News / USA

Spy Swaps Not a Cold War Relic

The spy swap between the United States and Russia may seem like something out of a Cold War espionage novel. But although such exchanges are often shrouded in secrecy, they are far from outdated.  They continue to be a useful tool for governments, and more especially for their intelligence agencies.  

There was a time when Soviet and Western spies would be exchanged in a mutual tense walk across the Glienicke Bridge that spanned the divide between West and East Berlin.

The Soviet Union is now gone, and Berlin is a single city in a reunited Germany.  But, as intelligence historian Walter Wark of the University of Toronto says, the latest exchange shows that spy swaps have not gone out of date.

"We have a tendency to forget that spying goes on as usual, and when spying goes on as usual, sooner or later there will be occasion to do a spy swap," Wark said.  "But it's gone out of our consciousness, I think is the only thing that's really remarkable about this.  It's not that it should happen. It's just that kind of, with all the other dangers that we're facing in a 21st century world, we've forgotten about espionage," he said.

Spy swaps have several uses, say analysts.  For one thing, says Wark, it allows a democratic government to avoid an open trial that might force secrets into the open.

"Taking spies to trial is a very difficult matter, not least because if you're going to do that successfully you have to expose intelligence sources and methods very often in an open courtroom process. So it's very difficult, actually, to prosecute spies unless you're lucky enough to have a confession, and you won't always have that," said Wark.

But swaps are even more important to intelligence agencies.  Security analyst Fred Burton of the private intelligence firm Stratfor says spy exchanges serve as an aid to recruiting an agent inside a foreign government, letting a potential spy know he or she will not be left behind.

"If you're the clandestine officer at the sgency [CIA] now trying to recruit assets [agents] to run against Russia, people are going to be sitting back and thinking, 'well, do I really want to go down this path?" Asked Burton.  "What guarantees do I have that the American CIA is not lying to me, or the British security service?' So this is a pretty powerful signal that the U.S., Western intelligence, will do what it can to get you out if you do get picked up," he said.

But analysts point out there were several aspects of the Russian spy roundup and subsequent swap that were unusual.

For one thing, most swaps have occurred long after capture and conviction and after protracted negotiations.  For example, the 1962 exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union of downed spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers and Soviet deep cover agent Rudolf Abel took place at the Glienicke Bridge two years after Powers was shot down by a Soviet missile and five years after Abel was arrested in New York.  In contrast, the recent exchange of 10 accused Russian agents for four alleged Western spies came less than two weeks after their arrests in the U.S. were announced.

Another is that none of the arrested Russian spies were charged with committing acts of espionage.  They were charged with the far less serious offense of being unregistered agents of a foreign power.  They appeared in court, pled guilty, and were whisked off to Vienna for their swap and a trip home.

Stratfor's Fred Burton says something appears to have forced the FBI to act prematurely before they could catch the spies performing an act of espionage.  

"Having gone back to the original tripwire event, what caused this chain of events to occur has not been disclosed," said Burton.  "And I've been around enough of these kinds of cases, and engaged in enough of them, and I know how the FBI operates to the point that they just didn't wake up that day and say, let's take these cells down.  This has to be part and parcel to something larger, and I don't know what that is.   But it's there.  We just haven't found it yet," Burton added.

Burton says that could be because another spy tipped off the Russians, or new information came from a defector or another agent, or perhaps there is some other aspect of the affair the government wants to cover up.  But whatever the reasons, they are being kept secret in keeping with the operational rules of the espionage game.

You May Like

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid