Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The spy who came back from the mall


The Drop by Pants


Now this is a job I would love to have had. Eleven Russian 'sleeper' agents have been arrested in the USA. Apart from the odd cold warlike assignment, all they had to do was live like Americans. You know, eat only take-out meals, go to baseball games and pretend not to know where Asia is.

In the age when one assumes all spying is conducted by pimply computer hackers in darkened bunkers it is refreshing to know that there is still a little old-fashioned espionage going on. According to the New York Times, FBI agents who'd been tracking the sleepers for about ten years, (another doddle of a wage packet there), observed,

Spies swapping identical orange bags as they brushed past one another in a train station stairway. An identity borrowed from a dead Canadian, forged passports, messages sent by shortwave burst transmission or in invisible ink. A money cache buried for years in a field in upstate New York.

Invisible ink! Shortwave radio. Oh happy John le Carre. Hang on, the question Why is tugging at my sleeve. What is it? I'm trying to write a blog post here. Oh, yes, good point. The question Why would like to know how come the Russians didn't just hire a Rolling Stone reporter if they wanted American military secrets. They could have saved themselves a lot of money.

It does seem as if some of these deep-cover spooks were stringing their employers along a bit. The FBI intercepted a couple of 'please explain' memos re expenses such as US$1,125 for 'trip to meeting' and US$3,600 for 'education'. Hey, the wily spies wrote back, you want authentic American, that means conspicuous consumption. However the spymasters don't seem to have bought the efforts of one enterprising family to blend in by acquiring real estate with this reasoning,

“From our perspective purchase of the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here. It was a convenient way to solving the housing issue, plus ‘to do as the Romans do’ in a society that values home ownership.”

Pull the other one Boris, it's got Beluga caviar on it.

It is all quite curious. Perhaps it's an exercise in nostalgia, like the Russian equivalent of setting up a Gilbert and Sullivan Society.