Like anyone who gets into his dream college, Victor Muller Ferreira was ecstatic when he was admitted to Johns Hopkins University’s graduate school in Washington in 2018.
“Today we made the future — we managed to get in one of the top schools in the world,” he wrote in an email to those who had helped him gain entry to the elite master’s program in international relations. “This is the victory that belongs to all of us man — to the entire team. Today we f—ing drink!!!”
The achievement was even sweeter for Ferreira because he was not the striving student from Brazil he had portrayed on his Johns Hopkins application, but a Russian intelligence operative originally from Kaliningrad, according to a series of international investigations as well as an indictment the Justice Department filed in federal court Friday.
His real name is Sergey Cherkasov and he had spent nearly a decade building the fictitious Ferreira persona, according to officials and court records. His “team” was a tight circle of Russian handlers suddenly poised to have a deep-cover spy in the U.S. capital, positioned to forge connections in every corner of the American security establishment, from the State Department to the CIA.
Using the access he gained during his two years in Washington, Cherkasov filed reports to his bosses in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, on how senior officials in the Biden administration were responding to the Russian military buildup before the war in Ukraine, according to an FBI affidavit.
After he graduated, he came close to achieving a more consequential penetration when he was offered a position at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. He was due to start a six-month internship there last year — just as the court began investigating Russian war crimes in Ukraine — only to be turned away by Dutch authorities acting on information relayed by the FBI, according to Western security officials. Officials in the Netherlands put him on a plane back to Brazil, where he was arrested upon landing and is now serving a 15-year prison sentence for document fraud related to his fake identity. [Continue reading…]