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Daily View: Russian 'spy ring'

Clare Spencer | 09:23 UK time, Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Commentators discuss the exposed Russian spy ring.

Colum Lynch says in Foreign Policy that using UN offices is nothing new in spying:

Artist's impression of some of the Russian

"During the Cold War, the U.S. limited Soviet officials' freedom to travel to a 25-mile radius around the U.N. headquarters building. The Soviets used it to great effect, erecting a massive listening station in its U.N. mission, and purchasing an apartment complex for Russian diplomats in the Bronx and a beach mansion on Long Island for visitors and vacationing Russian diplomats. 'The rooftops at Glen Cove, the apartment building in Riverdale and the mission all bristled with antennas for listening to American conversations,' Schevchenko wrote in his book Breaking with Moscow."

In the Guardian Simon Jenkins expresses disappointment:

"The saga of the Russian spy ring is yet more evidence that whatever defence spending is about, it has nothing to do with defence. The FBI and the CIA have bust an operation that must have cost the Russians millions and yielded nothing that could not have been gleaned from the New York Times, Washington Post and political blogs. Why not leave the spies at it? I am sure they were paying tax. It is laughable that they posed any threat to the American people."

In the Times David Omand is surprised that Russia had the money:

"By far the biggest shock of this story is the sheer scale of investment that it represents in terms of time and money. These were obviously professionals. They would have been highly trained before being deployed. And there were an awful lot of them.
"It takes an enormous operation to put these people in place and support them - as evidence from their expenses claims shows. They have to build up their credibility and their contacts, with no protection and no political cover, and sustain it over many years."

The Guardian editorial describes Russian president Dmitry Medvedev as "the man who presents himself as Russia's moderniser but struggles to convince":

"[T]he indictment could not have made comfortable reading for anyone in Moscow who prides themselves on guarding the secrets of the nation. In it, Russia's external intelligence service, the SVR, appears to show a professional ineptitude worthy of Inspector Clouseau. Peter Sellers could not have done better."

Con Coughlin wonders in the Telegraph if Russian intelligence services are embarrassed by the methods discovered:

"False names, invisible ink, dead drops, brush passes - these antiquated tricks of the espionage trade were supposed to have become obsolescent when the Iron Curtain collapsed 20 years ago. Instead, we discover that the hapless group of Russian agents, many of whom had been living humdrum, suburban lives as part of a 'deep cover' operation since the mid-1990s, relied heavily on a Smiley-esque array of old-school techniques to maintain contact with their Russian handlers.
"In a world where advanced satellite technology allows the world's spy-masters to eavesdrop on the phone conversations of Taliban commanders calling from remote mountain passes, and where sophisticated computer hackers can infiltrate government databases at will, there is something rather quaint about these Russian spies' archaic methods."

The creator of the BBC spy drama Spooks David Wolstencroft says in the Guardian that fact can be less credible than fiction and revels in the parody and nostalgia of the affair:

"What the alleged spy ring is demonstrating is something we already know: that the oldies are still the goodies. We have seen every wrench and spanner of the cold war toolkit on display - dead drops, maps with stamps on, code words and even a 'C'."

Links in full

Colum Lynch | Foreign Policy | The U.N.: Russia's den of spies
Simon Jenkins | Guardian | The Russians have spy rings. We have trooping the colour
Con Coughlin | Telegraph | Don't they know the Cold War is over?
Guardian | Russian espionage: Spies like us
David Omand | Times | Who'd have thought Russia had the money?
David Wolstencroft | Guardian | Russian spy ring: fact, parody and nostalgia

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