The Untold Story Of East-West Espionage Today
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Review by Fraser Harbutt
International espionage seems to have lost much of its literary allure. The Cold War is long gone. Airport thriller writers listlessly stir the embers, but this is mostly nostalgia. The real action today seems to be elsewhere, mostly in communications and technological spying. The emblematic figure is the nerdy hacker, not the desperate man on the run or the elusive mole moving relentlessly through predictable hazards toward the crucial secret.
Edward Lucas, a senior Economist journalist with extensive Russian and East European experience, presents a bracing challenge to this complacent outlook. The murky clandestine world, he insists, is still very much alive. And the threat comes from a familiar direction, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, or, more specifically, from its thuggish KGB-descended elite. He cites the case of Anna Chapman, who, along with 10 others, was plucked from suburbia and deported as a spy from the United States in 2010, only to turn up suspiciously in Putin’s entourage. This episode, he suggests, was irresponsibly trivialized in the American media, perhaps because she was not properly interrogated before deportation. And he cites numerous other examples—including recent Russian attempts to penetrate NATO security—in support of his thesis that the Russians continue to take traditional espionage very seriously.
Lucas’ broader point is that such hangovers from Soviet days, above all the pervasive KGB mentality, have created in Russia something very different from the congenial “transformations” so widely celebrated in the 1990s. Certainly, he acknowledges, there have been major improvements. But he is more impressed by the lamentably easy transition from totalitarian oppression to an unscrupulous elite that successfully combines organized crime (including torture and murder), big business rip-offs typically obscured by the lulling rhythm of conventional diplomacy, and the subversive espionage activities that he describes here. He points also to the relentless politico-economic and even military pressures applied around the Russian periphery from the Baltic states to the Ukraine to Georgia, all seemingly suggestive of a systematic attempt to dominate and even reincorporate former Soviet constituent elements, and plainly designed to restore Russian imperial power.
Lucas’ book is designed to be an impassioned wake-up call. As such, it takes its place in the ongoing debate over Russia’s elite that is shaped, as in the Soviet era, by emotion and guesswork, as well as solid evidence. Many mysteries—the origins, character and effect of the oligarch phenomenon, the detail of the Yeltsin-Putin handover, the scope and fate of dissident activity, to cite only a few—remain essentially unresolved. Meanwhile, Lucas has done much to pierce the veil of contemporary Russian “deception” in a well-written and educative if sobering analysis.
Hardcover Book : 384 pages
Publisher: Walker & Company ( June 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-595775
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 20.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)