On spying and premature gloating:

by Craig Hooper on July 13, 2010

In light of the long-pursued “Illegals” spy case with Russia, every commentator under the sun has taken it upon themselves to mock Russia’s spycraft.  And why not?  The idea that Russia would maintain such a sad “odd lot” of characters is, on the surface, laughable.

But resist the urge to snicker. There’s probably more to this case. When is the other shoe going to drop, I wonder?  It’s happened before.

I mean, remember Stanislav Gusev?  The bungling Russian chap sent to “tend” a bug hidden in the State Department?  A recording/transmission device hidden in a conference room used at the time by the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs?

I do.  You see, in the months prior, I had been talking to the Bureau about smallpox threats, and had let them know that, in several months’ time, I’d be publishing a little something in the New England Journal of Medicine (I also emailed my family with the news–one of whom was, at the time, doing doctoral work in–drum roll please–Russia!).  When the reports of the bugging broke, I was fascinated.  To me, any hint of an interest by Russia–a presumed poxvirus weaponizer–in smallpox control was extremely interesting.  So I followed the story rather closely.

But something just didn’t make sense.  Gusev, the fine fellow that he was, arrived in the U.S. and immediately began operating in a fashion that would get him noticed and busted–I mean, he worked really,really hard to repeatedly park his registered embassy car in the exact same place outside Foggy Bottom.  Gusev (his picture is above) acted like he was a member of the Espionage “B Team”, sitting around fiddling with a big, heavy file folder case, and doing everything to arouse suspicion but put up a billboard saying “Look at me! I’m tending a technical penetration of the State Department!”

Unlike most Russians chopped to a U.S. posting, it seemed like the dude just wanted to get found out and promptly PNG’ed.

So, naturally, when Gusev was finally busted, everybody gleefully chortled at the crappy Russian fieldwork, reminiscing how, in the old KGB days, such incompetence wouldn’t have been tolerated.

Well, at the time, idly I wondered if the bug, having achieved it’s purpose, was considered expendable (Gusev, a single-project short-timer, certainly was)…I also wondered if anybody might actually benefit from being involved in “busting” the incompetent Foggy Bottom bug-tender.

Well, we know how that turned out.  In February 2001 we were introduced to Robert Hanssen, an FBI counterintelligence pro detailed to the State Department from 1995-2000…and one of the most damaging FBI double-agents in US history. We’ll never know, but my bet is that Gusev was sent out to get busted and help Hanssen’s career prospects…

So.  Sometimes incompetence masks a viable plan.  Sometimes not.  But that’s the business, I presume….Hope they pay you well, Col Alexander Zaporozhsky (and others).  Welcome back.

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