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 But although such exchanges are often shrouded in secrecy, they are far from outdated.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historian Walter Wark of the University of Toronto says, the latest exchange shows that spy swaps have not gone out of date.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

EU Court Fines Poland for Hosting CIA 'Black Sites'

Ruling is first time a court has acknowledged suspects were held and tortured at the sites, under US program launched following the 9/11 terrorist attacks More

Migrant Issues Close to Home Spur Groups to Take Action

Groups placing water, food in the desert, or aiding detainees after release, have one common goal: no more deaths of migrants crossing illegally into the US More

Video At AIDS Conference, Prevention Pill Stirs Excitement

Truveda shows promise, spurring debate over access and other approaches 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.
Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debatei
X
Shelley Schlender
July 24, 2014 6:43 PM
In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Death Toll From Israel-Gaza Conflict Surpasses 700

Gaza officials say a shelling hit a compound housing a United Nations-run school in the Gaza Strip, killing more than a dozen people, during an Israeli offensive in the area. Heavy fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas militants continued on Thursday, pushing up the death toll. So far, more than 730 Palestinians and 35 Israelis have been killed in the conflict. VOA's Scott Bobb has the latest from Jerusalem.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Researchers Target Low-Cost Avatar Technology

Scientists at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies say 3-dimensional representations could revolutionize social media. Elizabeth Lee has more from Los Angeles.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid