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 But although such exchanges are often shrouded in secrecy, they are far from outdated.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historian Walter Wark of the University of Toronto says, the latest exchange shows that spy swaps have not gone out of date.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

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL 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.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid