Unless you’ve been under a rock the last few days you’ve undoubtedly heard about the FBI arresting ten so called Russian “spies” in the US.
The highest profile member of this band is Anna Chapman, a 28 year old “Femme Fatale” originally from Moscow but currently residing in New York until her arrest earlier this week. The mainstream press, always hungry for headlines, has swooped on this to label her as a “Beautiful and Sexy Russian Spy”.
Damn that sounds good doesn’t it??
In any case this story seems to have more in common with the bumbling Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther than with any alluring and dangerous sirens in James Bond.
When I first arrived in Russia one of the most common and serious question I got as an American was…
Why are you in Siberia? ARE YOU A SPY?
My usual tongue-in-cheek reply would be..
Yes I am… I’m here to spy on your Beautiful Russian Women!
And with that reply we’d all get a good laugh and any lingering tension or suspicions was defused in an instant.
But a deeper point remained.
With near-total government control of the media and a country too often trying to deflect attention from its own problems with exaggerations of mostly-imagined foreign enemies… Cold war and xenophobic suspicions of outsiders still unfortunately remain entrenched in the Former Soviet Union.
So let me get straight to the point…
Russia’s political mentality is still firmly stuck in the past.
The world is speeding along with the internet and ever-increasing levels of transparency but in Russia the political instinct is still regrettably primitive and backwards.
The concept of “transparency” is something that remains completely alien since Russian culture itself is often firmly fixated on its SECRECY.
And herein lies the core problem.
Russia simply has too many “secrets” for its own good.
And often what the Russian Government regards as “secrets” is already open knowledge.
In the information age ideas have to fiercely compete with each other for any bit of recognition.
Billions of dollars are invested in Search Engine Optimizations, Social Networks, Social Media, Podcasting, Tweets and much more.
And any group that tries to rely on “secrets” to gain influence will simply be wiped out by a tidal wave of open information.
(Imagine going to a shoe store where the store manager hides the shoes from you but swears that they are good. This is not exactly a successful business model now is it?)
So how does this connect to our latest Russian Woman Spy?
Well let’s just say that the old political appointees who run the SVR (Russia’s External Intelligence Service) probably don’t use a PC let alone understand the value of the internet. What is the evidence to support this? Take a look at the following quotes from the UK-based Guardian:
What the alleged spy ring is demonstrating is something we already know: that the oldies are still the goodies. We have seen every wrench and spanner of the cold war toolkit on display – dead drops, maps with stamps on, code words and even a “C”. OK, they embedded text in a website now and then. But the overall feeling seems to be one of the summer of 79.
Writers hoping the recent “spy ring” arrests would provide a few fresh ideas for their next book will be somewhat disappointed. The tactics employed by the 11 alleged Russian agents to infiltrate United States policy-making circles would be rejected by their publishers as too old-fashioned for modern-day audiences.But according to the 55-page indictment put before the courts, the old tricks are still the best: memory sticks exchanged at “brush-passes” between agents on staircases, identical bags exchanged during “flash meetings” at train stations, envelopes covertly slipped between co-conspirators inside folded newspapers, and money buried in public parks to be dug up years later.Technological advances brought a little more sophistication, however. The alleged spies are accused of having communicated with Moscow using radiograms – coded bursts of data sent by radio transmitters that can be picked up by a radio receiver set up to a specific frequency.They are also said to have used steganography, enabling text documents or web addresses to be secreted in publicly-available websites – invisible to anyone without the software decryption program.
So Anna Chapman and her buddies were on the payroll for the KGB/SVR, who believe that the cold war is still on and that you can’t find anything useful on the internet. So they pay tens of millions of dollars to up set Anna and her fellow spies with cushy jobs where they essentially gather no real intelligence and pretend to “play spy” for the benefit of their bosses back in Moscow.
Meanwhile the KGB bosses back in Moscow think they and their operation in the US look really cool and that they deserve big medals and fat paychecks. All is going well until the FBI humiliates them so thoroughly with literally years of surveillance evidence that they can’t even play the old “the Russian Government will deny all ties with you if you get caught” card.
So who are the bad guys in all of this?
Is it Anna Chapman and her cohorts?
I don’t think so… they had to know that they were working a BS job but decided to take advantage of the gravy train coming from Moscow in the form of cash handed out by old Cold War guys who don’t know what a browser is.
And in all honesty I can’t really label these KGB bosses as bad guys either because frankly it takes more intelligence to be a bad guy. No, what we have instead are a bunch of buffoons instead of bad guys who are in charge of the asylum and ultimately it’s the Russian people who suffer for their ignorance and backwardness.
Maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on these guys because perhaps it’s more than just a fault of human nature.
Because after all if you took two identical reports and labeled one “Compiled Analysis from Various Web Sources” and the other “TOP F***ING SECRET”, which one would you pay attention to?
But in a nutshell this is what this Russian Spy story is all about.
Old guys running the ship who won’t accept information or give promotions unless the information given to them comes from cloak and daggers methods. Then you have the “Agents” who work for them trying to make a living and having no choice but to follow the directions of the blind.
In the old days of the USSR when Yuri Andropov was the Director of the KGB he would insist that any “intelligence” which came to him had to match his paranoid view of the West. Therefore any agent who delivered positive news about the USA or negative news about the USSR was either demoted or fired. So naturally what did the KGB agents do?
They lied their butts off to Mr. Andropov and he absolutely disconnected from reality.
I wish this story was an old side note to cold war history… but unfortunately it still looks like it’s in play now. Hopefully this scandal will wake some of the right people up so they can do some serious house cleaning.
BTW remember the old Mad Magazine cartoon “Spy vs. Spy?”