Invisible ink, instructions concealed in images posted on the Internet, a laptop in a Barnes & Noble flashing messages to a passing van: the high-tech spycraft used by the 10 now-confessed Russian intelligence agents arrested last month intrigue us because it rings of good old spy fiction -- and the exchange of the spies for four Russians convicted of spying for the West only adds to that feeling -- but it's less astounding than the farce.
A former KGB officer who handled the KGB's biggest-ever spies -- Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen -- in Washington during the 1980s calls it so absurd as to be unbelievable. "It's as if a kindergarten class decided to go into espionage," says Viktor Cherkashin, "not the intelligence service I knew."
But dismissing the latest spy scandal as indication the Russians are ineffectually still fighting the Cold War is to miss the big picture. In fact, Moscow is skillfully advancing its interests in the West, not through intelligence but business, often supported by crafty industrial espionage, influence-buying, and under-the-table deal-making.