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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Russian Spies: OK But Keystone Cops?

Contemporary Russia is a KGB state, as the cover of The Economist informed its readers a while back. Vladimir Putin cut his teeth as a KGB operative in Berlin. Much of the Russian state, finance, and industry is run by former KGB agents. The official website of the KGB’s successor organization, the FSB, trumpets the bravery and bravado of agents who thwarted and continue to foil the West’s evil plans. Why should we be surprised that Russian agents are spying in the United States, some apparently under deep cover? In fact, the story makes eminent sense. Putin and the KGB resurgence dates back to the 2000, the year the arrested agents began their deep cover in the United States. Only back then, Russia had less cash than it has today.

What is unexpected is what the new Russian spies appear to be doing. Infiltration of Think Tanks would not seem to yield secret information of value. Our Think Tanks compete among themselves for the attention of policy makers with their prolific working papers and publications. Any respectable foreigner can walk in the front door and ask for such information without much of a fuss. Not knowing about our nuclear secrets, I cannot comment on what Russian spies can learn by learning them. The accounts in today’s press remind one of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, which describes the machinations of a “spy” who fabricates elaborate plots, secret drops, and the like to justify the money he receives. Russia’s spies seem to face a similar problem in convincing their superiors in Moscow to buy them houses and reimburse their vacation travel.

When more comes out, I may stand corrected, but my first impression is that of a Keystone Cops movie.

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