As if the recently uncovered Russian spy ring didn't have enough Cold War elements, America and Russia are reportedly in final talks on a deal to exchange at least some of the 10 alleged operatives for one or more Russians accused of spying for the U.S. and Britain. If the deal goes through, who wins in the prisoner swap, and who, if anyone, is being fleeced? (Watch a Fox News report about the "spy swap")
So Russia "gets back its would-be sleeper agents," and what does the U.S. get in return? asks Ron Radosh at Pajamas Media. A handful of Russia's unwanted scapegoats, like researcher Igor Sutyagin, who in 2004 was wrongly convicted of passing military secrets to a CIA front group. This "moral equivalence" between actual Russian spies and "innocent political offenders" is a win for Russia, and a shameful "charade" for the U.S.
The only reason Russia would agree to swallow "great slabs of humble pie" like this, says former British diplomat Charles Crawford in his blog, is if they're scared the sleeper agents would spill loads of "KGB/SVR beans" in their trials. And maybe they already have. "The more you look at it, the more this looks like a five-star triumph for the Americans in general and the FBI in particular."
Russia has a long history of "honoring its secret agents" with fame, financial rewards, plum jobs, and even their faces on postage stamps, says Jeff Stein in The Washington Post. "Moscow may be duller than New York, Boston, New Jersey, Seattle and Washington, D.C.," but life should be good for these agents, especially "sensational star" Anna Chapman, who "can probably look forward to a TV show, too."
The American public:
With Chapman's ex-husband selling topless photos of her and tales of their sexual exploits, she may well "want to get the heck out of Dodge," says Jen Doll in The Village Voice. But Americans are getting a raw deal. Instead of a juicy trial involving our new favorite sexpot spy, we get "a pot-bellied scientist geek spy named Igor."
Not everyone in the proposed swap wants to be traded. Sutyagin "doesn't consider this as a release from prison but more like an exile, an extradition from the country," says his brother, Dmitry Sutyagin. And Chapman's lawyer, Robert Baum, says his client would "like to live here." And no wonder, says Charles Crawford. In Russia, they'll be grilled about what went wrong, then "regarded as failures and losers for ever."
The FBI field agents:
Nabbing a spy ring after 10 years of surveillance was a big win for the FBI, says former top counterintelligence official John P. Slattery, to The New York Times, and the agents involved "may feel some frustration" and "heartache in not seeing these guys do some jail time" before being deported.
All in all, "the deal may be even," says Steve LeVine in Foreign Policy. Sutyagin, plausibly, says he only passed on information from unclassified sources, and U.S. prosecutors don't claim the 10 "actually carried out any espionage, only that they didn't register as foreign agents." A spy swap would be "an elegant way to resolve the case," says Mark Hosenball in Newsweek, for all parties involved.