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CIA's Russia Spy Flap: Dumb and Dumber | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

CIA's Russia Spy Flap: Dumb and Dumber


A screenshot from the RT video showing alleged spy “Ryan Fogle.”

As if President Obama’s week hasn’t been bad enough, with catastrophic scandals emerging over IRS political targeting and the Justice Department’s scary spying into the Associated Press—never mind the trumped-up, but badly bungled flap over Benghazi—now the White House has to deal with a spy crisis in Moscow.

Although most spy flaps involving the United States and Russia are usually swept under the Top Secret carpet, this one could not come at a worse time. It blew up on the virtual eve of a summit meeting between Obama and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, and just at the start of a critical effort aimed at ending the civil war in Syria.

The Russian broadcast network RT has helpfully posted video of the alleged American spy, whose appearance in photos and video is eerily reminiscent of the photos of the Boston bombers: young, tousled hair, baseball cap and all. The man, Ryan C. Fogle—is that his real name? And did he really go spying about in Moscow carrying his real ID and embassy papers? While also carrying wigs and other disguises? Oy vey!—was nabbed with stacks of 500-euro notes and a written pledge to give $1 million to an informant (i.e., a spy) he was trying to recruit.

The FSB, Russia’s intelligence service, says:

“FSB counter-intelligence agents detained a CIA staff member who had been working under the cover of third political secretary of the US embassy in Moscow.… At the moment of detention, special technical equipment was discovered, written instructions for the Russian citizen being recruited, as well as a large sum of money and means for altering appearance.”

The Russians are kicking him out, but they’ve summoned Ambassador Michael McFaul to the woodshed for a talking-to.

McFaul, who’s been something of an agent provocateur himself—chumming it up too often with Russian dissidents and human rights groups, who, while often well-meaning, aren’t exactly at the heart of US-Russia relations—is a troublemaker. And while the CIA often does what it wants to overseas with only limited notification to the American ambassador, Obama could recapture the high ground with Moscow by firing McFaul, who’s past his sell-by date.

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According to The Wall Street Journal, the event unfolded as a “previously scheduled session on U.S. support for Russian civil society began.”

The spying effort seems so twentieth century, with all the accouterments of the run-of-the-mill spy movie. As the Journal reports:

State-run media also posted a series of photos released by Russian security services that purportedly showed Mr. Fogle’s detention.

One appeared to show Mr. Fogle being handcuffed on the ground while wearing a baseball cap, a light-blue checked shirt and a dirty-blonde wig. The series of photos also included an image of what appeared to be Mr. Fogle’s U.S. Embassy identification card and another of his official Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomatic card. The diplomatic card was set to expire on April 29, 2014, three years after its issue date.

Another image shows a table strewed with the items recovered from Mr. Fogle’s detention. On the table are two wigs, three pairs of glasses, three Ziploc bags filled with thousands of euros, a microphone, a knife and an RFID Shield, a sleeve that protects passports and credit-cards with computer chips from being read remotely.

Again, oy vey. The embassy third-secretary was also caught with (get this) a compass. Yes, a compass. As The Washington Post reports:

“Who uses a compass these days?” asked Mark Galeotti, a New York University professor who studies Russian security affairs. “This would be a phenomenal breach of tradecraft. This isn’t what they teach you at the CIA.”

The Russian foreign ministry issued a statement that hit the right note, namely, that the events are a poor counterpoint to the upswing in diplomacy between Washington and Moscow:

“While our two Presidents have reaffirmed their willingness to expand bilateral cooperation, including between intelligence agencies in the fight against international terrorism…such provocative Cold War-style actions do not contribute to building mutual trust.”

Precisely. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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