“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Phony Russian Spy Scare Epilogue

The New York Times is in awe of the brilliance of the move.
I believe it.
Hooray for Hollywood.

July 9, 2010
White House Envisioned Spy Case Swap Even Before Arrests
This article was reported by Peter Baker, Charlie Savage and Benjamin Weiser and written by Mr. Baker.

WASHINGTON — On a Friday afternoon in mid-June, President Obama sat down with advisers in the Oval Office and learned that the F.B.I. planned to round up the largest ring of Russian sleeper agents since the cold war. After discussion about what the agents had done, the conversation turned to the fallout: what to do after the arrests?

In that moment was born a back-to-the-future plan that would play out four weeks later, a prisoner exchange with surreal and even cinematic overtones as Russian and American airplanes met on a sunny tarmac in the heart of Europe on Friday to trade agents and spies much as had been done during a more hostile era.

From the first time the president was told about the case on June 11 — 16 days before the Russian agents were actually arrested — a swap emerged as an option that could resolve a potentially volatile situation without undercutting Mr. Obama’s effort to rebuild Russian-American relations. The Russian spy ring would be broken, the Americans would secure the release of four Russian prisoners and both sides could then put the episode behind them.

Administration officials said Friday that the arrests were not made for the purpose of making a deal and that no decision about a swap was made until after the agents were in custody. But they described a fast-moving sequence of events after the arrests in which both sides scrambled to reach an agreement, even to the point of Russian officials’ offering money and other benefits to encourage one of their sleeper agents to consider the deal.

The officials described the episode as perhaps the most serious test yet of the new relationship, as well as a sign of its enduring complexity.

By Friday afternoon, the 10 Russian sleeper agents arrested in American cities and suburbs were flown back to Moscow, while four men released from Russian prisons were taken from the transfer point in Vienna to London. Two of them, Igor V. Sutyagin and Sergei Skripal, got off there, and the remaining two, Aleksandr Zaporozhsky and Gennadi Vasilenko, flew on to Dulles International Airport just outside Washington. The children of the sleeper agents all left with their parents or were preparing to join them, officials said.

The lawyer for one of the freed Russians called it “a historic moment” that she had long suspected would come. “It has to do with the relations between the two countries, and with political games going on at the top,” said the lawyer, Maria A. Veselova, who represented Mr. Zaporozhsky, a former Russian intelligence agent. “It is always connected with these chess games.”

The games have been played for years, and this one was no exception. The F.B.I. had been monitoring the Russian sleeper agents as far back as a decade, and along with the C.I.A. and the Justice Department, gave the first detailed briefing to the White House in February, American officials said.

By late May and early June, counterespionage officials grew concerned that several of the agents were planning to leave the country this summer and concluded that they would have to arrest them.

At the Southern District of New York, prosecutors pulled out files on the case and completed a 37-page complaint, describing the agents’ activities, the sophisticated intelligence technology they used, and the F.B.I.’s extensive and long-term surveillance in unusual detail. A version of the document sat for years in a classified safe in New York, updated and rewritten by Michael Farbiarz, the lead prosecutor, as new evidence was developed, ready to be used whenever necessary.

“The value of a complaint like that is that you show immediately that you’ve got them dead to rights,” said David S. Kris, assistant attorney general for national security. “It showed the defendants and the Russians that we’ve got the goods. We’re not bluffing here. We’ve had you under investigation for quite a while. We’ve been in your houses, we’ve done surveillance and we have got plenty. That obviously helps things move quickly.”

Before they moved on the arrests, though, they had to tell the president. Mr. Obama was preparing to host the Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, at the White House on June 24, so any arrests were bound to be politically explosive. The president’s homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, led the June 11 Oval Office briefing, at which officials described who the agents were, what would be in the complaint and what they would be charged with.

“There was a full discussion about what was going to happen on the day after,” said one senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions. Mr. Obama then had a meeting on the case with his National Security Council on June 18, just six days before Mr. Medvedev’s visit.

The visit went off without any discussion of the case, White House officials said, but three days later, the F.B.I. arrested 10 agents, a sweep that made headlines as a relic of the cold war. The administration moved quickly to keep the arrests from provoking the traditional volley of angry denunciations and retaliations, contacting Moscow to indicate the depth of the evidence and its willingness to resolve the situation.

Russian officials responded by removing an initial statement calling the charges “baseless” from the Foreign Ministry Web site and issuing a new one acknowledging that some of those arrested were Russian citizens. American officials were struck by the tempered remarks by Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, a former K.G.B. colonel, during a meeting with former President Bill Clinton.

Led by Mr. Brennan, the White House held daily 7:30 a.m. teleconferences with various agencies and quickly agreed to a swap. Officials came up with a list of four Russians who had been convicted of illegal contacts with the West and whom they wanted freed: Mr. Zaporozhsky and two other former Russian intelligence officers, Mr. Skripal and Mr. Vasilenko, as well as an arms control researcher, Mr. Sutyagin.

It helped that after years of American surveillance there was little indication that the Russian agents had actually done any serious damage. Even the Justice Department did not complain about a deal because spy cases are often handled this way.

The C.I.A. was assigned to make the approach to the S.V.R., the Russian foreign intelligence agency, on June 30, less than three days after the arrests, according to an administration official. The same day, Under Secretary of State William J. Burns met with the Russian ambassador, Sergei I. Kislyak, and discussed the spy case.

The Russians considered the swap for two days and then agreed to negotiate. Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, negotiated the details with his S.V.R. counterpart, Mikhail Y. Fradkov, in three phone calls, sealing the deal on July 3. As part of the deal, Moscow agreed there would be no retaliatory action against Americans living in Russia.

Nikita V. Petrov, a historian of Russian security services, said Moscow agreed to the deal “to save face” after the embarrassment of the arrests. The episode showed the contemporary Russian intelligence service’s weakness, he said. “This was anachronistic Soviet methods.” And Russia could say American interest in the four imprisoned Russians confirmed their convictions.

But there was still the matter of convincing the prisoners who were to be exchanged. Mr. Sutyagin, for one, had long maintained his innocence and was reluctant to sign the confession that the Russian government required for his release. Even after he did, he said he was not guilty.

Likewise, the Russian agents in the United States had been trained not to admit they were spies or even Russians. But that facade soon crumbled after the Russian government acknowledged their citizenship. Soon afterward, the Russian Consulate requested meetings with them.

Not all of them were eager to make a deal, particularly those with children. Vicky Peláez, a journalist in New York, was promised that she could go to her native Peru or anywhere else in the world and would be given free housing and a monthly $2,000 stipend for life. She signed on, the last to do so, just hours before the court hearing on Thursday that completed the deal.

“Her biggest concerns were: ‘What’s going to happen to me? What are my children’s lives going to be like? Are they going to be able to come see me?’ ” said her lawyer, John M. Rodriguez. He said the Russian promises helped to “cushion the circumstances,” but were not what induced her to accept the deal.

Hours later, she and the others were whisked to La Guardia Airport and flown aboard a chartered Vision Airlines jet to Vienna. Within minutes of each other, about 11:15 a.m. local time, first the Russian plane and then the American plane landed. The prisoners switched planes and the Russian jet took off at 12:38 p.m. The American plane was in the air less than 10 minutes later.


  1. ...and Pollard did not get in on the deal.

  2. Buddy Larsen comment at Belmont Club: very good chance that the 10 spies were hustled out of the country so fast in order to keep people from searching the CV of the high level contact that the spies admitted to, one Leon Fuerth

    There's more from Buddy at the link. Feurth was Al Gore's national security advisor while VP and according to Wikipedia, would have held that post had Gore won in 2000.

  3. Occam's razor would say the NYTimes article explains the swap in its entirety, but this is a situation where all the facts are probably not available for application of said razor, leaving me with a simple gut feeling that something aint right here.

  4. The whole investigation was a monumental waste of the taxpayers’ money. But, to make this the feel-good story of the week, one poor emaciated scientist who’s been languishing in a latter-day Siberian gulag ... will be the lucky winner of the Trade-a-Spy lottery.

  5. The whole investigation was a monumental waste of the taxpayers’ money. But, to make this the feel-good story of the week, one poor emaciated scientist who’s been languishing in a latter-day Siberian gulag ... will be the lucky winner of the Trade-a-Spy lottery.

  6. MOSCOW — Some complained that they could not scrape up a single grapefruit or tangerine in the markets. Others pined for contact with friends in the West, which was off limits forever (the K.G.B. made absolutely certain of that). One recalled his dismay upon returning in the 1960s and visiting a Moscow factory: “What a dreadful mess.” Only a few years later, he dropped dead, as if he were never able to readapt to Soviet life.

    Intrigue and Ambiguity in Cases of 4 Russians Sent to West in Spy Swap (July 10, 2010)
    Like those before them, the sleeper spies who were deported to Russia last week in one of the biggest espionage exchanges in decades will probably miss the United States, picket fences and all. But what perhaps most distinguishes this affair from its cold war precursors is what awaits these Russians in their motherland.

  7. Bill Clinton to Perform Weiner Wedding...

    What will transpire definitely depends on the meaning of "Weiner."

  8. "Mr. Weiner, 45, has been a longtime ally of Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Weiner, who is Jewish, has also been considered one of the most eligible bachelors on Capitol Hill. Ms. Abedin, 34, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and is Muslim, was once featured in a Vogue fashion spread.

    The two have been dating for about two years, and announced their engagement last summer, not long after Mr. Weiner decided not to mount another run for mayor of New York."

    He'll be mounting a Fuzzy Muzzie, instead.

  9. Well, so far, j willie has the single most intriguing post/news of the thread. Leon Feurth...Al Gore...

    Geez, could it be any richer?

  10. I like the Weiner Wedding, myself.

  11. Through Google, I see that the Feurth story broke on July 2. The spy Heathfield claimed to be in business with Feurth. Feurth said that he had been approached by Heathfield but contrary to Heathfield's website, had never been in business with the man.

    I haven't found any other spy connections to Feurth.

  12. The wife and I went to "dinner theatre" tonight except these were "real life actors" and the setting was the buffet at my local COOP food market. It's always 'colorful' but tonight was right out of a Quentin Tarantino movie.

    What a freak show! I wish that I had a hidden camera. Tattoos, piercings, and a burned-out old
    hippie type guy with his massage chair set up in the dining area. He was talking about the bad vibes from one of his customers but the vibes coming from him were muy mal...

    Also, one guy, a middle aged black man with a Caribbean accent was there. He's always there, just hanging out. He's well dressed and friendly enough but a social life at the coop? Too weird for me. Then there was the 'rough looking' mother with her 20/30 something daughter wheeling a shopping cart with one tiny little shopping bag in it. Then, there was the 40 something checkout 'girl' who's upper torso will soon be covered with tattoos...Oh yeah, the young dude with the dreadlocks gathered into a ponytail at the top of his head.

    A few weeks ago, they were having a wine tasting which appeared to be the social highlight of the week for about two dozen freeloaders. Tonight, at the beer tasting, signs were posted restricting everyone to one cup of each of the four beers being sampled.

    You shoulda been there!

  13. You may be thinking to yourself, how pathetic, Saturday night dining at the local COOP buffet, but I was, ah, doing some research, yes, that's the ticket!

    I was doing research for an idea I will be pitching to the networks. It's a fusion of reality show and updated 21st century daytime soap opera centered around the rich and colorful lives of the characters who work and shop at a COOP Market.

  14. jeez Whit I think it's better on the Tucannon

  15. daddy took me to the Coeur d 'Alene Resort Restaurant and it was very fancy lights and all and wealthy people and daddy was fun and then we went walking on the Sherman Avenue downtown and the local kids were milling around and it was exciting then daddy went fishing the next day


  16. That's a lovely tune, Melody.

    I don't know how to choose between that, and a Royal Coachman and my fly rod on the Wenaha.

  17. There's only two kinds a people where I come from: Those that dine at the Coop buffet, and those that can't afford it.

  18. I have to save up my money to take my daughter out, and she loves it, she likes getting all dolled up, very smart looking, but hell, I'm only a daddy once, and at least I can pretend to be rich, once in a while.

  19. You named your daughter Svetlana?

    How do you and she have no-clickable names, JW and annon too, wtf?

  20. Nay, Svetlana is just some one I made up, cause I'm lonely, al-Doug.

    Everyone has to have a little company.

    She is a spirited woman, and takes no back talk, as you've found out.

  21. Filipino Fuckett

    In the Philippines, the Next Phuket?

    DON’T try to hoof it to the newly relocated Jungle Bar, at least not from Boracay’s main strip, White Beach, where it used to be a mainstay — you’ll never find it. Instead, hail a motorized rickshaw to Bulabog Beach, hang a right past a barren strip of bamboo shacks, and look for the colorful, ghoulish lanterns dangling from the coconut trees, which give this tiki bar the quirky feel of a Tim Burton-inspired guerrilla camp. The décor will probably be familiar to most Bob Marley-listening beach bums, right down to the rooster named Pedro dozing on the bar, the shirtless Filipinos eating grilled fish, and the $10 cocktails with profanity-laced names. All that’s missing is a drum circle.

    Yet this kind of anything-goes vibe is getting harder to find in Boracay, a speck of an island smack in the middle of the Philippines that in recent years has been making the leap from low-key tropical backwater to Southeast Asia’s newest hot spot. Even the Jungle Bar, which used to be squeezed in along the main walkway of White Beach, had to move this year after being priced out. It’s now in a desolate cove on the other side of the island — as close to Siberia as you can get on a slip of land about five miles long and a mile wide.

    The Philippines’ tourism ministry has pushed to promote and develop many of its prized islands and to draw more visitors than the usual weekenders from Manila or honeymooners from Korea. Boracay, with its long stretches of powdery white sand and kite-surfing- and-dive-friendly coral reefs, remains the crown jewel, if not yet the cash cow, of the Philippine Islands.

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    Is this possible?