Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ruskie Spies In The Suburbs: 'But Look What She Did With The Hydrangeas'

I grew up during the Cold War, an era thick with Soviet and American espionage intrigues, Boris and Natasha and, of course, Bond . . . James Bond.

So as logical as it seems to harken back to those dark days of the 1950s and 60s in digesting the news that the FBI has taken down 11 members of a Russian spy ring operating in the U.S., the comparison just doesn't wash.

The biggest reason for this disconnect is less that Anna Chapman and her comrades were so bloody incompetent, which included leaving passwords laying around their homes because they had trouble remembering them.

While they did employ some of the tried-and-true methods of spycraft, including switching bags at a train station and burying pots of money, they blew their backyard barbecue covers by communicating with Russian intelligence officers at the U.N. and Russian consulate in Manhattan through easily decrypted messages hidden in digital images and wireless network text messages sent over the Internet.

No, the biggest reason is that the information that they were trying to glean for Moscow was so inconsequential that none of the 11 could be charged with espionage.

You see, their interest apparently was not in nuclear weapon blueprints or the other kinds of goodies that spies usually try to arrange for government officials to provide, but rather gossip through infiltrating "policy-making circles." No matter, they were busted before any PTA bake sales or Little League games could be compromised.

Joking aside -- at least for the moment -- Chapman and other ring members were "illegals," s
pies who adopt the identities of real or dead Americans and not the spies of yore who typically posed as diplomats.

Some of the spies' communications read like a script from a Coen brothers movie, including this exchange between ring members Juan Lazaro and Vicki Peleaz:

Lazaro: "They tell me that my information is of no value because I didn't provide any source . . . it's of no use to them."

Peleaz: "Really?"

Lazaro: "Yes. They say that . . . without a source . . . without stating who tells you all of this . . .It isn't . . . your report isn't."

Peleaz: [Interrupts] "Put down any politician from here."

In another intercepted message, the handlers at Moscow Center were disturbed that Richard and Cynthia Murphy, one of three married couples in the ring, had bought a house in North Jersey.

"We are under the impression that C [Russia's External Intelligence Service] views our ownership of the house as a deviation from the original purpose of the mission," replied Cynthia Murphy. "It was a convenient way to solving the housing issue, plus 'to do as the Romans do' in a society that values home ownership."

Chapman, who has become the femme fatale darling of the tabloids because she posted sexy photos of herself online, at least had the brains to smell a rat when a Russian-speaking undercover FBI agent posing as a contact instructed her to deliver a fake passport to another supposed spy using this password exchange: "Excuse me, but haven't we met in California last summer?"

"No, I think it was the Hamptons," Chapman deadpanned, and soon was packing her bags for a one-way trip to Moscow.

The FBI waited three days after Russian President Medvedev's so-called Cheeseburger Summit with President Obama had concluded before pouncing.

The response to the arrests by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was
tepid in the extreme and left one yearning for a vintage Cold War fist-pounding rant: "They haven't explained to us what this is about. I hope they will. The only thing I can say today is that the moment for doing that has been chosen with special elegance." To which another Russian official added: "This will not effect our relations with Washington."

Neighbors of the Murphys in leafy Montclair, New Jersey were, of course, shocked. Just shocked.

Said one:

"They seemed so normal. They couldn't have been spies."

And another:

"But look what she did with the hydrangeas."

IMAGES (Top to bottom): Pelaez, the Murphy home with praiseworthy hydrangeas; Chapman; Suspects Chapman, Peleaz, the Murphys and Lazaro in court; Medvedev and Obama have a nosh.


Jolly Roger said...

Who knows, really? We've been served up so many ladles of BS now that I am automatically suspicious of anything this Government says. And that didn't change in January of 2009.

Shaun Mullen said...

Good point, and that never should be forgotten. But given the subdued reaction from Moscow, I think the government line on this one is more or less accurate.