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Accused Russian spies in Hawaii are set for trial

The alleged Russian spies were charged with stealing the identities of dead children to obtain passports and government security clearance.

(CN) — A Hawaii couple accused of being Russian spies pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning to charges of identity theft, passport application fraud and conspiracy to commit crimes against the United States.

Walter Glenn Primrose and Gwynne Darle Morrison, who had been living under the names Bobby Edward Fort and Julie Lyn Montague respectively, were indicted last week in a case that plays out like a blockbuster film. The couple have been held in federal custody since their July 22 arrest.

Throughout the telephone hearing, Morrison maintained her identity as Montague, saying “That’s what they’re calling me,” when the judge addressed her as Gwynn Morrison. Primrose did not deny his identity.  

Federal prosecutors informed the court that Morrison’s sister had identified her off a driver’s license photo as Morrison to federal agents. In a push for her release, Morrison’s attorney pointed out that she had presented no danger to the public and had no criminal history under either identity.

However, Judge Rom Trader ordered Morrison to be held without bond, saying, “I can’t even really say that I have confidence in who Miss Morrison or Miss Montague really truly is."

An investigation by the U.S. Department of State Diplomatic Security Service indicated that the couple has been living under their assumed names for over 30 years. The infants whose identities were allegedly stolen by the pair would have been a full decade younger than true ages of the couple and had died in the 1980s. The couple then applied for Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses and passport under the new names.

A criminal complaint filed July 21 details the probe into Primrose and Morrison’s identities. Records from Texas indicate that the couple attended high school and college together. They were married as Primrose and Morrison in 1980 and then re-married as Fort and Montague eight years later.

Primrose’s government ties have been the source of the most concern. Primrose enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1994, where he worked as an avionics electronics technician and was able to obtain security clearance under the Bobby Edward Fort identity. He has been employed with a Department of Defense contractor since retirement from the Coast Guard in 2016. Primrose’s position within the Coast Guard would have allowed him access to information about the nation’s water ports, AP News reported.

Pictures found in the couple's home showed the pair in a jacket federal authorities say may be genuine KGB garments. (U.S. State Department)

Federal prosecutors submitted several Polaroid photographs showing the couple in what appeared to be an authentic KGB uniform jacket to lend credence to their claims. The photographs, believed to be taken in the 1980s, were found in the couple’s Oahu home in the raid that led to their arrest. Megan Kau, attorney for Morrison, has explained that the jacket was merely a costume tried on for fun at a friend’s house. Kau has declined to comment on the case.

The complaint alleges that the pair conspired against the U.S. to obtain false legal documents with the stolen identities but does not include any counts of treason or espionage.

The trial for the couple is set for Sept. 26.

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