Saturday, July 10, 2010

That spy swap

It has left too many questions unanswered. For example, how was it arranged so quickly? More to the point, why was it arranged so quickly? Whom did the Russians want back so badly as to go for what appears to be an unequal arrangement? Whom did the Americans want of the four alleged agents (in particular Sutyagin is alleged without any real proof despite the trial)? Was it just a form of White House PR and if so, who was the target audience?

Hot Air reports that the White House has now explained that they started arranging the exchange before the FBI actually swooped. In other words, the FBI informed the White House of its intentions and the latter immediately informed the Russian security services in order to reset those famous and somewhat troublesome Russo-American relations.
Why not just arrest the spies first? After all, even if Barack Obama wants to perform a “reset” on US-Russian relations, the Russians were spying on us, and subject to arrest. The four people the US wanted in the trade certainly weren’t given that kind of consideration, after all.

If the sleepers really had acquired no damaging information, the point is probably academic. However, tipping off the Russians more or less made that conclusion certain. The FBI cannot be so naive as to think that Moscow didn’t instruct their agents to destroy anything incriminating that would prove a crime more serious than the failure to register as a foreign agent, a felony that carries a five-year sentence but is far less serious than actual espionage.
Indeed. Superficially, the Americans have got rather higher calibre individuals than the ten would-be spies who allegedly had not even started working. Not that we shall find out exactly what they were up to.
In terms of actual impact, the[se] four would seem to have much more value than the professed failure of the Russian sleeper agents. For the Russians to give up even one of these people would be significant — and four seems too good to believe. And that also has me wondering why the US felt the need to give the Russians a heads-up on the arrests first, and why the Russians were willing to swap arguable traitors for ten supposed failures.
Ron Radosh, an expert in Soviet penetration of the United States in the thirties and forties had been following the case and is also dubious about the outcome. A number of them were in a position to recruit other people in various political and academic establishments.
Clearly, both the Russian and American governments hope that with the exchange a done deal, and the spies back in their native Russia, the arrests and the drama will quickly be forgotten. In another week, it will simply be yesterday’s news. Only time will tell whether years from now, we will suddenly learn that the ten were more successful than we imagined, and had recruited others who managed to do actual damage.
Just exactly what did President Obama hope to achieve and what did he achieve in reality?

UPDATE: According to this report, the scientist Igor Sutyagin and, possibly, Sergei Skripal, a former colonel with Russian military intelligence GRU convicted of spying for Britain, are now in Britain, somewhere "near London", with Sutyagin still in his prison clothes.

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