights into the closed-off world of Russian finance.
JANOSH NEUMANN: And they want to check and figure out, are we bulls*** or not? Are we saying some... saying the truth or not? They want to kind of bring us for the test. Sometimes it was pretty obvious that [a] guy's been coming and saying: ‘Okay, here we have a hypothetical case with a hypothetical bank and hypothetical people been involved in this process. Could you please explain to us: what do you think about that?’ And I've been saying what I think and how it works. But what I can say that... more and more people have been coming and later on we figure out that it was a huge revelation for FBI, for the Treasury Department, for other guys, British officials, how big the whole operation is. I'm not talking about just Kreditimpeks bank. I'm talking about in general, like how large and how complicated the... this money laundering and the money legalization... kind of process, let's say. Like is the underworld related to Russia? Russian government, Russian officials? They knew it's big. They knew it was complicated, but they had no idea that it was that big and that complicated. So for them, it was like eyes opening.
NARRATOR: On the surface, things were going well. Janosh was providing incredibly valuable intel to the USA. But behind the scenes, things were more complex. The internal politics of the intelligence community were coming into play. The FBI, CIA, and other agencies had been vying for the chance to run the Neumanns’ operation on a more permanent basis. None of this matters to Janosh and Victorya. They just wanted the securities that they had been promised in Santo Domingo.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So goal was just, ultimate goal was just to get the new identities and get new life and just have a normal, quiet life.
NARRATOR: In that particular power struggle, the FBI came out on top. Later that year, the Neumanns were relocated to Portland, Oregon. They changed their names and started new lives as ‘financial consultants’.
JANOSH NEUMANN: And we are consultants who are helping some American businessmen who has some business interests in Eastern Europe. And that's why we're in Portland, Oregon. So, and the question is, what are you doing for consulting? Basically consulting, which is helping guys to some finance and understand how the Eastern European market is working.
NARRATOR: Their real job was to analyze financial activity between the USA and Russia, rooting out money launderers on both sides of the Atlantic.
JANOSH NEUMANN: The main problem was like, look, Americans can see every transaction in the world. They control the financial system, but they don't know the origin of the money.
NARRATOR: With his insider knowledge, Janosh could help the FBI to discern which transactions were suspicious. For five years, the operation ran smoothly. Janosh and Victorya settled into their new home, cultivating the image of two wealthy financial professionals. Of their many clients, nobody suspected that they were not what they seemed.
JANOSH NEUMANN: So kind of, I knew how our - not our - bank clients and the Russian clients and their counterparts in Europe [have] been acting. So during my work for the Kreditimpeks bank and FSB, of course, I learned all those tricks and I knew the way people are talking, the kind of terminology they've been using, the way they are presenting themselves, the way they are joking, the way they are, kind of what type of clothes they're wearing, some business suits or some kind of casual stuff. So we applied it all. And no one around us in Portland knew who we are. It was completely in a shadow, until 2013.
NARRATOR: Yes, everything changed in 2013. We’re back at the beginning, in that cafe in Portland. Christine, an FBI case officer, has just informed the Neumanns that their services are no longer required… at the end of a concealed handgun. What went wrong?
JANOSH NEUMANN: With FBI, well, if we can say, like in one sentence what happened? We can say the system failed. But it doesn't mean that people failed. So there are lots of really brilliant, smart, well-educated, well-trained and talented people, men and women, inside the FBI. Unfortunately. Just by doing their work as well, they have to fight with the system, their own system, which is not perfect and it's a huge bureaucratic machine.
NARRATOR: To this day, Janosh blames the convoluted bureaucracy of the FBI for the breakdown of their professional relationship. He wasn’t able to go into detail, but he heavily implies that certain figures within the Bureau refused to admit that they were not qualified to handle this case alone.
JANOSH NEUMANN: During this time, the Agency and some other organizations offered us help and offered FBI help with the case because they know how to do things. And the operatives guys, who've been working with us, they vouch for us. Like yeah, let the other guys handle it because we don't know how to do it. It's not working for us. But on the management level, decision was made. No, we will keep trying on our own. So they just made decision, like instead of just trying to fix it and to make it right. Let's just get rid of the program.
NARRATOR: On the same day as their fateful meeting with Christine from the FBI, Janosh reached out to his contacts at FBI headquarters to try and appeal the decision. But the Portland office refused to budge. Eventually, with a little help from some friends inside the US intelligence community and a crack team of attorneys, Janosh and Victorya were allowed to remain in the USA, where they’re now raising a young family, but for ex-spies employment can be hard to come by.
JANOSH NEUMANN: Thank you to the FBI I do have lots of free time and I was not able to find normal employment because people think we, especially after Trump's election… it became even more complicated for the guy with a background like mine to find full-time employment. So I spoke with several former CIA guys who ended up in the same situation as I am, except they have a pension, I don't.
NARRATOR: So, no documents, no job, no security. All Janosh had were his experiences. Today, he’s turning them into graphic novels. His first, Red Atlantis, is available now from Aftershock Media.
JANOSH NEUMANN: What we found out, it's a really interesting way to tell the story, especially if you don't want to say too much what you want to make it more visual, as beautiful as possible. And now it's a big challenge how we can bring some real money laundering cases into the graphic novel.
NARRATOR: I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join us next week for another encounter with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours. Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former head of training at British intelligence, now at SPYSCAPE.com.
Janosh Neumann is a former Russian FSB agent, money laundering specialist and bag man for a Moscow bank. When he entered a US embassy in the Caribbean he had a plan: offer intelligence about the FSB and organized crime, name Russian names and live happily ever after with his wife and the reward money. But 'Neumann', as he is now known, changed identities several times as the fairytale turned into a nightmare.