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Anna Chapman and the Eccentricity of Espionage

July 2, 2010

One of the most facinating aspects to me about the Russian spy ring story is how the whole affair reeks of incompetence. Anna Chapman nee Kushchenko is supposedly a Russian spy, but this is a woman who puts up alluring photos of herself on her Facebook page and obviously craves attention. She hardly seems adept at keeping secrets! Perhaps we should stop regarding espionage as some sort of mythical and idealised world. Look at the sad case of David Shaylor, the former MI5 whistleblower who suffered a breakdown and is now a transvestite squatter who thinks he is Jesus. Spies are not flawless, suave James Bond types. In most cases they are simply ordinary people, or sometimes very weird people.

The novelist John Le Carre has demythologised spying more than anyone. He often says of spying (and this is a paraphrase) ‘If it’s a case of either conspiracy or cockup, it will always be a cockup.’ One of Le Carre’s greatest novels, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), examines the heavy emotional toll spying leaves on people. Former British spy George Smiley is called out of retirement to uncover a Soviet mole who has infiltrated British Intelligence. Smiley sets about his investigation by interviewing former employees of British Intelligence who have all been sacked and are now embittered and working in random jobs. We should remember this portrayal the next time another big espionage story is reported by the media, and that Anna Chapman has become a celebrity through her own incompetence rather than for being a good spy.

More on Anna Chapman in the video below:

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