My buddy, the spy

By MARK GRUETER  |  July 25, 2010

My bet is that the Russian foreign-intelligence service (the SVR, Misha's apparent employer) paid for him to attend Seton Hall. I cannot, of course, prove this, but I don't see any other possible explanation. "Hey kid, we'll make your dreams come true if you work with us" — it's a risky proposition, but if you're desperate, an appealing one. If I had been in his position, I might've chosen the same path. Even if it included, as it did for Misha, the risk of a five-year prison sentence for — what was it? Oh, right: "Failing to register as an agent of a foreign country." In the end it looks like a risk worth taking: he got a free education at an posh American university and is now rumored to be living high on the hog in Moscow. Something tells me he won't have any trouble moving on from his Ecuadorian girlfriend.

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Cashing in
Living out in the Russian Far East — where Misha is from — is extremely hard. Temperatures can drop as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, people are poor, and, to be blunt, most youngsters try desperately to get out of there.

Others have mentioned this, but I think it deserves further comment. This whole saga, and Misha's case in particular, makes Graham Greene look like a genius. Greene's novel Our Man in Havana is a story about a British guy in Cuba who agrees to become a spy because he's desperate for money. The Brit then concocts a lot of bullshit intelligence reports for London and they buy it because they don't know any better. The BS reports include illustrations of vacuum-cleaner parts passed off as depictions of a secret military installation. The disconcerting lesson is that the people in charge are absolutely clueless.

People have asked: why would Russian intelligence spend so much money if they weren't getting anything in return? The answer is that they thought they were getting good stuff: "Put down any politician from here!" was what one of the Russian spies reportedly said when asked to name a source. Just like in Our Man in Havana, it didn't matter if the information sent back to HQ was legit or not. It looked real to an outsider, so they accepted it. Or they didn't care if it was good intel or not, since their jobs depended on it.

If someone really wants to hold onto a job, then friendship, and certainly the truth, don't matter. Think about this in terms of careers in the intelligence industry. If a spook in the Middle East had said, for instance, there weren't any WMD in Iraq during the Bush years, would they have kept their job? So-called spies typically report what their bosses want to hear, rendering them useless and scandalized.

Let's be blunt: have we ever considered the possibility that the whole FBI/CIA/FSB/SVR is a gigantic racket orchestrated by fools? I think Misha and the other nine Russians were simply cashing in on this idiotic exchange. Perhaps we can take some comfort in the notion that their spies are, indeed, worse than ours.

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