Tales from the Trail

Swapping spies to advance a post-Cold War relationship

July 9, 2010

RUSSIA-USA/SPIESIt’s hardly ever been a rock-solid relationship but has had its moments. So what does one do when deceit is discovered but no one wants a divorce?

When Russia was caught engaging in the second oldest profession in the United States the two partners decided that the overall relationship was too important to disintegrate over such an indiscretion. Their answer: swap spies.

But the public story so far has raised questions about why the hurry?

“Looks to me that the Administration was in one mighty big rush to put aside this annoyance in the U.S.-Russian relationship. What a deal. We swap 10 Russians for 4 Russians,” a former U.S. intelligence official says.

“I am not buying the spin that we were anxious because of the ill health of some of those being held in Russia. No indication we were working to spring those folks until we found ourselves in the possession of the U.S. based ring,” he said.

The message appears to be that a Russian who gets caught spying in the United States will get sprung by Moscow in 10 days, while a Russian caught working on behalf of the west may get sprung years later if it suits Moscow’s needs, the former official says.

“Did we learn everything possible from the gang of ten before setting them free?” Unlikely that a full debriefing took place about other potential sleepers in the United States in that short of a time, he says. USA-RUSSIA/

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has denied any ulterior motive for the investigation. ”This prosecution, this investigation was not undertaken with the purpose of having a bargaining chip, nor did the arrests happen at any particular time or at all for the purpose of creating a bargaining chip to get people.”

 And senior U.S. administration officials have sworn up and down that they were convinced they extracted everything there was to get out of the spy ring and there was no point in holding them further.

On a lighter note, some American men wondered aloud why their government didn’t try for an even exchange – Anna Chapman who was labeled by tabloids as “sexy redhead” and “Manhattan beauty” for a Russian of equal caliber.

Chapman’s lawyer says his client would have prefered to stay in the United States where she was trying to establish a business.

Asked about reports that Chapman wants to go to London, her lawyer Robert Baum on ABC’s “Good Morning America” said she had lived in Britain for almost seven years before coming to the United States and may want to go there, but right now was focused on reestablishing her business.

“She always was a business woman. And whether she was a spy remains to be seen,” Baum said.

Photo credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor (newspaper features front page interview of Chapman’s ex-husband), Reuters/Kevin Lamarque (Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on June 24 before spy news broke)

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