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Prof. Poteat comments on Russian spy swap

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Mercury in August 2010.

The Obama Spy Jackpot — The Rush to Hush
From Out of the Cold into Media Gold

Yes, I’m tired hearing about it too. So, this is the last time you’ll read about the quickest spy swap [read: giveaway] of all time. The reason: the media, after incandescing about Anna Chapman & Friends, has moved onto hotter, vacant stories, about celebs and sports figures. It went so fast, if you blinked, you might have missed it, or thought you’d imagined it.

The spy story is off the front pages which means “mission accomplished” for that’s where Obama and Russia wanted it -for different reasons. Both sides have stated this ‘trivial’ incident must not be a return to the Cold War nor interfere with the bi-lateral relationship-whatever that is-confirming the swap was a political decision.

The swap was another gamble the Administration took to tame the nuclear Russian bear but looks more like Roosevelt’s failed attempt at Yalta. The administration’s swiftness in the release-the semantics of “spies” or” agents of influence” now of little matter – sends the signal the U.S. values the bilateral relationship [recognized by insiders as wholly unilateral] with Russia. The message as heard in Moscow is different: America is desperate, naïve, broke and weakening. America appears so anxious to purchase friends we’re ready to ignore anything. And the Russians know it. So do others. Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. Weakness is like an off odor that wafts outwards in waves. Obama appears ignorant of the impact of that dispersion of the scent of desperation.

The Russians were no match for our inexperienced on-the-job-learners in the White House, who made this spy giveaway with scant consultation of law enforcement nor intelligence personnel. The swap had all over it the stamp of being a gift to “defense counsels.” Which means this swap was a 100% political decision – claims to the contrary. Why did they bother insisting it wasn’t what it was? Because it’s what a magician does when he doesn’t want you to see what he’s doing in his left hand. To prevent the captured spies from being interrogated to learn what successes and penetrations they already made, especially when it was clear some involved friends of the administration: campaign donors, Democratic pals and cronies. In two days, this ten year case was declared “solved” and the perps sent home, with no post facto damage assessment.

“Wham, bam, thank you Ma’am.” Patricof might have said.

What have we learned? For one thing, if campaign pals are involved, it’s an instant “Get Out Of Jail” card. No intelligence professional would have considered releasing any of those illegals until they were interrogated to learn details of their activities. And also to send a message to any uncaptured spies still operating here. Those uncaught others need to see that capture comes with serious consequences….not book deals, movie offers, and media adulation. We sent the opposite message. Ten years of effort of the FBI, of Federal prosecutors, and the chance of uncovering others operating here was wiped away in a two-day shameless pandering to Russian interests, which swept the event under a diplomatic carpet of conciliation and sucking-up. One covered one’s eyes to avoid the sad spectacle. For that alone, it was best it vanished quickly from public view.

It’s already been revealed, in spite of efforts to prevent it, that Alan Patricof, director of the venture capital firm Graycroft LLC and a donor to Democratic candidates — including then Senator Mrs. Clinton — was forced to admit he had met several times with one of the Russian spies in their efforts to skew U.S. policies toward Russia. In a statement issued June 30, Patricof said he met Guryev, whom he knew as “Cindy Murphy,” after retaining a financial service firm to handle his personal bookkeeping, bill-paying, accounting and tax services. “During the course of that time, I met with her a limited number of times and spoke with her frequently on the phone on matters relating to my personal finances,” Patricof said. “We never – not once – discussed any matter other than my finances and certainly she never inquired about, nor did we ever discuss, any matters relating to politics, the government, or world affairs.” Mr. Patricof said she had been employed by the company some 10 years before he became a client. Mr. Patricof, through a spokeswoman, declined to answer questions about whether the FBI investigated the intelligence targeting or whether other Russians or their agents may have been involved in seeking ‘friendships’ or information from him. After all, they might have had neutral, American-sounding names as Ms. Murphy. It’s a matter of record that the Communists, in years past, have succeeded in recruiting agents of influence to skew America’s policies to be favorable to the Communists.

The FBI kept close tabs on these Russians for a decade, learning their tradecraft and communications techniques. From the brief summaries in the press, the ring appears to have accomplished little, and one wonders even how loyal or eager to work they were for their corrupt officials back in Russia. Many U.S. intelligence professionals feel we got the better deal in the swap since those freed from Russian prisons had been dedicated and valuable to American intelligence and had been incarcerated for years. In fact, the spy ring members living under cover here for a decade were visibly unhappy having to leave the lush, U.S. consumer paradise — which they sought to undermine — to return to the crumbling, corrupt dystopia of Moscow.

It’s not important whether the spy ring penetrated the likes of political lackeys like the Patricofs, but whether our intelligence organizations knew what was going on-which they did-and were in a position to learn from it, and put a stop to it-which they were-should the penetrations be more serious.

But this sudden dénouement taught us something many have forgotten; the political mandarins, moguls and ruling classes, both in Washington, Wall Street, and elsewhere, secretly make the decisions to swap, prosecute, punish, award or release, not only spies, but convicted terrorists, corrupt bankers, conniving politicians, et al., when they perceive it to be in their best interest, or supporting political agendas. An example….

Scottish/British Petroleum Mathematics: 270 – 1 equals $1 Billion

The early release from Scottish prison of the lone Lockerbie bomber of Pan Am 103, Libyan intelligence agent Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, was such a political decision, influenced by the choice British Petroleum (BP) placed before the Scottish Government. Option A: continue to appease the U.S. families of 270 long-dead passengers, and be prepared to wave good-bye to a lucrative, pension-enhancing oil deal with Libya. Option B: free the already incarcerated Pan Am 103 bomber on fake humanitarian grounds [under the ruse of a fatal illness that won’t kill him for decades, but some doctor be urged to claim otherwise], take the momentary outrage and suspicion which follows — deny all of it — and then sit back, nice and cozy, to enjoy decades of Scotland’s pensioners and investors enjoying a real gusher of cash from a lucrative BP-Libyan oil deal. A tough choice that was.

In the harsh glare of diplomatic quadratic equations, the loss of those 270 lives in the Pan Am 103 bombing was unfortunate, but insignificant, when compared with Scotland’s (and the world’s) addiction to dwindling supplies of oil. And who among us is ready to give up our gas guzzling cars, our airplane-fueled gas-swilling leisure lifestyles, and energy gulping air-conditioned buildings and coal-belching cities we keep building in the hottest climates the world has ever known? None of us. But none of it hotter than the klieg lights of the media on those ten spies now out of the limelight and back in the dark, suffocating bosom of Mother Russia.

Yes, the administration got what it wanted; a swift swap and off the front pages. The FBI and CIA got what it wanted; avoid a trial to prevent defense lawyers from making a public spectacle of how the FBI/CIA got onto the spies in the first place and their means of keeping tabs on them. The Russians didn’t get what they wanted; how the FBI got onto the spies in the first place and their means of keeping tabs on them-and most important; was there a mole in the KGB that tipped us off. Now they’ll never know.

-Eugene Poteat