Business opened doors for spy suspect
Cambridge firm was a ‘cover’ to reap data
When Donald Heathfield was launching his business, Future Map, the accused Russian spy turned to a college intern for help developing software that would help companies carry out strategic planning in complex systems.
The former intern said yesterday that Heathfield clearly needed his help.
“He was basically using what amounted to a calendar with a few bells and whistles,’’ said the intern, who asked that his name not be published to avoid linking him to an accused spy. “It was a piece of junk.’’
The quality may not have mattered much. According to the FBI, Heathfield’s consulting business, run out of his Cambridge apartment, was a “cover’’ designed to help him collect intelligence for his bosses at the Russian spy agency, SVR.
The FBI affidavit says Heathfield collected a Russian government subsidy to operate the business, including one expense claim for $4,900 for “business [his cover].’’ The firm seemed to have few if any customers, yet still enabled Heathfield to meet people and travel the world, building ties with influential Americans in senior corporate and government roles.
Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, were arrested Sunday night at their Cambridge home and charged in US District Court in Manhattan with conspiracy to act as unregistered agents of a foreign government and with money laundering. Eight others were picked up on similar charges in other US cities, and an alleged handler was arrested in Cyprus.
The affidavit said the mission of the alleged spies was to blend into American society and “to search and develop ties in policymaking circles.’’
Heathfield and Foley moved to Cambridge in 1999, using fake identities and passing themselves off as French Canadians. He earned a master’s degree in public administration at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2000 after completing a one-year midcareer program and had a number of accomplished and influential classmates, including the current president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon.
The intern worked for Heathfield in 2006 and 2007 when the alleged spy was in transition from his job at a Cambridge consulting firm, Global Partners Inc., into a new role as chief of his own firm, Future Map Strategic Advisory Services LLC.
The Future Map website lists offices at Heathfield’s Cambridge home address and also in Paris and Singapore. It points readers to one site that uses the software, called China Green Future, but that site has virtually no content.
According to an Atlanta businessman who reviewed the software earlier this year, Heathfield had not produced an impressive product, but still could have used it to get access to top-level people.
Aaron Estis — president of The Estis Group, an Atlanta management consulting group — said he was intrigued by a job listing that Future Map posted about six weeks ago on a Harvard alumni page that had to do with “strategy and government.’’
After responding to the ad, Estis said he received a call from a man who said he was in Singapore, followed by a call from Heathfield offering to split the profits if he would sell the company’s software to government agencies.
“It’s a piece of software that helps the heads of organizations keep track of their initiatives,’’ said Estis. “You would not just sell the software and go away. You would help the client identify, capture, and document these strategic initiatives and put them in the software.’’
Estis said that long-term contact would give Heathfield continuing access to the top-level people at the companies or government agencies who handle strategy issues.
Estis said Heathfield was engaging, but Estis was not impressed by the software, so he opted not to go forward.
“I just didn’t think it was an earth-shattering innovation that would cause these agencies to cast off whatever sort of method they were using now to keep track of their strategic initiatives and to go to this product,’’ said Estis. “My impression of him was that he was academic and didn’t really understand the market he was going after. . . . I just thought it was half-baked.’’
After learning of Heathfield’s arrest this week, Estis said he is not sure if it was “dumb luck’’ or good instincts that made him decide not to go into business with Heathfield. But he said he is grateful that he did not.
“I could have been part of it and had no idea whatsoever that I was helping someone get information that they really weren’t supposed to have,’’ Estis said. “So in that sense, the idea of selling this strategy software to government agencies is probably not so bad a ploy to get someone to help you unawares.’’
In 2006, Heathfield filed a patent application for software, which is still pending, according to US Patent and Trademark Office records.
He also reached out that year to Yaneer Bar-Yam, the founder of the New England Complex Systems Institute, a Cambridge think tank specializing in finding solutions to social and political problems.
Bar-Yam said Heathfield used the name of a Harvard University professor as a means of introducing himself. He said Heathfield sought a business alliance with his organization, an idea that Bar-Yam rejected because Heathfield was focused on the marketplace while Bar-Yam’s attention is drawn to fundamental research.
He added, “There are lots of consultants that are building lots of tools that have various levels of sophistication. He wasn’t as foolish as some, and he wasn’t as sophisticated as others.’’
Heathfield delivered papers at conventions organized by Bar-Yam’s think tank in 2006 and 2007. Bar-Yam said Heathfield did not need a pretext to attend because the academic group is dedicated to improving the quality of life around the world, and the door is open to everyone, including Russian government officials.
“We want people to come and learn from us,’’ he said. “This is the way that we improve the world.’’
But he added that Heathfield had potentially put himself in a good position to help his Russian bosses make good decisions.
“From the point of view of learning about the state of the art of scientific knowledge, there is some benefit to being among the elite scientists who are engaged in science at the boundary of knowledge,’’ he said.