Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is the Press Being Hoodwinked?

While I'm not terribly interested in the spy story itself beyond a vague amusement at it, I am seriously beginning to wonder if the press has had wool pulled over its eyes. There is far too much being made of the humorous aspects of the situation and too little attempts being made to find out how effective these spies actually are.

I'm not trying to suggest a conspiracy here, just that American security authorities realized (correctly) that the relationship with Russia was far more important than the damage these spies could actually inflict on an open society with relatively few secrets of real importance* so they thought ahead on how to sell the press on a line that would have them treating the case as an episode of Desperate HouseSpies rather than an event that should be taken seriously. Unlike during the Cold War both the US and Russia have their interests aligned in downplaying the event and so far US security services have been uncharacteristically competent at keeping any sensitive evidence classified while letting out only the information that sounds like a pitch for a new reality TV show (perhaps titled America's Next Top Russian Agent).

While I don't think any truly critical secrets were leaked, I think information of more importance than has been revealed was leaked by an operation that continued this long, and given the variety in ages of the agents probably one they saw continuing value in. The story just sounds too good for the press to be true so far, which makes me automatically suspicious. I think the press is getting played for fools with a story that seems perfectly crafted to sell papers. Of course I have no evidence to back this up, but if something sounds too good to be true it means something probably is.

*So far the Obama administration has shown a disturbing tendency towards secrecy. Most of this seems to be political in nature and not of great interest to foreign operatives. Much of the rest of it, such as technical secrets, probably aren't the kind of things that there is much possibility of gaining access of enough pieces to be valuable. There are a few things that definitely should be kept sensitive, like the identities of intelligence agents and contacts in more repressive societies, but there is a lot that stays secret that probably doesn't have to be.

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