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By Robert M. Citino 
Originally published under Front & Center Blog. Published Online: July 06, 2010 
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Last week we discussed an issue "ripped from the headlines," as it were–General McChrystal's meltdown.  This week, I wanted to discuss it further in the context of military-media relations in World War II.  You know, write something DEEP.
And this just in…

Sigh… so this is what it's like to be a journalist?  Every time you start to develop something fresh, really sink your teeth into it, something else intervenes, and you're off in a completely new direction.

In this case, the new affaire du jour is the Great Russian Spy Caper.  Complete with secret rendezvous, bags of money, an attractive redhead (the New York Post, in its inimitable way, described Anna Chapman as "a 28-year-old divorcee with a masters in economics, an online real-estate business, a fancy Financial District apartment and a Victoria's Secret body"), and a story line apparently written by Tom Clancy on a bad day.

Oh, and I have I mentioned their incompetence?  They leave a trail a mile wide.  One of the suspects fails to notice an FBI tail even after he goes up and introduces himself.  She then buys a prepaid Verizon phone card and drops it into a garbage can–with the receipt still inside.  The address on it?  "99 Fake Street."  You think by now there would be an introductory course called "Espionage 101".

As they say, however, "it was ever thus."  Like a lot of folks interested in World War II, I read all the spy stuff I can get my hands on.  I'll never have enough of the incredible story of Juan Pujol Garcia, code-named "Garbo," an Allied double agent so successful that he was decorated by the Germans for all the bogus "information" he was supplying them.  The same thing goes for the story of the "12 Apostles" in North Africa, "proconsuls" sent into the theater by FDR in June of 1940, a full nineteenth months before the U.S. was even at war, who played an active role in prepping the region for an eventual Allied invasion.  And, oh yes, that German bunch who tried to carry out Operation Pastorius.  Talk about the gang who couldn't shoot straight.  They landed at Amagansett, Long Island and Jacksonville, Florida with a bag of bills and a mission to carry out acts of sabotage.  One of them promptly hooked up a few old card-playing buddies.  Another went to reconnect with an old girlfriend.  All would be sentenced to death within two months of their arrival, courtesy of the U.S. authorities.   

Yes, in this war, the espionage balance tilted very much in favor of the Allies.  Despite the reputation of the Axis powers for fanaticism and ruthlessness, the western democracies and Soviet Russia were much more successful at producing men and women wiling to penetrate the enemy camp and risk their lives in the battle of information.  In World War II, most of the true believers were to be found in the Allied camp, and that was no small advantage. 

What puzzles me about this new affair is its utter pointlessness. You have to wonder what information Putin's spies could possibly have unearthed here that they couldn't have gotten much more easily from reading a few U.S. newspapers.

And let me add this:  Vlad, if you're going to spy, at least bring your "A game."

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2 Responses to “Spies!”

  1. 1

    [...] Citino on the "Russian Spy Caper" –As he calls it, in an engagingly written column for HistoryNet.  Dr. Citino is perhaps most famous for his study The Death of the Wehrmacht, as [...]

  2. 2
    Perry says:

    12 guys, a bag of money and no boss to looking over their shoulder… its sounds like the tagline for a great college comedy. Same goes for our contemporary situation.

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