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Daily View: Alleged Russian spy

Clare Spencer | 09:37 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Commentators consider the implications of the arrest of MP Mike Hancock's aide over suspicions she has been spying for Russia.

Ben Macintyre says in the Times [subscription required] that the British media has been distracted by the myth of the honey trap created by an attractive spy but that in reality Russia is serious about spying and the UK needs to get over the idea ofwomen being spies:

“Russia’s spymasters have never been in any doubt that women make excellent spies, and the deepest of sleepers. The Kremlin has also, I suspect, worked out that if a female agent is exposed, the West’s prurient chauvinism will ensure that she is seen as a sex object more than a threat.
“Russia is currently orchestrating an intelligence campaign that is energetic, well funded, exceedingly dangerous and oddly undisguised - part of a global muscle-flexing display that ranges from the World Cup bid to the corridors of Westminster.”

The Guardian’s security editor Richard Norton-Taylor queries the logic of a spy planting Parliamentary questions:

“Incriminating evidence, we are told, is that Hancock has tabled questions to ministers about the Trident missile system. Well, so have many other MPs, including members of the opposition front bench and rightwing Tory backbenchers. Some journalists, including this writer, also want to know rather more about the cost and timescale of the government's plans for replacing Trident.
“To suggest that an MP will get secret information hidden from the rest of us simply because he is a member of the Commons defence committee is naive. And in the case of the parliamentary questions, there is no attempt at subterfuge. Serious spying, as MI5 knows, is done silently, or as silently as possible. Planting parliamentary questions is akin to shouting from the rooftops.”

Ex-KGB colonel and MI6 double agent Oleg Gordievsky disagrees in the Telegraph saying Katia Zatuliveter would have been worth more than all other London recruits together:

“Zatuliveter was in a position where she had access to strategic, political and military secrets; where she was able to ask official questions of the British government, while working for a Member of Parliament; and all the time was meeting a string of influential and interesting people. No normal officer would be able to obtain such information, to go to the House of Commons or the European Parliament, or to meet such important contacts. She would have been a treasure for the London station.”

Harry Ferguson worries in the Guardian that expelling one minor suspected agent could prove to be very costly for Britain:

“[T]his case also represents a serious failure for the British intelligence services. They would have wanted to keep this expulsion very low key for fear of provoking retaliation by the Russian government. Both MI5 and SIS have extensive news management departments for this very purpose. However, this case is now front-page news, and there is a grave danger that the Russians might see the entire incident as an attack on their national honour.”

Conservative Lord Tebbit says in the Telegraph that the fact Ms Zatuliveter was working for Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock adds to the Lib Dems’ image as amateurs:

“The trouble is that, funny as it all is, it adds to the picture of a Government which all too often goes about its business in a singularly unstructured, slap-happy, ill-disciplined way…
“Contrast that with the way Thatcher’s Conservatives conducted themselves in 1984, when with one Member of Parliament and four other representatives murdered, two Cabinet Ministers and dozens of other people wounded, some close to death, the Conference continued next day on schedule. The difference is the difference between jelly and steel, or purpose and muddle.”

Links in full

Harry Ferguson | Guardian | Russian aide row: advantage Moscow
Richard Norton-Taylor | Guardian | I spy a lot of innuendo in the Mike Hancock case
Ben Macintyre | Times | Russian spying isn’t dead. It’s merely sleeping
Oleg Gordievsky | Telegraph | Russian spies: they can’t take their eyes off us
Norman Tebbit | Telegraph | The antics of the Lib Dems create the impression of a chaotic Coalition

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