Back in the bad old days of the Cold War, a lot of successful espionage projects run by the Soviets hinged on a certain type of snobbery.
You can see it most clearly when reading about the Cambridge Five, a spy ring consisting of several British high-bred good-old-boys. Recruited while attending a snooty college, they betrayed their country with elan and enthusiasm. The reason why they managed to get access to sensitive material was because they came from good families, and could use the connections formed during their school days to get jobs in government. Jobs that dealt with intelligence and secret information.
They had sources of sensitive info other than the documents they read while at the office. Other people in the spy game would let their guard down during casual conversation, and let slip some secrets. After all, this was their buddy from their university days! If you can’t trust someone who wears the same school tie, then the world makes no sense at all!
These methods sound asinine to people living today, but they certainly worked at the time. It would appear that the only reason why the Cambridge Five didn’t influence Soviet decisions more directly was due to the fact that the quality, detail, and volume of information they passed on was so high that Stalin was convinced that they were double agents being run by British intelligence. They were so successful that they couldn’t be believed.
I was strongly reminded of that long ago time when reading about the latest Russian spy ring that the FBI broke up recently. Jules Crittenden has a great roundup of news and opinions concerning this subject, and it is well worth your time to peruse his post. (Hat tip to Glenn.)
According to coded messages sent to the spies that were intercepted by the FBI, the goal of the effort was to “…to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels [intelligence reports] to C[enter].” In other words, to do pretty much what the Cambridge Five had done more than half a century ago.
The hope was that the spies would make friends with the movers and shakers at the highest levels of government, people who knew what was going on. And then those same people would loosen up when invited over for cocktails, and spill state secrets with nary a thought.
How 1930′s of them!
It would appear that the spies were put in place better than a decade ago. Russia spent a whole lot of money to get this thing off the ground, as well as a lot more over the years to keep it in the air after takeoff. And what do they have to show for it?
I figure they can chalk this one up to an expensive learning experience.