Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Age of (Non)Ideology

You’ve been in-country quite a few years now. You’ve got a spouse, kids, a house. Although it took some arguing with the higher-ups to put the house in your own name. Whoever heard of a safe house owned by someone in Moscow? And that’s not all, the required transmissions so often go wrong.

Montclair, New Jersey, is a nice place to raise kids. The neighbors are friendly, they like the way you pamper your hydrangeas. What would it be in Moscow? Scrambling for a bigger apartment, graffiti in the hallways, no place for the kids to play, constant traffic jams, air pollution.

Not a bad assignment at all. It was really good of Uncle Ivan to recommend us for this through his FSB connections. Little progress on meeting the right people, but how many atomic scientists did they think lived in Montclair, for God’s sake? Puff up the reports to sound as good as possible. It’s a long-term assignment, they’re not going to pull us back for any little thing.


Meanwhile, in Moscow, the reports are received and deciphered by a small group in a back office at the SVR. Salaries are paid regularly, reports are distributed to the proper offices and filed properly. It’s an easy job. As long as everyone keeps their heads down, it will continue. It is in the long-range category.


The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty put inspectors from the United States and the Soviet Union in each other’s countries. A colleague at the Hercules missile factory outside Salt Lake City told a story about the Soviet inspectors when they arrived. Their American escorts showed them the places they needed to know about. When they reached the well-stocked supermarket, the Soviets couldn’t stand it any more.

“We know that you have to show us the front stores. Now take us to the real stores, the ones that everyone uses.”

It took some persuasion to convince the Soviet inspectors that this was the real store. They were accustomed to Soviet shortages of food and the government’s claims that it was worse in the United States. When the inspectors returned to the Soviet Union, they took television sets and other consumer goods with them. My Hercules colleague felt that the information they brought back was a factor in the fall of the Soviet Union.

Spies sent to the United States in the nineties would have had better information about both the United States and Russia, and that information would have improved with their longer stay. Did they decide they had a good enough thing that they tried not to rock the boat?

[With some help from MC.]

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