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The Russian “spies”

Apparently we’ve had Russian spies in our midst, pretending to be ordinary folks, for more than a decade. They exchanged orange bags at train stations, used invisible ink and buried money in fields. Who knew the Cold War was still raging all this time?

The New York Times and others reported today that federal prosecutors have accused 11 people of membership of a Russian espionage ring. The supposed aim of the “Illegals Program” of the SVR (the KGB’s successor organization) was to have spies gather information on “nuclear weapons, American policy towards Iran, CIA leadership, congressional politics and many other topics”.

Conspiracy-monger Glenn Beck claims he knew all along: “I've heard from the Special Forces...those people who we send in when a regime is about to topple and help push it, they're here....We have operatives from all over the world, because we're easy game. We're weak.”

But this case isn't a return to the Cold War. It is more “history repeats itself, the second time as farce”. The “spies” were not in fact charged with espionage: they were charged with conspiracy to fail to register as agents of a foreign government, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering. There’s no evidence, at least so far, that the spies unearthed any valuable information. The Department of Justice says the suspects neither sought or obtained confidential information. And if they did learn something coherent about “nuclear weapons, American policy towards Iran, CIA leadership, congressional politics”, I hope they let us know, since we can't discern any clear statements on these topics coming out of the White House and Washington.

Rather than gaining access to the highest levels, it seemed like the “spies” spent most of their time milking Moscow for cash and raising their living standards. Richard and Cynthia Murphy of Montclair, New Jersey were described as “suburbia personified” by a neighbor, and when they bought a house, they got into an argument with SVR headquarters. The Murphys wrote to their handlers: “We are under an impression that C [SVR headquarters] views our ownership of our house as a deviation from the original purpose of our mission here. From our perspective purchase of the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here.”  

This story looks more and more like comedy material, and the best line came from Jessie Gugig, 15, who said she couldn’t believe the charges against the Murphys: “They couldn’t have been spies. Look at what she did with the hydrangeas.”

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