Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Russian Spies! What's Next, Poodle Skirts and Sock Hops?

I read this story at both the New York Times and the UK Guardian about the FBI busting a Russian spy ring and wondered if I'd been sucked back to the 1950s or maybe a new version of Burn After Reading, just a bunch of craziness with no real purpose, but it's a real Russian spy story.

The alleged spies, according to a Foreign Policy Magazine email, were supposed to "embed themselves in the fabric of American life, establishing careers and raising families in the United States. The FBI had been surveilling the ring for at least seven years."

Writing at the magazine's website, David W. Drezner calls this case the "lamest espionage conspiracy ever" and likens it to the film No Way Out.

The New York Times article says they were supposed to "penetrate American “policy making circles.” From the NYT:
Criminal complaints filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Monday read like an old-fashioned cold war thriller: Spies swapping identical orange bags as they brushed past each other 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.

... Jessie Gugig, 15, said she could not believe the charges, especially against Mrs. Murphy.

“They couldn’t have been spies,” she said jokingly. “Look what she did with the hydrangeas.”
Miss Gugig's statement cracks me up. The NYT piece says Moscow officials feared some of the agents may have "gone native." If you saw Avatar, you know what that phrase means.

And now I can't help but remember my classy, great Russian neighbors in New Jersey. The husband was Russian, the wife was from Lithuania, and they did not hide that so I think they were what they said they were. The wife did invite me to head into New York with her, suggesting I could learn how to tango and meet a millionaire.

The corner store sold Kefir and other Russian food items or treats from Slavic and Baltic countries. And next to that store was an Exxon run by Arabs. Oh, and now I'm remembering the Russian guy who moved my furniture who had Arab guys working for him. He offered to be my "special friend" because he was impressed I recognized Arabic when I heard it. (Recognized it, but I didn't understand what they were saying.) My writer's mind is whirling now. Intrigue everywhere.

I wrote years ago that Americans focus so much on brown-faced terrorists that we overlook the white-faced threats. The kicker is "The FBI said that the deep cover agents were called "Illegals" by Moscow," per the Guardian piece.

This dust-up with Russian espionage isn't the only news bit lately that makes me feel I'm watching a rerun. In the first day of confirmation hearings for Elena Kagan, Republicans invoked Thurgood Marhsall's name so much I expected him to walk in and sit down next to the SCOTUS hopeful.

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