Feature

How they see us: So many Russian spies, so few secrets

The FBI’s claim that 11 Russians have been covertly spying in the U.S. for years cannot be taken at face value, said Yevgeny Shestakov in Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

The FBI’s claim that 11 Russians have been covertly spying in the U.S. for years cannot be taken at face value, said Yevgeny Shestakov in Rossiiskaya Gazeta. American authorities chose to arrest the 11 right after Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had visited Washington—a clear sign that elements in U.S. intelligence are trying to derail the increasingly friendly relations between the two countries. The arrests also may have been designed “as a means of showing how formidable and efficient U.S. secret services are.” But the attempt has backfired. Even the U.S. prosecutors “admitted that these people had never compromised U.S. national security.”

Actually, this incident tells us more about our government than about the Americans, said Alexander Golts in The Moscow Times. It would appear that Russian authorities still do not grasp how an open society functions. It’s “no coincidence that this intelligence network was created in the early 2000s, when Vladimir Putin became president.” Putin started out as a KGB spy in Germany, and rose to become the head of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB after the Soviet Union collapsed. A product of Soviet paranoia, Putin sees “all foreign open-source information, such as newspapers and published material from think tanks, as unreliable—or even disinformation planted by the White House to dupe Russia.” That’s why he spent millions planting covert agents to do “tasks that anybody could have easily accomplished by simply reading U.S. newspapers or doing an Internet search.” The waste of resources is mind-boggling.

But hardly surprising, said Yulia Latynina in Novaya Gazeta. These agents were trained and sent to the U.S. so that their superiors would seem to be doing something worthy of praise and promotion. The agencies need to spend their allocated funds and justify their big budgets, and nothing looks more impressive than a covert spy ring. Remember when authorities wanted to kill Alexander Litvinenko, the ex-spy who was living in Britain? “Did you ever wonder why they used polonium and not a cudgel on the noggin in a stairwell somewhere?” It’s because a bonk on the head is worth two medals: one for the bonker and one for his handler. But using a highly toxic radioactive poison requires a massive operation involving dozens of operatives—who all get medals and promotions.

The FBI doesn’t come out of this “smelling of roses,” either, said Nikolai Snezhkov in Vremya Novostei. Just think how much time and money U.S. authorities wasted following the Russians around. One Russian agent we spoke to is convinced that “it is because of such distractions that the U.S. intelligence agencies failed to anticipate 9/11.” It’s easier and more exciting to go chasing after foreign nationals than to analyze real intelligence information. The truth is, both countries’ intelligence services are staffed by self-serving careerists trying to protect their turf, said Ekaterina Deeva in Moskovsky Komsomolets. It makes you long for the Cold War, when spies were motivated by patriotism and ideology. “Nowadays, nobody spies out of principle.”

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