The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: espionage

“Was Nick Clegg’s aunt a Soviet spy?”

by fpman

Betteridge’s law of headlines says “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

An important qualification to this clever adage could be: “except when it comes to espionage.”

So when Guy Walters for the Daily Mail is asking the question in the title above, it cannot be answered with a definitive no.

Moura Budberg (born as Maria Ignatievna Zakrevskaya-Benckendorff-Budberg) surely had a long and interesting life (along with the equally long and interesting name) and it’s summed up well in the above article. Maura/Maria was very actively socializing throughout her life and this brought her into the company of mostly very interesting people. Or, as Walters puts it, we find her in “compromising” company with some “regularity” as we follow her story. From sci-fi writer H.G. Wells to actual Soviet spy Guy Burgess she was close to a lot of noteworthy members of the chattering (and gin-drinking) classes.

This probably doesn’t have too much significance as far as her “great-great-nephew,” Nick Clegg (UK Deputy PM and leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats) is concerned — unless it suddenly makes his person more interesting to you through a kind of positive halo effect.

Moura_bookNick Clegg may not be the best reason to get this book on Moura Budberg, by Nina Berberova

The NSA, gender, and some second thoughts

by fpman

“NSA analysts spied on spouses, girlfriends: documents,” says this headline from NY Daily News.

And then, below it, you eventually find the following excerpt from a document recently released by the National Security Agency upon a request from the American Civil Liberties Union:

NSA

Quote: “she had searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge” (highlighting in red by me)

In the case referenced there, the analyst in question was clearly a woman, not a man.

The headline, with its reference to “girlfriends” (in the plural), displays a very gendered view of espionage and life in general. Spying, serious work with data and even excesses in the process are seen as having a manly quality, whereas being the victim is a feminine thing. But there you have it. Life (i.e. empirical reality) is just more complicated than that.

Having said that, beyond the insensitivity (at least in the title) to details like that, another way in which the whole affair is somewhat misrepresented is by suggesting this is all about the abuse of a tool in the state’s repertoire for purely private purposes. Consider the following example, of another case cited in the article (by the way the only case involving a girlfriend as opposed to the reference to girlfriends in the plural in the title):

“An NSA intern reported his colleague for allegedly spying on his foreign girlfriend.”

There should be no question that spying on someone in this way is an abuse. But the reasons may be more complex. A foreign girlfriend, or even a foreign boyfriend for that matter, may always be interesting in the world of espionage. Not only from the purely private perspective of whether they are a loyal partner to the intelligence officer in question but also from the point of view of whether someone else may be using them to gain access to sensitive information (which is one of the reasons why no intelligence officer should try to deal with this in private).

Life is just complicated. In espionage, surely even more so.

The spy who came in from the cold

by fpman

Some blogging-scarce days are past me. Family matters (I mean, blogging about them) had to wait. Now hopefully I’m back to some more regular posting.

For a while it looked like I might write to you about this developing story in Tanzania where the government was apparently considering evicting some 40,000 people from an area that the royal family from Dubai (UAE) was interested in using as hunting ground. But then it turned out people in government can still get back to their senses or at least can be pressured not to go all the way when thinking out loud about carrying out such an atrocity.

Additionally, I then came across an even crazier story. Just take a look at the headline and you’ll see what I’m talking about:

“Palestinian state is a ‘fantasy’, says son of Hamas founder.”

You would think of anyone having anything to do with Hamas as being in favour of an Islamic state in the territory of “all of Palestine,” basically, as far as their known position is concerned. But Mosab Hassan Yousef is special. His father, Sheikh Hassan Yousef was one of seven founders of the Hamas movement in 1987. And Mosab, as Sheikh Hassan’s son, was part of the movement, too. But, as the story goes, he eventually became disillusioned with what he saw in Hamas’ prisons.* He says he couldn’t stomach the regular torturing of people who were accused of being collaborators with Israel. Eventually he was approached by Israel’s Shin Bet security service and started working with them. He did so for a decade although not quite all the way under the perfect cover – his ties to Shin Bet eventually became known to Hamas’ leaders who were embarrassed by this and feared mostly that news of this would get out. Mosab left Ramallah in time to make it, and currently lives in the United States. He can thank that in part to Gonen Ben Yitzhak, his former Shin Bet handler and a personal good friend by this stage. Ben Yitzhak broke Shin Bet’s code of secrecy and came out to speak in public in Mosab’s defence when the United States was about to deport him from the country “for his Hamas ties.”

* Remark added on December 6: apparently, this happened in an Israeli prison’s effectively Hamas-controlled wing where mostly only Hamas members were held at the time.

Watch this video to hear some of the story directly from Mosab. Bonus crazy twist alert: a lady asks him at the end basically (though not in these exact words) about whether he might be like Nicholas Brody of “Homeland,” like, trying to infiltrate the West with a sophisticated cover story and all that. Mosab manages to answer with a straight face. Crazy questions most likely are a form of compliment when it comes to a crazy story such as this.