Spy stuff that surfaces in public print rarely reflects what’s really going on. Such was the case with the 10 Russian “sleeper agents” recently arrested in the United States, and swiftly exchanged for four people held as spies by the Russians.
From the get-go, it was clear that these people were neither serious nor important. They had been under FBI surveillance for more than a decade, and thus it can be presumed they were able to do no harm. The methods and equipment they employed were said to be “right out of the Cold War”—and so they were. Real spies, particularly in more or less “friendly” countries, long ago moved on from the sort of “brush-pass handoffs” and radio transmissions (radio?) relied on by these goofballs.
Reading about these nimrods was like reading John le Carre’s The Looking Glass War, in which a serious British spy outfit assists a rival outfit—one that is a sort of vestigial appendix of World War II—in committing operational seppuku, bumbling about with methods and equipment so archaic that when the Russians first latch on to the operation they refuse to believe it; it’s like these people fell out of a time machine.
This Great Spy Scandal Of 2010 quickly descended into utterly embarrassing farce when the tabloids breathlessly dubbed accused spook Anna Chapman a “femme fatale,” and then her disgrace of a loose-lipped ex-husband obligingly rushed out to yammer to all and sundry that “Anya was great in bed and she knew exactly what to do”—though she annoyed him with her “arrogant and obnoxious” manner in “always going on about the powerful people she was meeting,” and had breezily admitted that her father was “a senior KGB agent.” (First problem with this is, the KGB hasn’t existed since 1991).
I’m sorry, but serious spies just don’t move their mouths like this. I once lived next door to the widow of a CIA contract employee, who hadn’t known her husband was an occasional agent until long after he was dead—and then learned the truth only because of a bureaucratic fuck-up. She was told he had died in “a helicopter crash”; throughout their 15 years of marriage, she had always believed that his extended sojourns to South America were necessitated because he “worked for an oil company.”
The essential buffoonery of this Gang Who Couldn’t Spy Straight is revealed in the story of the 2004 meeting between fellow sleepers Christopher Metsos and Richard Murphy: Murphy lifted from Metsos his cash and ATM card, and then took off. Murphy and his wife, Cynthia, were such dedicated agents that they refused the suggestion of their handlers that they seek jobs in the US government—that was apparently just “too scary.” Many of these goofs also hung out on a Russian social-networking site, Odnoklassniki, which does not display a lot of intelligence for folks supposedly posing as Normal, Patriotic Americans.