Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Russian Spy Case: Espionage or Politics?
By Stephen Lendman
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, July 5, 2010
In their June 28 article headlined, "In Ordinary Lives, US Sees
the Work of Russian Agents," Scott Shane and Charlie Savage said they "lived
for more than a decade in American cities and suburbs from Seattle to New
York, where they seemed to be ordinary couples working ordinary jobs,
chatting to their neighbors about schools and apologizing for noisy
The next day, Times writers Shane and Benjamin Weiser
headlined, "Spying Suspects Seemed Short on Secrets," saying:
only things (absent in this case) were actual secrets to send home to
Moscow." In fact, none of the 11 were charged with
espionage because they weren't "caught sending classified information back
to Moscow, American officials said."
According to Richard F.
Stolz, former CIA head of spy operations and onetime Moscow station chief:
"What in the world do they think they were going to get out of this, in
this day and age? The effort is out of proportion to the alleged benefits. I
just don't understand what they expected?
It prompted Newsweek to
headline - "Part John le Carre, Part Austin Powers," saying why would Russia
"set up such elaborate long-term undercover plants when (they) could
arguably buy as much influence (with) the right consultants, lawyers, and
lobbyists" - the way everyone does business in Washington, the right
information/results for the right price.
Wall Street Journal writer
Susan Davis called it a "curious case," asking "Was it worth it?"
Foreign Policy writer Daniel Drezner said it was the "lamest espionage
conspiracy....ever," sort of a "combination of illegal immigration and
impersonating Jack Abramoff," the former lobbyist, businessman, and
convicted con man now in a halfway house after serving three and a half
years of a six year sentence.
Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating asked
"Why Weren't the Russian 'Spies' Charged with Espionage? Because they didn't
find out anything secret." Perhaps they weren't looking and did nothing
Columbia University Russia specialist, Robert Legvold, said
anyone could have gotten what they did through a Google search. Throughout
all their years in America, they never got close to obtaining classified
information, and likely never looked for any.
On June 30, Russian
Foreign Ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, called the charges groundless
and malicious, regretting they came after the Obama administration seemed
ready for warmer relations. The Ministry's press office said the situation
was being analyzed, adding that facts released so far are contradictory.
Mikhail Lyubimov, former KGB officer said the whole story looks like
fiction, having nothing to do with real undercover work, saying:
"How can you imagine that eleven professionals didn't notice that secret
services had been watching them (for) years? If not them, their wives could
have noticed. And so far it's not clear at all exactly what information
they've been looking for and what (they supposedly) sent to Moscow directly
to the Kremlin, Medvedev or Putin. It's nonsense. And I don't even talk
about invisible ink. I remember the Bolsheviks loved it."
"It's a PR
campaign by the US secret services to get more money for next year's
budget....It happens quite often that the administration and the secret
services are conflicting. This could be the case."
former head of Russia's Federal Security Service, the KGB's main successor
agency, said US charges resembled a "bad spy novel," believing Washington
"hawkish circles" want to show a tougher line toward Moscow for their own
purposes, the alleged spies used as patsies for their scheme.
hard-liners may resent warmer ties with a proud, reassertive Russia, not
about to roll over for America like Yeltsin did - perhaps to reinvent the
evil empire, a new Cold War, this time for greater stakes, a new Great Game
embracing all Eurasia, with much larger threats to world peace.
Justice Department Charges
A June 28 DOJ press release
headlined, "Ten Alleged Secret Agents in the United States Multi-Year FBI
Investigation Uncovers Network....Tasked with Recruiting and Collecting
Information for Russia," saying:
The 11 "are charged....with
conspiring to act as unlawful agents of (Russia) within the United
States....Nine (are also) charged with conspiracy to commit money
laundering." The 11th paymaster suspect was arrested in Cyprus, now vanished
after being released on bail.
"The case is the result of a
multi-year investigation (since the late 1990s) conducted by the FBI; US
Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York; and the
Counterespionage Section and the Office of Intelligence within the Justice
Department's National Security Division."
Vickey Pelaez, columnist
for over 20 years for the New York-based Spanish language newspaper, El
Dario, is one of those charged. Yet her job entails covering a wide range of
sensitive topics, including politics, international affairs, America's
prison industry, human rights, civil liberties, immigration, and Washington
- Latin American relations, expressing justifiable criticism of US policies.
However, researching, conducting interviews, asking questions,
requesting information, and publishing them isn't spying. It's
journalism, what she's paid to do, her colleagues saying she freely
expressed her views, including support for leftist movements and denouncing
neoliberalism as an imperial tool like many others do and aren't charged.
Yet she and her husband, Juan Lazaro (a former Baruch College political
science professor), were accused of taking three or more Latin American
trips, each time receiving large sums of cash from Russian agents, for what
Their son, Waldo Mariscal, called the accusations
"preposterous." So do others believing she and Lazaro were targeted for
their views, openly critical of Washington, endangering other dissenters
like them during America's war on terror and its greater one on humanity.
On July 1, New York Times writers Benjamin Weiser and Michael Wilson
headlined "Suspect Placed Love for Russia Before His Son," saying:
Juan Lazaro allegedly "told officials that although he 'loved his son,' he
would not violate his loyalty to the 'Service' (Russia's SVR foreign
intelligence) even for his son, prosecutors said."
Appearing at a
same day bail hearing, Vickey Pelaez was released under house arrest.
Lazaro's hearing was postponed. According to The Times, he taught a politics
in Latin America and the Caribbean course, his students calling him:
"like none other" for his "passionate denunciation of American foreign
policy. He maintained that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a
money-making ploy for corporate America. He praised President Hugo Chavez of
Venezuela and disparaged President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia as a pawn of
paramilitary groups that have broad control over drug trafficking."
His outspokenness got him fired, perhaps also targeted with his wife for
being illegal foreign agents and conspiring to commit money laundering,
bizarre charges more Austin Powers-like than John le Carre, yet symptomatic
of emerging US fascism, arresting people for their beliefs, spuriously
accusing them, trying them in kangaroo proceedings, intimidating juries to
convict, the major media concurring with fear-mongering headlines.
US Law on Espionage
US law (Title 18, Part I, Chapter 37,
No. 794) defines espionage as:
transmitting or attempting to
transmit "any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph,
photographic negative, blueprint, plan, map, model, note, instrument,
appliance, or information relating to the national defense" to a foreign
government with the intent to harm America or advantage other nations.
Those convicted "shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for any term
of years or for life...."
Yet defendants had no official
credentials, and weren't charged with espionage. So-called spy-thriller
allegations about invisible ink and buried money caches (true or false) bear
no relationship to what they may have done or learned, if anything.
Further, timing of the case matters. Why now? Why at all, and why headlined
if national security issues aren't involved? Whoever ordered the arrests and
wanted them publicized likely had an ulterior motive in mind.
convicted of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), requiring
Justice Department registration, the offense is minor, warranting little or
no media attention, unless a prominent figure is involved like President
Carter's brother Billie who had to register as a foreign agent to avoid
charges of receiving $220,000 from Libya's Muammar Qaddafi in the late
1970s, what the press called "Billygate."
Russia's RiaNovosti called
the arrests "unprecedented in the history of US-Russia relations....going
back to the Cold War....Until now, neither (country) ever made such a public
unmasking of suspected spies." The 11 were only charged with "conspiracy to
act as unlawful agents of a foreign government," nine of them with
money-laundering, what bankers do all the time and get away with it.
So what might be going on? Openly, relations between both countries were
warming, including a new START treaty and perhaps more, President Dmitry
Medvedev and Obama having just had a successful Hamburger Summit in
Then suddenly a spy scandal erupts, a bizarre one
straight out of a spy novel, at an inopportune time, overshadowing warming
relations, leading some to suspect other motives, perhaps so for
geopolitical advantage or politics as usual in Washington.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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