This month, the tale of Russian spies infiltrating America's suburbs dominated U.S. headlines. In the end, the U.S. successfully swapped the 10 Russian agents for four individuals who had been incarcerated in Russia for contacts with the West. But reflecting on the whole ordeal, something still bothers New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman: how come cooler countries don't spy on us? Aren't we good enough for them?
Returning to his column from a two-week hiatus, Friedman makes his case:
The good news is that someone still wants to spy on us. The bad news is that it’s the Russians. ...
Look, if you had told me that we had just arrested 11 Finns who were spying on our schools, then I’d really have felt good — since Finland’s public schools always score at the top of the world education tables. If you had told me that 11 Singaporeans were arrested spying on how our government works, then I’d really have felt good — since Singapore has one of the cleanest, well-run bureaucracies in the world and pays its cabinet ministers $1 million-plus a year. If you had told me that 11 Hong Kong Chinese had been arrested studying how we regulate our financial markets, then I’d really have felt good — since that is something Hong Kong excels at. And if you had told me that 11 South Koreans were arrested studying our high-speed bandwidth penetration, then I’d really have felt good — because we’ve been lagging them for a long time.
But the Russians? Who wants to be spied on by them?
Were it not for oil, gas and mineral exports, Russia’s economy would be contracting even more than it has. Moscow’s most popular exports today are probably what they were under Khrushchev: vodka, Matryoshka dolls and Kalashnikov rifles. No, this whole spy story has the feel of one of those senior tennis tournaments — John McEnroe against Jimmy Connors, long after their primes — or maybe a rematch between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston in their 60s. You almost want to avert your eyes.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.