After the much-ballyhooed sanctioning of Russia for its alleged cyber-meddling during the 2016 U.S. election, President Barack Obama went one step further and shut down two Russian-owned compounds he suspects of espionage involvement.
Closing the two compounds, one in Maryland and one in New York, was part of a plan to expose and punish Russia for influencing the election to benefit President-elect Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. The Washington Post characterized the move as part of Obama's "retaliation" against Russia.
Among the wide-ranging measures, the White House announced that the State Department would be closing two Russian-owned compounds — one in Maryland and one in New York — that it says were used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes. It is also declaring 35 Russians “persona non grata” for their alleged role in intelligence operations.
While the location of the New York compound is not being revealed — although local rumors indicate it's the Killenworth estate in Glen Cove, a kind of "country home" for Moscow's delegation to the United Nations — the Russian-owned estate in Centerville, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, has been well known since its beginnings in 1972 as a resort for Soviets living stateside. Since then, rumors of its espionage activities have become almost charming to neighbors. In a Post piece from 1987, the rumors were detailed by a reporter who had been allowed to visit:
The compound is on about 50 acres at Pioneer Point, a peninsula where the Corsica and Chester rivers meet. Since it was built in the early 1970s as a resort for Soviets living in the United States, rumors have circulated among Queen Anne's County residents as to what goes on inside the compound.
Before Sept. 5, the Soviets had not taken many opportunities to dispel those rumors. A tall, chain-link fence forms a horseshoe-shaped barrier to anyone attempting to get inside, and the water closes the end of the horseshoe. Video cameras monitor the gates.
However, some locals were convinced in the beginning that spying might be going on there — and at least one indicated it may have been related to "electronic communications." In a piece posted Thursday, Jamie Dupree, radio news director of the Washington bureau of the Cox Media Group and a D.C. native, quoted one local resident from a 2013 report from local online news source The Chestertown Spy:
“I understand that during the Cold War at least one farm outbuilding/barn on a neighboring farm was used by the US (CIA? FBI?) as an HQ for spying on activities (perhaps largely electronic communications) at what was essentially a dacha for the Soviets, mainly those associated with the embassy and consulate in DC,” wrote Marge Fallaw.
Despite the compounds enjoying a somewhat innocuous reputation, Obama ordered Thursday that they be evacuated within 24 hours, calling them "beachside spy nests sometimes used by Russian intelligence operatives to have long conversations on the sand to avoid being ensnared by American electronic surveillance."