The Empire Strikes Back?

As the bizarre story of the "Russian spy ring" continues to unfold — and one of the accused "spies", Anna ("Femme Fatale") Chapman, begins invoking comparisons to a Bond Girl — I keep recalling an old joke from my Soviet Union past.

The KGB has sent an agent to the United States.  Having arrived to the country and stricken with a "cultural shock", the agent lost control and spiraled into binge partying.  Two weeks later, having spent all his money and forgotten all the codes, he reaches for the radio-transmitter and with the shaky from a hangover fingers types an open message to the Center:

"Center, Center, I'm Sidorov.  Who am I?"

The Center responds:

"Sidorov, Sidorov, you're "Eagle", you damned asshole."

 What triggered my memory was the following passage:

"The FBI said it had intercepted and decrypted a 2009 message from "Moscow Center" — Russian intelligence headquarters — which read, in part: "You were sent to the USA for long-term service trip. 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 reporters] to C[enter.]"

Will someone please explain to me why the "Moscow Center" would send an encrypted message to undercover agents to remind them about the essence of their mission?  Haven't they memorized it during their training?  Aren't they supposed to remember it without the Center having to periodically repeat it — at a risk of being "intercepted and decrypted"? 

On the other hand, what a convenience for the FBI, having such a message!

Today's Washington Post informs us that charges against the Russian 11 " include conspiring to act as unauthorized foreign agents and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  They were not charged with espionage.They were not charged with espionage.  Why then does the article headline say "FBI arrest 10 accused of working as Russian spies"?  Correct, "foreign agents" don't sell newspapers; Russian spies hugging Bond girls do.

A few days ago, I wrote:

"With the lack of obvious negative developments to upset the success of the Obama administration's "reset policy" toward Russia, the opponents of better relations between Washington and Moscow should now look for something else."

The "Russian spy ring" does look to me as this "something else", potentially more poisonous (and fresher!) than thinly grounded allegations of "human rights violations" in Russia.  As the U.S. Congress takes on the New START Treaty and the Nuclear Cooperation ("123") Agreement, the images of "Russian spies" threatening our national security come all too handy.  As if someone has produced them on demand. 

Empires do strike back, do they not?

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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13 Responses to The Empire Strikes Back?

  1. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Michael,
    This is very nice summary of what’s happened and is going on. Sadly, Russia’s image in the US is so tainted that it takes months to elevate it a bit, but just a single “story” to throw it back.
    Best Regards,

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    I wish you were right, and this won’t be the bumpiest of all bumps…
    For now, my best hope lies with Anna Chapman, whoxe “sexy” pictures are already all over the Net. The whole story may well become farce before someone calls it tragedy.

  3. It doesn’t seem to be sticking.
    The topic of Russians and spying is one aspect of spin.
    Another factor is evident in these two pieces:
    The matter of intolerance and suicide among children are valid subjects for media to cover. With RFE/RL, the slant is to show Russian on non-Russian claimed instances of violence as if the reverse isn’t evident.
    Whether in Crimea or western Ukraine and some other areas, I know this to not be true. One wouldn’t know this if exclusively dependent on certain news sources.
    BTW, what would be the outcry if a venue like RFE/RL positively linked to a site called La Judeophobe which frequently ran vulgar caricatures of Jews?
    A provocatively raised last point to underscore a prevailing bias which a good number seem to readily accept as they selectively seek better conditions on other matters.

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Alex, Mike-
    Thanks for your comments. I (happily) agree with you: this story doesn’t seem to be sticking. My beloved WP has published a load of stuff — basically about nothing: more describing the “suspects” than the (actually non-existing) crimes.
    Moreover, there was no editorial. They will cook something up in the day or two, I’m sure. But the very fact that they weren’t prepared means that this whole story came as a huge surprise for them as well. That is to say, no signs of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” either.
    This morning, I heard a small pice on the Public Radio, but this was natural given that two “suspects” were from Cambridge, MA.
    Mike, thanks for the Raimondo link. Justin is impeccable as usual. No need for anyone to continue the subject: he’s told it all.

  5. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Leo,
    Following your line of thoughts, it’s only a matter of time that we learn that the members of the Magnificent Eleven paid kickbacks to their SVR handlers — in order to stay in the US.
    My wife usually buys her dancing shoes in Cambridge, MA. Next time I won’t accompany her there 🙂

  6. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks again Leo, that was…insightful 🙂
    British passport, not that I know. Cash, most likely not, but her credit card bills are quite impressive. Facebook, most likely not: her company blocks this crap, and she has too many hobbies at home. LinkedIn, hmm… I’ll check, and if she’s in, I ask her to finally teach me how to use it.

  7. Leo says:

    On a more serious note, we can complain all we want about the ensued media frenzy. But let’s ask ourselves again who (or what) gets hurt because of it? Vocal ethnic minority (emphasis on VOCAL)? Powerful business interests? Strategic partnership between countries? None of the above. On the contrary, the La Judeophobe blog (invented and promoted by Mike:)) would infringe on all three.
    All the best,

  8. Leo says:

    Let me first state that I do understand that La Judeophobe is purely hypothetical and is not something you would support, hence the smiling face I put at the end.
    There is something I have meant to write in response to Eugene’s thoughts on the Russian lobby in the US a couple of months back. When Greek meets Greek, they open a restaurant. When three Greeks meet, they form a political party. This was said about Greek immigrants of New York. How about when Russian meets Russian? They mostly run like hell, switch to speaking English, look the other way (just some anecdotal evidence).
    There is a huge number of Russian-Americans in and around New York City. How does their influence stack up against that of Italian-Americans, for example? Based on this comparison (again anecdotal) I believe that the success of any ethnic lobby depends on some elusive non-scientific qualities. These relate to national character, upbringing, culture and more importantly proclivity for self-organization. Business interest (per Eugene) and goodwill toward the homecountry (per Alex) are necessary (and already present), but may not be sufficient to form a strong grass-roots Russian lobby in the US.
    With kind regards,

  9. In the NY area, over-hearing Russian language conversation is no great surprise. This includes among people who aren’t so patriotic towards Russia.
    In American mass media and body politic, Americans of Jewish, Irish, Polish and some other backgrounds have felt at ease enough to show open support to the additional country (besides the US) that they feel akin to.
    In the US, much of the culture atop the leading American media venues and body politic remain restricted on Russia. Without getting specific (due to the restriction point I make, which self-restricts me a bit from specifics), someone thinking along the general lines of this thread can feel a pinch in certain situations.
    In academic studies dealing with Russia, the situation appears to be a bit better, albeit with limits as well. In North America, note how some Ukrainian Studies programs slant in a way that’s not so evident with Russian ones.
    Meantime, for accuracy sake, it’s important to understand that the “out of sight and out of mind” approach can subconsciously influence the more even-handed among us. We can’t thoroughly concentrate familiarzing ourselves with every issue. This point leads to becoming subconsciously influenced by what is and isn’t being stressed in mass media.
    With hope, I see this situation gradually changing over the course of time. In comparision to prior periods, more people seem to have less a basis to fear and/or dislike Russia/Russians.

  10. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Leo, Mike-
    Thanks much for your great comments.
    Leo, there is media frenzy and media frenzy, and I don’t like the one that is occurring when the Congress takes on the START and 123 Agreement. Unfortunately, we have enough lawmakers in this country who seem to take theis cues exclusively from WSJ and WP editorials.
    Now, speaking of more serious question of the non-existing Russian lobby, things are changing a bit. Recently, there was a 3rd congress of so-called Russian compatriots held in SF. Sure, one can question the wisdom of “Russian” organizations taking money directly from Russian government, but their willingness to take on “Russian” issues (however humanitarian so far) is quite commendable.
    The AMBAR that has already managed to organize Medvedev’s visit to the Silicon Valley is another promising example.
    True, the “political” lobby doesn’t yet exist, and this is a separate question why. However, I feel that it’s only a matter ot time that such an organization (or organizations) emerge(s).
    And this brings me back to the “spy scandal.” I don’t think it’s helpful if a Russian wanting to discuss political issues with lawmakers, peoples from think tanks, etc. will be looked upon as SVR agent.
    Have a great Independence Day!

  11. Eugene Ivanov says:

    He might be disappointed that Anna Chapman has ignored his shop:)
    Cheer up!

  12. Alex says:

    Agh…Sometimes I came there together with even better-looking one..talking in Russian …That could have spooked him too:)

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