Do Sovereign Nations Let Spies Get Away?

Mar 18th, 2011 | By | Category: The Nation

The Nation logoThe Nation today weighs in on the conclusion of the Raymond Davis episode with an editorial that mostly asks the same questions that are on the minds of many citizens without making any pronouncements or judgments of the court’s decision. However, the editorial concludes by once again flogging the dead horse of ‘sovereignty’ in the case by saying that, “letting a spy get away is not the act of a sovereign country”. Actually, it is quite common.

It would not be too far off the mark to say that every country has spies in every other country, both friends and foes alike. Because every country is looking out for the interests of its own citizens, it will naturally want to know what other countries are planning and doing, and no two countries will have 100% trust of another. The result is sending spies, quite often under the cover of diplomatic status in Embassies. The US does this. We do this. All nations do this.

But what happens when a spy is caught? This is usually the only time these ‘spy versus spy’ dramas are revealed to the public, and obviously people are curious. Movies make spies out to be dashing action heros like James Bond or Jason Bourne with super-human abilities and futuristic technologies. The reality, however, tends to be less romantic.

Last summer, international media became obsessed with the story of a Russian spy ring operating under ‘deep cover’ in the United States. These were covert agents not unlike Raymond Davis, gathering intelligence on America’s nuclear weapons and personnel changes at the CIA. In fact, even diplomatic cover was used to spy on the US.

The indictment says the alleged spies used a number of methods to communicate with the SVR including unique wireless networks to transfer encrypted data. One of the wireless networks was run from a van in New York that on one occasion parked outside a coffee shop where one of the accused , named as Anna Chapman, was sitting. The FBI said it observed as she established a connection with the wireless link in the van and transmitted data. A few weeks later she did the same from a bookshop.

The FBI said it also observed a car with diplomatic plates registered to the Russian government park outside a Washington DC restaurant where another alleged spy who went by the name Mikhail Semenko, who is still being sought by the authorities, used a computer to establish a connection with a wireless signal from the car.

Once this spy ring was caught, were they made to explain what they were doing and who they were working for? Were they brought before the court to shed the light on all of their activities and expose the secret workings of Russia’s intellgience agencies? No. The US sent them home.

The group were flown out of the country after pleading guilty in a New York court to acting as agents for Moscow. They were warned never to return to the US and were taken straight to the airport from the courtroom.

The spies were arrested 12 days ago at various locations in the eastern United States where they had led middle-class, all-American lives as part of a long-term effort to infiltrate the US establishment and society at large.

A judge sentenced the defendants to time served – 11 days – though the maximum sentence they faced was five years. More serious charges of money-laundering, which carried a maximum term of 20 years, had been dropped as part of the swiftly negotiated agreement between Washington and Moscow.

No one would argue that the US is not a sovereign country. If it is not, then what nation is? And yet the US is also spied upon and the US also lets spies go under terms negotiated between intelligence agencies. The Nation may be interested to know all of the details of Raymond Davis’s adventures and what exactly he was trying to do, but the claim that sovereign nations do not let spies go is incorrect.

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