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04 January 2012


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William R. Cumming

Yes some will always be nostalgic about the past. It is the present that is more worrisome! Why? Absolutely no sign of leadership in USA circles. And Russia, what is amazing is that Putin the world's richest individual seems to just want more. Perhaps a bullet will be his retirement award.


Basilisk - Wow, what a fascinating story. Thank you for a glimpse into a world most of us never see or understand.

Green Zone Cafe

Great story.

I saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy yesterday, great movie, it made the era look like a long time ago.

The Twisted Genius

A fascinating and intriguing story, Basilisk. Leaves me longing to know the rest of Dmitij Volkov's story. Did he or didn't he? Will we ever know? That was a magical and professionally lucrative time to be plying the trade in old Europe.


Very well written.



Yes. A fascinating time. Someone told me a story of a meeting in Budapest after the Hungarians got their wish. The two sides lined their respective positions across the table in a building that had once housed Austro-Hungarian military intelligence. Supposedly, when business was done one of the Americans asked if any of the Hungarians had been involved with the case of mole "X." A Hungarian lieutenant colonel raised his hand. "I was in charge of him," he said. "I recruited him and ran him for six years." The Hungarian is said to have looked up the table at his leader, the chief of his service, who nodded slightly. "What is your question?" the Hungarian asked. The middle aged American sighed and responded, "What was he doing in Wiesbaden in December of 1987?" The Hungarian laughed and said "We had no idea, he was really uncontrollable. We thought you had turned him again..." This is supposed to have led to a "consultation" concerning "X" that his mother would have been unhappy to hear. The Hungarian general is reputed to have finally said something to his American "friend" across the table. It may have been, "You see, now the devils have come down from the church murals and sit to discuss their victims." It is possible that such a thing could have happend in those days. pl

Charles I

Thanks for good, unresolved tale.

We watched the last five seasons of Spooks/MI-5 over the holidays. Season 9, the story of Lucas North aka some other guy completely, just sprung from 8 years in Russian prison for spying almost made my head explode.

A Wilderness of Mirrors indeed.

Then in Season 10, the MI5 bosses' double agent turns out to be a triple - he'd been played for 30 years.

Totally unrealistic, I'm sure


PL, That is a story just waiting to be written. It is difficult for me to decide which is the ultimate "spy city." I always thought it was Berlin, but then I went to Vienna. Later still to Budapest. The competition is fierce, and Washington is not actually out of the running.


The total uncertainty, even after years, is what made our old trade so addictive. The lady or the tiger?


"Everything you know that’s worth anything happened in a country that doesn’t exist anymore" That describes the likes of Condi Rice, too. Sadly her next job didn't turn out so well for us.


Well with the Quality of an article as this 2012 will be a great year here at SST.

My hat is off to the author as only the richest of backgrounds could play in that House of Mirrors.


What a delightful account of an invisible world. I could go on reading, if there were more.

In the land of espionage, I'd imagine that actors and tools may change, but the central skills and ploys remain much the same across centuries. Based on this story, if I were to guess, the greatest talent must be the discrimination between where to trust and where distrust. Followed closely by analytic intuition and skillful feints or lying.

The delicate drawing, through every turn of the story, of an allusive web of uncertainty, within which perhaps all spies must operate, is a fascinating use of suspense.

I marvel at Basilisk's equanimity, working day after day with that known unknown (as a former SecDef might say): what was his actual role within the greater scheme of any operation (as opposed to his specific assignment), and would success for the operation advance or detour his career?

A good story told exquisitely.



You are a fine writer. Perhaps you should publish some longer pieces here. pl



Yes. Strategic intelligence people were always at war. there was no peace. The communists states, American policy and command people, all were the enemy waiting for a chance to abandon and betray. pl


Recapitulation and follow-up story on Anna Chapman, posted 2 day ago. Interesting timing.



Thanks for that. Anna is living the dream, Moscow style.

FB Ali

Great story!


All she has to do now is take up Moose hunting by helicopter. I wonder how you say 'you betcha' in Russian?


As a student at Vienna University (alma mater Rudolfina) on a course that was meant to make me an instant Eurocrat, I took part in a special seminar on new Russian politics (this was 2001, and the city was full of new Russians of one kind or another, to say nothing of what happened in 2004 when Yushchenko got his infamous bowl of Schlagoberssuppe). We got some interesting guest lecturers.

Like the Deputy Attache for Cultural Affairs (yeah, right division), who gave a really gripping talk in excellent and idiomatic Viennese German on the North Caucasus and potential Russian strategies, notably regarding the neo-Cossack movement and the question of why, if there were republics for various nationalities, there wasn't a Russian republic of the Caucasus.

I stuck up my hand and asked if the border of the Rostov Region as shown on the map, part of Russia rather than a federal republic, happened to include the major oil installations, which weren't shown on the map. She gave me a very handsome smile and took the next question.

These days they have thuggish nationalist Chechen football fans in Russia who sometimes get paid to beat up dissidents and they call their firm the Savage Division, which everyone who's read Sholokov will recall. Perhaps the idea of neo-Cossacks got applied in a rather different way, but one that was just as true to history.

I often wondered why quite so many countries needed a huge number of diplomats and cars for UNIDO and IAEA, and if they all really needed Austrian military police outriders.



A very well written and interesting story. The cloak and dagger genre with all it's intrigue is always an appealing read.

In retrospect what do you think was the return on investment on the billions spent on espionage and counter-espionage during the cold war? If you were in charge and had to do it all over again what would you change?

Is Dubai and Hong Kong the new Berlin as center stage for the "game" changes? It seemed to me that Islamabad could be a real contender with the hundreds of operatives but now that OBL has been taken care of I am not sure.



A fascinating question. Of course all retrospective questions are answered with 20-20 hindsight, which hardly seems fair. On balance, yes, I think we would do it all again. We spent an enormous amount on "warning," and I would suggest we had little choice. When George Kennan wrote his seminal "X" telegram the danger of another great war was palpable. Later on, perhaps the danger diminished—I think strategic deterrence really deterred—but the danger of miscalculation was always there.

That's what we provided, the capacity to defuse crises. Good intelligence has the capability to back nations away from the precipice. Policymakers are not always constrained to heed the warnings.

The Intelligence Community has been beat up over the First Gulf War, but it wasn't a failure of intelligence. The policymakers cherry picked the evidence and cast out those who told too much truth.

In the Cold War I can remember a few times when we backed away from mistaken appreciation of threats through good analysis, but obviously it doesn't always work.



"the First Gulf War" I think you have your wars a tad mixed up. DIA correctly called the first Gulf War when Saddam invaded Kuwait. It was in 2003 that the neocons lied and distorted the intelligence picture.

Actually, the original question asked you by WRC (?) showed a good deal of confusion. Was he asking about "espionage" or was he talking about "intelligence" or does he know the difference?

HUMINT (espionage) is a great bargain. It potentially supplies otherwise unavailable information on intentions and secret plans. At he same time the budget costs are trivial when compared to those of national "technical" means. pl


You're right, PL, I was having brain fade. No question, HUMINT when it produces, is the bargain of all times, and some of the "technical" stuff we used to throw around amounted to nothing more than pretty pictures for clueless flag ranks.

I can never forget when the F-15's shot down the Blackhawk in Iraq. We were beaten up roundly to get "better pictures." When I noted that the individuals who could be seen in the imagery walking around the wreckage were members of a US recovery team you would have thought I shot the admiral's dog. He didn't want intelligence, he wanted pictures for show and tell.



I remember the incident. I was at Clarendon by then. pl

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