DOJ busts Russian spy who worked in NYC as community organizer

On Tuesday, The Independent reported that the Justice Department is charging a 61-year-old national who ran a Russian cultural center in New York City of being a spy for the Russian government.

"Federal prosecutors have charged Elena Branson — a dual citizen of the US and Russia — with acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying US authorities, conspiring to commit visa fraud, making false statements to the FBI, and failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act," reported Alex Woodward. "US Attorney Damian Williams with the Southern District of New York said Ms Branson 'actively subverted foreign agent registration laws in the United States in order to promote Russian policies and ideology.'"

According to the report, "Federal prosecutors allege Ms Branson coordinated with Russian officials in 2012 to open the Russian Center New York, for which she 'received tens of thousands of dollars in funding from the Russian government' for events and messaging at the direction of Russian officials, without registering her role as a foreign agent with US authorities."

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She also ran the Russian Community Council of the USA, which hosted youth forums and ran the “I Love Russia” campaign — all without declaring their backing by foreign entities, and allegedly helped Russian officials obtain fraudulent visas.

The website for the Russian Center New York claims that the group was "founded ... to celebrate and share Russian cultural heritage for the enrichment of our community, improve relations between the American and the Russian people, protect the rights of Russian Americans, encourage their participation in public and cultural affairs of the U.S."

"The Russian government at its highest levels, up to and including President Vladimir Putin, have made known that aggressive propaganda and recruitment of the Russian diaspora around the world is a Russian priority," said Williams in a statement. "In connection with this pursuit, Branson is alleged to have corresponded with Putin himself and met with a high-ranking Russia minister before founding a Russian propaganda center here in New York City."

According to the DOJ, Branson returned to Russia in 2020 and is still at large.

Read the DOJ's fact document here.

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