Check my back, OK? I think there’s a Russian following me…


OK, yeah, I know; I shouldn’t make jokes about people’s nationalities.

It’s just that this guy started following me sometime in the last 24 hours, and I tend to click on new followers to see who they are, and I was intrigued by (what I take to be) the Cyrillic text on his feed. (In fact, he may not be Russian at all. I’m too ignorant to tell. Can you tell?)

Then I tapped on his avatar (this was on my iPad), and got this super grainy, black-and-white image that immediately reminded me of the blurry surveillance image of Karla that George Smiley kept on the wall of his office.

And then, the image moved. It stretched and distorted itself to become more blurry, then popped back into shape, then did it all again. I checked; it wasn’t a GIF. It was a PNG. Can PNG’s do that?

I’m not making this up. Look at his feed and watch the avatar on one of his Tweets, just for a few seconds. See it jump? Roll your mouse pointer over it. Does it do it now?

So who is this guy? According to Facebook, he’s a cipher, a complete question mark — unless I ask to be his “friend.” Yeah, right — I do that, and next thing you know I show up on his expense reports to Moscow Centre as a new agent. Then, the next defector we get tells the boys at Langley or MI6 that they’ve turned me, and I’ve got a permanent cloud over me. I’m not falling for that.

And what’s that background image on Twitter? Is that a raven? Is it saying, “никогда больше?”

Again, sorry. I’ve just started reading The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6, by Gordon Corera, and I’m in the chapter about Vienna right after the war, when everybody was trying to recruit everybody else, and so I’m, well, I’ve got this sort of thing on the brain.

Sorry. (If I say “sorry” a couple more times, I think I’ll have established my cover as a Brit.)…


9 thoughts on “Check my back, OK? I think there’s a Russian following me…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Canadian is too subtle. It’s easier to focus on being a Brit…

      About 20 years ago, when newspapers still sent editors to seminars, I went to one in Reston, VA. There were several Canadians among the American editors. At dinner the first night, we were comparing travel experiences getting there, and I mentioned that I had arrived early enough to work out in the fitness center before dinner, which was nice.

      This young Canadian woman asked, “You did WHAT?” I told her again that I had worked out. She laughed and asked me to say it again.

      It took me a moment to realize that she was just thoroughly tickled that I actually pronounced the word “out” instead of saying “oot” or whatever. This was a novelty to her. I sounded just like those Yanks in the movies.

      I don’t think she had been away from home before…

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I find it hard to imagine a Canadian since the days of TV at least, if not movies, who had never heard a Yank speak. I bet she was just funnin’ you.
        You could definitely pull off Canadian–just work on the accent and pin a maple leaf flag to your lapel.

      2. Brad Warthen

        Come on — let me be a Brit! I’ll be whatever kind you want. I’ll do Received Pronunciation or Estuary or Cockney or Scouse or whatever you like, if you give me some time to practice a bit.

        Y’all know about my Anglophilia thing. Don’t make me be Canadian! That’s just another kind of Colonial. I want to trade UP! I want to do Mother Country.

        If I were an ancient Roman, I suppose I’d be the kind who wanted to pass for Greek…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Have you spent much time in Canada? Many parts are more British than Britain. Victoria, BC is like if England were a theme park with better weather.


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