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No Conspiracy in Spy Arrests

It shouldn’t be any surprise that some reactions in Russia to the arrest of 10 alleged spies are arguing for a conspiracy theory:

“This strongly resembles a struggle of opposition forces against President Obama,” said Gennady Gudkov, a lawmaker and former official in the FSB, the main domestic successor to the Soviet-era KGB. “It is absolutely obvious that the U.S. president is under fire by the anti-Russia lobby, which doesn’t want our bilateral relations to improve.”

Mikhail Lyubimov, a writer and former member of the SVR, theintelligence agency alleged to have been behind the spy operation, saidoperatives who go undercover as ordinary citizens — known as “illegals”because they work without a diplomatic cover that gives them immunityfrom prosecution — are never deployed or managed in groups.

“It sounds preposterous to me. . . . We’ve never used illegals likethis, and it’s a comedy to have ten of them connected,” he said. “I’mnot even sure we have illegals now. It’s very expensive.”

Lyubimov said he believed the FBI manufactured the case to burnish itsimage, and noted that the suspects had not been charged with espionage.”The political aim is clear,” he said. “The gist is clear, which is thatthe Russians are scoundrels, they continue to spy, and all theagreements between Obama and Medvedev are fake.”

Well, yes, Lyubimov actually gets it partially right – of course Russia has continued spying, and hopefully so has the United States … it’s not really all that scandalous (for example, there have been some accusations of business espionage by Russia in Germany as well recently).  However these excuses of “anti-Russia” conspiracy don’t really stand up to scrutiny.  The complaints were launched by the U.S. Southern District Court of New York, by prosecutors who are considered by the international legal community to be among the best and most professional in the country if not the world – they don’t do conspiracy.  Additionally, any cursory reading of the complaints reveals what is likely to be quite a staggering amount of evidence, and a very meticulously constructed case.  If it is a frame-up as the Russians claim, then they would be eager to demonstrate how these individuals came into contact with government officials.

There is still the question of why/if the announcement and arrests were timed to occur directly following the visit to the United States by Dmitry Medvedev.  Initially, this looked like a courtesy to me, but Sergei Lavrov seems to think it was an insult.  The answer may be the escape of named defendant Christopher R. Metsos – perhaps the prosecutors had no choice but to go forward and make the arrests after he slipped out.  I would be very curious to learn more about when the case was finally assembled, and whether or not the White House had any role in the timing.

Overall it’s a very strange and very compelling story.