Press Club

Long-time Ashton Heights resident Trudy Ensign was happy to talk about a lot of things during her 101 years. She loved to paint, bowl, watch the Washington Nationals, and was a constant presence at Clarendon United Methodist Church.

But there was one thing that she never talked about: Being an intelligence analyst for the United States Army during World War II.

“No, never,” chuckles Jane Brown, Ensign’s daughter. “Even when stuff started becoming redacted or public knowledge.”

Gertrude Carley Brown Ensign died on February 28, but this past weekend a memorial service was held in her honor at the church on N. Irving Street.

During the eulogy, Reverend Tracy McNeil Wines told all those sitting in the pews paying their respects what Ensign never would.

“She used her intelligence to gain intelligence for our nation,” Wines said. “And… we enjoyed having this secret spy woman in our midst.”

Ensign was born in Iowa in 1920, lived through the Great Depression there, and was recruited out of college by the Army Security Agency (a precursor to the National Security Agency) to move to the D.C. area to help with the war effort.

She was stationed at Arlington Hall, like so many others in the Women’s Army Corps. While she wasn’t a famed “Code Girl,” Ensign undoubtedly supported their efforts.

“She knew Morse code, so [the Army] literally sent her all over the world, to Panama, Japan, Hawaii. During the Vietnam War, she worked at the [Arlington] base too,” Brown tells ARLnow. “She was the highest grade civilian woman when she retired. It was a big deal and she got all of these awards.”

In 2018, Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History interviewed Ensign about her time working for the Army and living in Arlington in the mid-20th century.

After the war, she stayed in Arlington, got married, bought a house in Ashton Heights, and had two children.

For decades, Ensign was deeply involved in the Arlington community. She was known to hand out sandwiches in the Central Library parking lot to those in need, supporting the work of A-SPAN (now, PathForward). She was president of the Maury School PTA and was a Girl Scouts troop leader, serving alongside Annie Glenn.

And she alway made time for her church. She was the membership secretary of Clarendon United Methodist for years. As former Reverend Eugene Thomas noted at the memorial service to laughs, Ensign always knew who was at Sunday services — and who wasn’t.

In September 2020, the Ashton Heights community celebrated the resident’s 100th birthday with a socially-distanced parade, signs, and well-wishes. Her positive thinking, enthusiasm, and sense of humor was on full display sitting in front of her long-time home.

“Somebody may be looking at this real estate,” she told ARLnow at the time, laughing. “But I think I’ll keep telling them how the roof leaks and they’ll go someplace else.”

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The FBI has released new video, photos and documents showing the activity of a Russian spy ring in the U.S. One of the videos shows spy activity taking place in Arlington.

Three Arlington residents were among the 10 Russian spies arrested in June 2010 and later deported. In a just-released video, one of the Arlington-based spies is seen making a “dead drop” under a bridge in an Arlington park.

According to court documents, investigators videotaped the drop after Mikhail Semenko was contacted by an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian spy handler on June 26, 2010. The agent gave Semenko an envelope containing $5,000 cash and showed him a map indicating where he was to discretely leave the envelope.

The Arlington park where the drop took place was not identified.

ABC News and the FBI have more information about the other newly-released evidence from the case, dubbed Operation Ghost Stories.

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Morning Notes

Pentagon Reviewing Change to Security Checkpoints Near Metro Station — At the behest of local transportation officials, Pentagon brass will be reviewing proposed changes to the security checkpoints near the Pentagon Metro Station. The changes, which follow the March shooting that left two security guards wounded and the suspect dead, would move the checkpoints closer to the station. Local officials worry the move could create long security lines that would disrupt the flow of commuters in and out of the station.

Arlington Spy Suspects Transferred to New York — Say goodbye to the (accused) Russian spies who loved Arlington. A judge has ordered that Michael Zottoli, Patricia Mills and Mikhail Semenko be transferred to New York. Attorneys for the three tried to keep them in Virginia, but a federal court judge ordered the transfer yesterday. There’s word that the ten accused spies may be swapped with Russia for an imprisoned nuclear scientist convicted of spying for the United States.

Arlington Artist’s Creation Appears on Popular Blog — On Tuesday, the popular blog Boing Boing highlighted a “giant bike-friendly junk-cyborg” created by Arlington artist Luke Idziak. The pedal-powered kinetic sculpture, called Wheeled Victory, or The Cyborg of Interstellar Justice, was created in 2008 and funded by the Arlington Cultural Affairs Office.

Flickr pool photo by philliefan99.

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Morning Notes

Power Outage in Ballston/Virginia Square — More than 1,600 Dominion customers are without power this morning due to a problem with an underground cable in the area of the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stations, according to WJLA.

Arlington Spy Suspects Admit True Identities — Patricia Mills and Michael Zottoli, the Pentagon City couple arrested last weekend and charged with being secret agents for the Russian government, are actually Russian citizens named Natalia Pereverzeva and Mikhail Kutzik, prosecutors have revealed. The couple and a third Arlington defendant, Mikhail Semenko, briefly appeared in court Friday. They will face a preliminary hearing in Alexandria federal court on Wednesday.

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“Like a Hollywood movie” — That’s how many news reports describe the bust of an alleged Russian spy ring over the weekend. If the movie was ever produced, much of the action would be set in Arlington. Arlington is the place where three of the 11 suspects lived and were arrested. It is also the site of some intrigue on June 26, 2010. According to court documents, video surveillance cameras installed by the FBI captured one of the suspects, Mikhail Semenko, leaving an envelope containing $5,000 cash at a “drop site” in an unnamed Arlington park.

Residents Describe Arrested Neighbors as Reserved, Ordinary — Neighbors and colleagues of the three arrested Arlington residents say they never imagined that they were in the midst of alleged “secret agents.” Mikhail Semenko worked at Travel All Russia, a Russian travel agency in Lyon Park. He was fluent in four languages, drove a Mercedes S-500, and spent much of his time with his Russian-speaking girlfriend, according to a North Arlington neighbor.

Michael Zottoli and Patricia Mills, meanwhile, had two young children who are now in protective custody, reports ABC 7. Zottoli and Mills each had a Russian accent, a neighbor said, but no one suspected they were part of a spy ring. They lived in the River House Apartments in Pentagon City after moving to the area from Seattle last year, according to court documents.

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