Michael Weiss reports on one British newspaper's reaction to news that Russian intelligence has been faking British passports. Earlier this year, the Guardian had been quite robust in its condemnation of Israel for allegedly committing the same crime. But apparently Russia was only joking around:
More telling than the British government's muscular response was that of the correct-thinking British media, best exemplified by The Guardian. On March 24, the newspaper's editorial on the affair carried the ominous title, "Israel and Britain: The rule of law," and described Israel as "an arrogant nation that has overreached itself" -- not just in terms of identity theft, but also land theft. Indeed, it actually devoted more than half of its column to arraigning Israel for rejecting Washington's instructions on settlement build-up in East Jerusalem and refusing to even consider that territory as the site of a future Palestinian capital. If this seemed a non sequitur, then one clearly hadn't grasped a fundamental principle of The Guardian's moral outrage: So incensed was it by an allied nation's covert toying with sensitive British documents that it felt obliged to bring up other instances of Israel's misbehavior in recent months. "Mr Netanyahu has to face the consequences of an ideological stand over East Jerusalem which precludes any other. Here, as in the rest of the West Bank, where the number of Jewish settlers has more than doubled since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, Israel is pre-empting the shape of the final agreement by creating facts on the ground. No deal with the Palestinians can be made in these conditions," The Guardian editorialized.
So it was quite expected that The Guardian would be similarly categorical when late last month the FBI arrested a 11-person Russian spy-ring in the United States, and federal prosecutors in their brief disclosed that one paid agent of Moscow, Tracey Foley, had also "travelled on a fraudulent British passport prepared for her by the SVR [Russian foreign intelligence service]." No doubt the liberal broadsheet would mention the arrogant abuse of trust that now exists between two former Cold War antagonists and devote the rest of its column inches to reviewing the evidence of Vladimir Putin's authoritarian tendencies in general, such as his nationalization of Russian television, his silencing of domestic dissidents through murder, arrest, or army conscription, and his imperialist certification of the north Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of the Russian demesne. The KGB's assistance in the "umbrella murder" of Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov on the Waterloo Bridge in 1978 may have been a mite old to merit recapitulation, but surely there'd be a passing reference to the polonium poisoning of British citizen and ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, which occurred in a Piccadilly sushi joint a mere four years ago?
Such was not the case.
Instead, The Guardian downplayed the whole affair as both silly and inconsequential to U.S.-Russian relations. In a June 30 leader, "Russian espionage: Spies like us," the paper argued that Moscow Center had demonstrated a "professional ineptitude worth of Inspector Clouseau" since "[t]he advice given to one agent to 'build up, little by little, relations' with a New York financier with powerful political connections is laughable." It scarcely mattered that another alleged agent in the federal indictment, Donald Heathfield, was a Harvard Kennedy School graduate and, according to the less flippant New York Times, went to great lengths to keep up the old school ties as his classmates went on to attain positions of power and prominence such as Felipe Calderone, now the president of Mexico. Also, unlike assassinations of known terrorists, everyone does espionage, Her Majesty's Secret Service being in the worst possible position to carp after its own Get Smart tactics backfired in the 1990s. No big deal and nothing to see here: "The larger question is whether these attempts to penetrate political and military secrets are not, in the long run, self-defeating."