Russian Spies’ Dumbest Mistakes


This morning, a lot of the papers said the Justice Department's complaint about the Russian spies read like "a Cold War thriller." But between their yapping about their work in cafés, their decision to write anti-American editorials in newspapers (because no one will notice if they're in Spanish!), and the plain fact that, over ten years, none of these ten intelligence agents actually gathered any intelligence (they're being charged with being unregistered, not with obtaining classified materials), it's more like a Cold War–era comedy, in the vein of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Let's take a look at some of the gang's most awkward moments.

It appears the incompetence came from the top. For instance, someone at the S.V.R. actually sent them this directive:

“You were sent to U.S.A. for long-term service trip,” it said. “Your education, bank accounts, car, house etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e. to search and develop ties in policymaking circles and send intels [intelligence reports] to C[enter].”

Thanks for the expository dialogue, super-secret agency!

While several of them quite successfully immersed themselves in American culture, particularly the Murphys, whom neighbors called "suburbia personified" (“They couldn’t have been spies,” one neighbor quipped, awesomely, “Look what she did with the hydrangeas”), others explained away their weirdness with flimsy excuses, like Tracey Foley, of Cambridge. According to a neighbor:

“She said they were from Canada.”

Right, because that worked for the Coneheads.

Then there's the methods they used to conduct their work, which were so over-the-top dramatic (briefcase-switching, short-wave-radio-using) that they may as well have been wearing signs reading, "We Are SPIES." The Post picks up on the following, which it calls a "particularly slick spy exchange" between one "Anna Chapman" and a fellow spy.

Chapman pulled a laptop out of a tote bag in a bookstore at Warren and Greenwich streets in the West Village while her handler lurked outside, receiving her message on his own computer, the feds said.

Wait, how is that slick, exactly? He was standing right outside. If she had just gone and told him in person, then the Feds mightn't have gotten hold of the e-mail using what according to the complaint was a common "commercially available" wireless-connection interceptor that even Ali Wise owns.

Chapman, we are sorry to say, seems to be one of the least bright bulbs in this box. In addition to the above scenario, she registered a cell phone under the preposterous address of "99 Fake Street," and in the end, fell hard for a ridiculous scenario posed to her by undercover U.S. agents.

The undercover instructed her on how she would recognize her fellow spy and how to report back on the handoff, the feds said.

"Haven’t we met in California last summer?" the spy expecting the fake passport was supposed to say. Chapman was to respond, "No, I think it was the Hamptons," according to the FBI.

Oh, that dialogue. It's like they are making fun of her to her face. It gets worse:

Chapman allegedly was also supposed to hold a magazine under her arm so her counterpart would recognize her, and plant a stamp on a wall map to indicate the handoff was a success.

Then she was supposed to turn around three times with her finger in the air ... God. The Times this morning said Obama was "not happy" that this sting occurred so close to his hamburger social with Medvedev, and we can imagine why. He must be so embarrassed for him.

Spy ring's 'femme fatale' [NYP]
In Ordinary Lives, U.S. Sees the Work of Russian Agents [NYT]