The spy swap between the Russians and Americans took 12 days to slap together. That was a hasty spy exchange by any standard, and good news for some and bad news for others.
Good news for the real spies who were liberated from Russian prisons and are now westward bound.
Good news for the Kremlin because the laughing will soon end.
But, bad news for late night comedians; bad news for the Russian spies who must leave their comfortable lives in America; and very, very bad news for whoever is behind this spy ring in Russia.
The SVR (the intelligence gathering arm of the FCD, the former KGB), and especially their Kremlin bosses, have got to be relieved this "spy" story will soon be out of the news. Not because the story threatened any reset policy or risked the return of Cold War tensions — but, because the story is so damn embarrassing.
Unless there's real espionage yet to be discovered — something which seems highly unlikely — these deep cover sleeper agents refused to awaken even after those whiny messages from their runners in Moscow which went something like this: "This isn't fair. We educated you. We sent you to America ten years ago. We pay you. Now, by-gosh-by-golly, you need to send us a think tank report from the Heritage Foundation or the Brookings Institution." (A report from AEI would have been too dangerous.) These clowns make Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 look absolutely lethal. Really, how much effort and resources did the Russian government pass around for these guys to cozy-up close to U.S. think tanks?
This is an episode of Amateur Hour, thoroughly absent the slightest hint that this random collection of Russians gleaned, much less passed a morsel of a secret. Even after all the whining from Moscow, did any of the "spies" even seek a piece classified information or, for that matter, try to meet anyone with secrets to divulge?
Well, yesterday, as if to formally confirm the story is a bunch of nonsense, the U.S. Justice Department could only charge the group with failure to register as foreign agents. That's the same charge Jimmy Carter's brother Billy was looking at for cozying-up to Colonel Qaddafi back in the 70's. It's more like charging someone with stupidity, not espionage.
We would be foolish to underestimate the dead seriousness of Russia's real spies, of course. But, still Oleg Kalugin, the onetime KGB head of operations in the United States, thinks the story "is a sign of the decadence of the Russian intelligence services." So, is that the real story here--the degree to which corruption, favoritism, and nepotism pervades Russian society? We learned from her former British husband that Anna Chapman's father is a big shot in Russia's intelligence community. Did Papa work things out so his little girl could pose as a sleeper agent and have the SVR pick-up her monthly allowance?
In any case, I expect that former SVR runner himself, Vladimir Putin, is red furious about developments at his alma mater and is taking a closer look as we chuckle.
Does anyone remember the old joke Russians would cynically tell about their Soviet employers in the former Worker's Paradise: "They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work." Looks to me like these "spies" were still getting paid but not bothering the pretending-to-work part. Welcome to the new Russia, Mister President.
Let's hope there's just enough space in Russia's press to learn more in the coming weeks.