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. Having just completed a successful presentation of Colours of Russia in Vancouver and feeling upbeat about Medvedev and Obama’s “friendship” I must say I was trepidatious about the future. It always seems that the moment there is normality between the US and Russia something quite unexplained jumps from the woodwork to ruin it. The latest “news” comes as no surprise and Foreign Minister Lavrov summed it perfectly in sarcastic dispondency. The reality is that in 2010 Russian and American agents mingle and joke about the old days as they work together to counter modern day threats to their nations. What we are seeing today is media BS at its best designed to ignite cold war fears that are no longer existent or relevant. Unfortunately the propaganda scars of the past are so easily resurrected in the public domain because of the effectiveness of past campaigns to instill unwarranted distrust of Russia. One can only surmise that there are elements in the US who want to scupper the new reset and deflect attention from the real spy threat….. from communist China.
    Michael Hockney
    Colours of Russia

  2. The issue of spying has been played out to the point that unless something very dramatic is involved, many seem to be of a “so what” mode.
    Among mainstream folks who don’t neatly fit into the categories of hawk or dove, there’s the view which notes how stated allies have spyed on each other.
    This latest story is just another of other bumps on the road.

  3. Alex says:

    Good piece, Eugene. From what I can (gladly) observe in US blogs & comments, the US public reaction to this “spy scandal” was not exactly what the designers hoped for -most are just laughing at the idiocy. Now both governments have to get out of this story helping each other to “preserve the face”. Might be even good for the future cooperation. Does remind me the incident with the “Reset = Overload” text on the button, though. Cheers

  4. In case anyone missed –
    Are the Russians Really Coming?
    IMO, the article’s title could’ve been more aptly put.
    Russians have been here.

  5. Leo says:

    Well, looks like these “spies” had the best sinecure in the world. It also looks like SVR (or whoever directed them from Moscow) is seriously out of touch with reality. These activities (based on the information made public) do not require setting up a “spy ring”. But since they operated in a spy-like manner, media frenzy is inevitable. Especially considering 90+ pics of Anna Chapman on social networking sites. This will recede as no actual damage to the US interests has been done. More ammunition for the intellectually challenged and more pressure for Obama to “do something”.
    Stay out of trouble in New York/Boston.

  6. Leo says:

    If your wife holds a British passport, pays cash left and right, then I would start… checking Facebook and LinkedIn. Maybe there is something you don’t know.

  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. Hi Leo
    So there’s no misunderstanding, I don’t support the hypothetically mentioned La Judeophobe.
    You and the regulars here understand that. I make this note as a precuation to any potential misunderstanding from others.
    There’s a BBC headline with a heading noting that Hilary Clinton said that the spy scandal shouldn’t hinder improved Russo-American ties.
    Touching on a point of yours, Russia has a “Volunteer Army” (a play on the Russian Civil War era Whites) doing an earnest grass roots level advocacy. IMO, official Russia could and should do more to assist these people, instead of relying on options that take a more mercenary approach.
    I believe that this route can better serve Russia and the West.

  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. Alex says:

    Re: “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. ”
    Well, here in Australia, the local shop owner at ANU with whom I used to chat (on neutral topics) every time I visited his shop, now obviously tries to avoid me. Was he interviewed by ASIO already? I can only imagine how the attitudes of the Illustrious “scientists” of Oz will change – the only consolation is that they cannot become more Russophobic anyway.

  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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