Wednesday, 30 June 2010

I spy with my little eye something...

There they were, Dimitri and Barack, on a long awaited date, rekindling an unrequited love at the DC-area burger joint (in Arlington), Ray's Hell Burger. Just last week, Dimitri's boo B was praising the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia.  Then, yesterday, things broke wide open -- a Russian spy ring was cracked in the U.S.  Of course big daddy back in Moscow reacted with particular scorn, "Your police have gotten carried away." Putin said this to the other big daddy, Clinton, who was in Moscow explaining how life actually only begins after the presidency.

I have to admit that the whole affair is quite an odd story. The 11 people accused are being charged with failing to register as foreign agents as well as money laundering; none of them are indicted on espionage. They did not penetrate any federal agencies or necessarily have access to classified information. Their task, allegedly, was as follows:

Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e, to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels [intelligence reports] to C [Center].

Sounds quite mundane. Unsexy. Not James Bondish enough. Of course, that was before the media discovered Facebook feline Anna Chapman.  She has a number of photos online, and a whole double-life sequenced out on LinkedIn. She did lie about her experience at Barclays though; she worked 6 months not the year she indicated on her  profile, a key mistake (apparently) quickly caught by The Guardian. She is also being called femme fatale and "red hot" by the New York Post, which occasionally reports news as well. She made no secret about being Russian, and neither did several others arrested.

It turns out one of them was a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard! Donald Heathfield posed as a mid-career student. I can attest that the mid-career class always varies, with a few strange fruits mixed up with the rest of the basket. The description of his vague activities and lack of general direction seems to describe most Kennedy School graduates at some given point. What is more disconcerting is that he (and a few others) posed as Canadians. Is that really necessary? For being nice, Canadians are often put in this awkward position.

In fact in 1997, the Israeli government was regularly using Canadian passports in spy operations by the Mossad. It was that year when Israeli agents posing as Canadians tried to assassinate Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal (see this article). It was a bungled operation. While posing as tourists, the agents stumbled into a Hamas office and dropped some poison into the ear of Meshal. Yet, they were quickly apprehended by Jordanian security officials, and an irate King Hussein who was at that time in good faith negotiations with Israel, demanded an antidote as Meshal lay on his deathbed in a hospital. PM Bibi Netanyahu (the same one as today) relented, and furthermore in exchange for the detained agents, released Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yasin; of course Israel assassinated him 7 years later. Meshal meanwhile still is at large, now in Damascus. After that incident the Israelis stopped using Canadian passports, but I guess the Russians did not.

It seems though that both the Russians and Israelis are in line for continued unintelligent embarrassment. Remember that assassination several months back of a senior Hamas commander in Dubai by Mossad agents? The fallout continues. A couple weeks ago, a senior agent who played a part in the operation was arrested under a German warrant in Poland. Then the head of Mossad resigned this week. To top it off, Lebanon has uncovered more layers of a deeply entrenched Israeli spy ring in their country. The arrests first began in April 2009, but have continued until now, with senior military officials being arrested. Now a senior employee from Alfa, one of the country's leading mobile operators, was arrested.

It ain't good times for the spy folks these days. The spooks are spooked.

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