My buddy, the spy

I didn't know Misha was a Russian agent. I just knew he wanted my apartment.
By MARK GRUETER  |  July 25, 2010

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Mikhail Semenko, one of the Russians recently accused of spying for his government, was a friend of mine. I write "was" because even though he replied to a couple of my e-mails after being deported, he appears to have cut me off after I started asking him questions about what the hell was going on. He wasn't a good friend — I don't want to give the wrong impression — but we shared a strange history, having first met in Siberia in 2001.

More recently, I lived in the apartment in Arlington, Virginia, where Misha (short for "Mikhail" in Russian and what everyone calls him) was arrested, handcuffed, and dragged out with his T-shirt hanging over his head. I left just before he and his Ecuadorian girlfriend moved in around November 2009, and I was responsible for getting the place for him, assuring the long-standing tenant who kept many of his personal belongings there that Misha was a solid, trustworthy guy.

I remember Misha being annoyingly anxious to secure the apartment. I was waffling, unsure if I wanted to stay there or not. Part of the reason I decided to move out was that Misha was so damn adamant about moving in. Now we know why he was so insistent. Aside from wanting to be close to the travel company for which he was working, Misha was eager to be in the DC area, where he could visit and apply for all those think tanks. (He was reportedly applying for positions with the New America Foundation and the Carnegie Endowment, both of which have close ties to the Obama administration.)

About the Russian travel company where Misha was working, named Travel All Russia: as it happens, I also worked there — rather unceremoniously — in the summer of 2008. Earlier this month, I defended the company to Toby Harnden, a reporter from the London-based Daily Telegraph, who suspected it of being a front for Russian intelligence. I happen to be very good friends with the owners of the business and am certain they aren't involved. They put out a press release expressing their shock at Semenko's arrest while asking the media to respect their privacy (in other words, they didn't want to talk to anyone about it). Harnden didn't quite buy the press release; however, to his and the Telegraph's credit, they took my word for it.

But they couldn't resist mentioning this hilarious non sequitur: "Parts of the 2007 movie Breach, about Robert Hansen, an FBI agent who was spying for Russia, were filmed outside the building where Travel All Russia is now located."

And, by the way, the Associated Press would like you to know there's a hamburger joint down the road where Obama eats.

I've been dealing with this sort of nonsense for years: that is, this silly game of cops and robbers being acted out in high drama by American and Russian "intelligence" agencies. As it happens, that's sort of how I met Misha.

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