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Resourceful Russian spies

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The Russian Embassy is viewed in Washington, DC, on March 26, 2018./ AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON


The surreptitious art of stealing highly confidential information from one country by another for competitive advantage, otherwise known as espionage, goes back as far as mercantile trade. Espionage and counter-espionage had thrived in a conspiratorial atmosphere of deafening silence for centuries because all major trading nations aggressively indulged in them. The attention-arresting spell of the secret art was quick in pulling in the entertainment industry as countless “spy movies” reeled out in rapid succession; many of them became award-winning.

There is something heroic about stealing a nation’s closely guarded information, the movie industry appeared to be telling their audiences. Though overtly looked on as less-than-ethical, nonetheless the art rapidly grew into a conventional industry as nations strove to upstage each other in it, until the United Sates of America’s novel deployment of the nuclear bomb against two Japanese cities in 1945. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated far beyond the calculations of the inventors of the new bomb – a Frankenstein monster had been created! Japan unconditionally surrendered a couple of days following the bombings.

Alarmed by the new bomb’s observed devastation and its aftermath, the conquering nations of World War II, which included the U.S. and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), unanimously agreed that the U.S. should promptly dismantle her nuclear weapons programme, and that nuclear weapons must not be proliferated by any nation. The United Nations Organisation consequently made feeble attempts to monitor the implementation of those agreements and related clandestine activities of its members.

But the U.S. secretly dithered on complying with the agreement. It took USSR’s resourceful espionage to discover that the U.S. was not only refusing to dismantle her nuclear programme, but was also furtively consolidating it. Just as secretly, the USSR quickly acquired the knowledge and went on to develop the new bomb and its deployment capability. Espionage and counter-espionage between the U.S. and the USSR would subsequently play a defining role in the ensuing arms race between the two superpowers in the post-WWII years, commonly referred to as the Cold War years.

With the twenty-first century breathtaking growth in Information Communication Technology, espionage, counter-espionage, electronic eavesdropping, cyber attacks, and the likes have all become the make or break of nations. Again, available evidence indicates that no advanced country is absolved from these stealthy acts of electronic attack, of which the U.S. and the Russian Federation are principal culprits. Under this scenario, therefore, it is mindboggling that the U.S. is making a hue and cry about the alleged 2016 Russian cyber attacks on her information systems – those attacks are purported to have influenced the outcome of the presidential election of that year!!! That strange outcry doesn’t become a world superpower, to say mildly.

If in the off chance that that complaint is indeed true, the implication is that the supposedly all-powerful and invincible U.S. has suddenly been reduced to the vulnerability of a Banana republic, where foreign countries now decide the composition of her political leadership. Could the mighty have really fallen so low? It is of course easy to see that the Russians may have, from force of habit, attacked U.S. cyberspace in 2016, as alleged; but to suggest that such attacks influenced the result of the previous presidential election departs from the realm of reality.

Firstly, the palpable patriotism of U.S. citizens could hardly be undermined by any foreign propaganda, least of all one propagated by Russia, U.S. ideological and military arch-rival. Secondly, the alleged Russian attacks are not known to have yielded any new information that wasn’t already in U.S. public space prior to the election proper. Thirdly, the eventual winner of that election, Republican Candidate Donald Trump, had ran his campaign on the issues that mattered the most to the U.S. electorate, apparently: bringing off-shored manufacturing plants back to the U.S.; curbing illegal immigration – particularly from identified hostile countries; drastic cut in U.S. spending on her foreign obligations; turning negative bilateral trades in U.S. favour; etc, all of which would put “America first” on the world stage. Those issues evidently resonated with, and still resonate with the majority of Americans even to this day. But all the 2016 pollsters chose to follow their hearts; just as Washington Establishment had grown more resolute in its mistaken belief that a Jonny come lately “outsider” never could defeat a well-heeled establishment candidate, with a big political name to boot.

Lastly, but by no means the least reason, that outsider’s stunning victory dramatically changed the established collegiate map of the U.S. – a number of traditional Democratic states voted Republican for the first time. And more instructively, most of such turned states proved to be predominantly so-called blue-collar states where manufacturing had disappeared altogether, or was rapidly disappearing. This was as clear as an indication as any one could get that the outcome of the U.S. 2016 presidential election, as has been the tradition in that country, was issues based. In spite of all these glaring facts, conservative America still insists on looking elsewhere for the reason the 2016 presidential election turned out the way it did. But by refusing to be gallant losers in the said election these latter are inadvertently shooting their country in the foot.

If the U.S. persists in pushing the narrative that Russian cyber attacks handed the reality-television-magnate-turned-politician his victory, ICT savvy Americans would unwittingly be conceding superiority to their arch-rival in espionage offensive. Anyway, that may not be altogether out of place since the Russians would seem to have, the while, been a step or two ahead of the rest of the world in both espionage and counter-espionage. And for another reason, the Russians’ taciturn, ever-suspicious and secretive nature affords them a superior edge in the stealthy art of stealing closely guarded information.

Therefore, and rather ironically, the sluggish bear may well have been bested the lithe eagle in that opaque world where love, deception, barefaced lie, poison, blackmail, physical torture, and murder are all looked on as tradable commodities. It is worth reminding ourselves that the Russian myth is erected on little else outside the perceived resourcefulness of her spies. Such a recall ought to make us wonder about those classic movies and novels on Russian spies, without even notable ones on U.S. spies.


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