Bob Franken

Hearst-New York Times Spies Column

July 18, 2010–Copyright Hearst-New York Times News Service
Bob Franken: The games that spies play

What do we call it when a defector goes back? Is that a DE-defector? It can usually be called defective intelligence.

The most recent case in point is the Iranian physicist who U.S. officials insist voluntarily bailed out on his country and took what appeared to be nuclear secrets with him.

Now he’s gone back—contending that he had been kidnapped in Saudi Arabia, while the Americans insist he is motivated by fears for family that he left behind.

Whichever, it’s an embarrassing story of dueling video tapes all by him and now his “escape.” And it’s not the first time this kind of thing has happened.

When it comes to spy games, Wisconsin Avenue in northwest Washington is apparently the happenin’ street. That’s where we’ll find the diplomatic storefront office that the Pakistani diplomatic service uses to represent Iran’s interests in the United States, since there are no direct U.S.-Iranian relations. And that’s where Shahram Amiri ducked in last Monday so he could hustle back home, leaving some red faces behind.

Twenty-five years ago, just a few blocks down Wisconsin at what was then the Au Pied de Cochon restaurant, there had been a similar embarrassment.
Does anybody remember Vitaly Yurchenko? You can bet they do at the CIA. Yurchenko was a KGB higher up who seemed to switch sides in 1985, in Rome.

He certainly convinced his western handlers he was legit, probably because he subsequently exposed some major league communist spies in the U.S.

Apparently this was a ruse. A few months later, Yurchenko was having dinner and told the man guarding him he wanted to take a walk.

His walk took him just a few blocks up Wisconsin Avenue to the new Soviet Embassy where he held a news conference before hightailing it back to Moscow.

The Soviet’s embassy is now the Russian’s, which is usually an improvement, and Au Pied de Cochon is now a Five Guys hamburger place, which is definitely an improvement. In fact, I’ve often wondered whether it was the lousy food that sent him packing.

Whatever, the more things change, as they say, the more they stay the same. Not only do we have the Iranian stunts, but the Russians are still doing their spy dance. In the latest installment of their espionage thriller U.S. authorities say they uncovered the cover of a 12th member of that non-spying ring.

This time it’s a 27-year-old mole who burrowed himself into Microsoft headquarters outside Seattle. It’s a cryin’ shame our people are not more clever. They could have played a really insidious game and planted all those closely guarded secrets about Windows Mobile or the Zune MP3 players. Imagine how “Moscow Central” would have been paralyzed by Vista.

This would have made more sense if the guy was dispatched by “Cupertino Central,” home of the Apple KGB. What with all the intrigue on both sides of the Cyber Curtain, it’s impossible to believe that each has NOT embedded its own geek spooks. That would explain the antenna on the new IPhone. Obviously that’s sabotage.

But another comrade bites the dust, deported because of immigration violations. Apparently he hadn’t gotten the proper spy visa. Back in the Motherland, word is that 10 of the others want to go into witness protection and take on assumed identities. Isn’t that what they tried here?

There is one exception and you’ll NEVER guess which one. Anna Chapman, you say? Great guess! She’s peddling her life story and whatever pictures she didn’t post on Facebook.

All of these capers suggest a new slogan: “Intelligence Does Not Require Intelligence”.

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