We haven’t had a good spy swap in AGES…

I’m watching with some fascination as the Russian spies we recently pulled in admit their guilt, and we get ready for a swap for some people the Russians are holding:

The US is to deport 10 people who spied for Moscow in exchange for four people convicted of espionage in Russia.
A judge in New York ordered the immediate deportation of the 10, and it is thought they may leave in hours.
The 10 had pleaded guilty to spying for a foreign country but a charge of laundering money was dropped.
Details of the four being freed by Russia were not given other than that all had had “alleged contact with Western intelligence agencies”.

Fascination, and a certain amount of nostalgia. Not only did I grow up in the Cold War (when world affairs were simpler — you were either on our side or theirs), but I’m a huge fan of such spy novelists as John le Carre and Len Deighton. This story’s got it all, including the James Bond/Austin Powers element of The Alluring Spy — a stock character that serious spy fiction didn’t stoop to, but there she is in the flesh, Anna Chapman of the bedroom eyes.

But wait? How are we going to have a proper swap without Checkpoint Charlie. Doh! I knew they shouldn’t have torn down that wall. The proper forms can’t be followed now!

That sort of ruins it for me. That, and the fact that these Russian spooks were so inept. Definitely not up to KGB standards. Putin should hang his head.

Another question — we’re swapping 10 for four? How come it always works out this way for us? And for Israel. You ever notice how Israel will do these swaps for like, 10,000 Palestinians for one IDF soldier? I suppose that says something about the value we place on our people, but still — seems to me like a rip-off.

18 thoughts on “We haven’t had a good spy swap in AGES…

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    About ten years ago, my niece, who is now 29, despite graduating from high school in a another state noted for its excellent schools, had no idea what the Cold War was or the Iron Curtain. I rented Torn Curtain to illustrate. Not sure she got how frightening it all was….

  2. Brad

    It wasn’t frightening to me. About the only time I was worried during the Cold War was when my Dad spent a year in the jungle in Vietnam.

    I was in Washington during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember seeing the headlines on The Washington Post on the front stoop in the mornings. I was never worried. Excited a bit — it was sort of a thrilling time. When JFK confronted the Sovs and they backed down, it was just what I expected. I was in the 4th grade, and I suppose I was a very secure kid.

    I was INTO the Cold War. It was a huge disappointment to me when the Wall came down, because it was a personal ambition of mine to someday cross into the East at Checkpoint Charlie or one of the other points, and feel the slight frisson of tension as the Vopos eyed my passport. Only then could I know whether I’d be able to bluff it out if I were traveling on false papers, trying to escape. I read SO many novels about it that I wanted to experience it. But alas, it was not to be…

  3. Brad

    What? I didn’t want to HURT anybody… for me, it was like — I don’t know — like reading stories about pirates and wanting to sail the Spanish Main, just once.

    Actually, it was like the fact that I went sailing this past weekend for the first time, and had wanted to for years because I read those Aubrey-Maturin novels about the British navy in the Napoleonic wars. It was awesome, by the way.

  4. Brad

    And yes, Burl, the swap on the bridge is also very nice. I’m more of a heart-of-Berlin man myself, though. In the winter. Everyone bundled up. In black-and-white.

  5. Herb Brasher

    Brad, I crossed at Checkpoint Charlie more than once, and it wasn’t a big deal. For some reason I always ended up on top of a double-decker bus, where the ceiling was very low. I could swear that it was the same, short guy who did the passport control in 1966 that was still doing it in 1989. I just remember that he stared at you in the eyes, and if you didn’t turn your face towards him, he would stare at you until you did. His stare was icy, of course, but I expected that. The interesting thing was watching them check under the bus with their big mirrors. Come to think of it, I don’t think they did that in ’89.

    I did have a colleague who was in East Germany a lot more than I was, and used to take a youth team to help with evangelistic youth meetings in Lutheran churches (helping a very dynamic youth evangelist named Theo Lehmann). He would take books on youth work, and cassette tapes, etc. (even electronic equipment), openly, and never had a problem, until about the 8th time. That time, they interrogated him and everyone on the team for 24 hours straight, and confiscated the van and all their materials. He could never go to E. Germany again until the wall came down, not even in transit trying to drive to Poland.

  6. Herb Brasher

    I wanted to add that I don’t remember that Vopo guy ever saying one word. Maybe because he knew we were Amis and he didn’t speak English, or maybe just because it was more intimidating if he just stared.

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    I grew up in Aiken–actually on the south side, nearer the Bomb Plant. My daddy worked there as did most everyone else’s daddy. Periodically “psychic” Jeane Dixon would forecast that it would be bombed. Allegedly Cuban missiles were directed at it–at least that was the word on the playground.

    Add to that the fact that my father’s father came from Frankfurt an der Oder, which is in East Germany, and there was added poignancy.

  8. Pat

    Goodness, I remember all those things – except for the bomb plant. I didn’t know Aiken existed back then. What was poignant when the Berlin wall came down was that the West Germans embraced the East Germans as family coming home. I can picture Brad’s interest in an adventure of mystery and intrigue; Brad, I think there’s plenty left for you in today’s world. I remember with Bush the 1st we were finally supposed to have a world of peace and before the year was out, Desert Storm was being planned. Journalists have been both recorders AND the news (Daniel Pearl). But then, maybe Europe was more interesting…

  9. Phillip

    “You ever notice how Israel will do these swaps for like, 10,000 Palestinians for one IDF soldier?”

    Indeed. And kill 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, in response to 20-plus Israeli deaths.

    To swap thousands of Palestinian prisoners for one IDF soldier, that means you first have to imprison several thousand Palestinians.

  10. Brad

    Yep. And they’d better keep on doing that, huh? Else they won’t have enough in the bank to buy back their soldiers.

    But seriously, folks: You observation implies that you think Israel has locked up these folks without sufficient cause, just willy-nilly. Because they enjoy being beastly to the Palestinians or something. You may believe that. An awful lot of people seem to do so.

    Well, I do not. Not one bit.

    Israel is a liberal democracy surrounded by people who wish it to cease to exist. That is not in Israel’s imagination. It is not some paranoid fantasy it invented to justify repression. So it is constantly struggling with a delicate balance between BEING a liberal democracy, and coming off like a paranoid police state because everyone — from corrupt states around it to Hamas to liberals in the West — actually IS out to get it. It’s a very tough situations, and I appreciate that fact.

    Nobody wants to see thousands of people locked up. Nobody wants to see anybody die in armed conflict. And Israel’s vigilance over itself should be (and from what I see of Israeli media, IS) eternal, as the country constantly debates the tension between ideals and the real need to provide for its own security.

  11. Phillip

    Your point about Israel’s “vigilance over itself” and internal debate about ideals and security is absolutely correct (at least, has been up to now and I hope it continues). Many say that the atmosphere for debate about Israeli policies is healthier within Israel than it is in the US, where any hint of a slight criticism or expression of disagreement towards Israel in our body politic is met by a torrent of accusations of anti-Semitism or being a terrorist-sympthizer, or…huh? what’s this? “liberals in the West…actually out to get [Israel].” ???!!!

    Setting aside the fact that us Western liberals are no match for the Israeli military (!), are you sure you don’t want to walk back that particular Palinism? Isn’t it possible to offer some disagreement with a country’s policies without “being out to get” that country? That’s surprising from somebody who spends so much time on this blog criticizing partisan divisiveness and extremist rhetoric, it sounds more Michael P than Brad W.

    As for a “wish to cease to exist,” Palestinians can only hope for a day when they have a state that other people could then “wish to cease to exist.” That state hasn’t even gotten to that point.

  12. Herb Brasher

    Brad, I understand what you are saying, but I have a family member who is Palestinian American. The treatment he is subjected to when trying to go back to visit his mother in Israel is beyond belief.

    Israeli immigration authorities will strip Palestinian or Arab visitors naked and make them sit in a caged-in area for all to see–in other words, to humiliate them. This is far more degredating for an honor/shame culture like the Arab one than we realize–and the Israelis know exactly what they are doing.

    Or they will simply deny entry to a Palestinian American, willy-nilly, or do their best to humiliate his blond, blue-eyed American wife and their small children. The family has learned not to even try to enter or leave the country together. Or actually to even try and go there, now.

    Israel is presented as a democracy to the West, but it is, and always has been, ruthless in its treatment of Palestinians. Some of this is understandable, but the way Israel operates is always with an intent to escalate violence, not just an eye for eye, but 2 eyes for one. They do not just want peace, they want triumphal humiliation of all their enemies, and this is what causes the situation to continually worsen.

    It is worthwhile to explore what Arab Christians have to say about the whole situation. If I have the time (and right now I don’t), I’ll try and dig up some good links.

    I don’t mean to deny entirely what you are saying, but it is one-sided, and there is definitely another side to it.

  13. Pat

    Very interesting, Herb. Many years ago, I met an Arab-American. His family was originally from Jordan and they were Christian. They lost their orange groves there during the wars and came to the U.S. It was not long after Bobby Kennedy was shot. He thought he understood why Sirhan Sirhan was involved. It is a strange situation in Israel. Their leaders may be Jews by heritage but I’m not so sure about their faith. Your perspective is interesting.

  14. bud

    Why not just treat Isreal like every other country? We put them on this kind of international pedestal that can only bring animosity from the Arab world. I’d start by eliminating weapon sales.

  15. Karen McLeod

    Has anyone read Elias Chacour’s book “Blood Brothers?” I am in the process of reading it, and find it interesting. I think his approach is the only way that there can, ultimately, be peace.

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