If their website is any indication, Arc Electronics was apparently into a lot of things besides spying.
Sure, espionage is exciting and interesting and all, but bills have got to be paid. Those traffic lights aren't going to construct themselves -- though Arc sure as hell weren't selling anything to the city: "I know everyone thinks city employees are dumb people," said Alvin Wright, a spokesman at the city Public Works Department, when we asked whether the city had bought any traffic lights from the strange front-house operation. "But we're qualified and know what we're doing."
Federal court hearings regarding Arc's alleged spying begin today before U.S. District Judge George Hanks.
The charges involve illegally sending microelectronics to the Russian government, Russian military, and intelligence agencies. But while all that was allegedly going down, Alexander Fishenko, the company's owner, had a rather elaborate faux operation humming at a nondescript strip mall in southwest Houston.
According to the company's site, it's a staunch defender of Internet privacy, and, in addition to traffic lights, ostensibly produces surgical lights and helmet lights. Indeed, it's an eclectic mix. The company's also looking to hire a new "Senior Market Research Analyst," if anyone's interested.
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Alex James, a receptionist at neighboring Modern Performance, said he never saw anyone coming in and out of their mutual alley and had no idea what was happening inside Arc Electronic.
If there's truth to the charges, a lot of communication with Russia was happening. The U.S. authorities say Arc has violated the international emergency economic powers act and the arms export control act in a fraudulent scheme to purchase microelectronics and send them over to Russia. Specifically, it seems, to this building:
But in today's age, even alleged spies have Facebook. And what we found was deeply, deeply unsatisfying. It shattered our preconceived ideas regarding spying. Spies aren't supposed to "like" Sting, or the book "The Little Prince" like Sevinj Taghiyeva.
Only Alexander Posobilov turned in a respectably nefarious-seeming profile. There's not a smile to be found on the entire thing. It's wonderful. He maybe -- maybe -- would have cut it during the Cold War.