Spy vs. Spy?

Posted on May 16, 2013


I am honestly not sure what to make of the Moscow arrest and PNG (persona non grata) removal of US Embassy employee Ryan Fogle.  Fogle was arrested by the Russian FSB (successor organization to the old KGB), accused of espionage, and filmed with his supposed spy kit, which consisted of two really cheesy wigs, some really cheesy fake glasses, a knife, a map, a compass, a typewritten letter offering his alleged target a million dollars per year plus bonuses to become an informant, an ancient decade-old cell phone, and €100,000.

The only thing that halfway gets my serious attention is the money — which was overkill, incidentally — but all the contents of this supposed spy kit would be easily put together as “incriminating evidence” for FSB purposes.  Indeed, the money is practically necessary to lend any kind of credibility to the FSB narrative, since the rest of it is so ham-handed and far-fetched.  And come to think of it, you only need a couple of bills on top of a stack of paper to achieve the same photographic effect, so unless one of our own has counted the cash… well.

It may well be that the Russians just needed – for political reasons – to force an arrest, which was done so clumsily as to be humorous.  Fogle may really be CIA, or perhaps he is just the more-or-less random FSB choice of a junior US Embassy officer to kick out of the country; if my hunch is correct, Fogle’s actual job isn’t all that relevant, because this was probably a setup.

I hope.

My Dad was, at one time, one of these guys who goes around recruiting, as Fogle is accused of doing.  Later, he taught tradecraft.  Either the Fogle case is a setup, or else CIA tradecraft has gone straight into the toilet.  I would like to think that it has not come to that.

Many years after my Dad was well and truly retired, a mind-boggling story came to my ears about a more recent trainee.  The trainees, after some classes on tradecraft, are given some training assignments and go out to practice what they have learned in a pretty low-stress environment in a small town.  You might think of it as the “Tradecraft 101 Field Trip.”

Well, one of these guys was doing his thing, and made a series of mistakes that were too awful even for a bad sitcom.


Mistake #1:  Getting noticed.  He was so abysmally obvious and shifty about his little mission that one of the locals could not help but notice him, thought he was up to no good, and called his company’s security unit.

Mistake #2:  No cover story.  When the security guard approached and asked what he was doing, he had no ready answer and only managed to look even more suspicious.

Mistake #3:  Sure, under the intense questioning of Somebody’s Local Security, Inc.,  just… break.  Go ahead, tell the guy who you are and what you are doing, and supply your boss’s phone number for verification.  We know this is scary for you.

When my Dad heard this story, his jaw just dropped.  His opinion:  there was no way a guy that obvious, clumsy, and slow-witted would even be allowed to progress to Field Trip #2, much less anything else.  I was gratified to learn that – at least in my Dad’s experience – there was a definite, and effective, selection (and more importantly, elimination) process to the training.

I will cling to that recollection as my reassurance that whatever Fogle’s real job is, no actual CIA officer would be so amateur, so ineffective, so… cartoonish as the FSB is portraying him.

I hope.