06.30.10

My Russian Spy Ring Dream Team

As the feds investigate an alleged gang of U.S. moles spying for Moscow, Reihan Salam assembles his list of the shady characters the Kremlin should have recruited.

Full coverage of the Russian spy ring So far the case of “The Illegals,” the alleged Russian sleeper agents trained to infiltrate U.S. policymaking circles by maintaining lush suburban gardens and writing columns for El Diario, has been a source of head-scratching bemusement. As Julia Ioffe reports, Russian officials find news of the arrests side-splittingly hilarious, suggesting that very little was at stake. The consensus view is that the spy ring, if it really was a spy ring, was the product of bureaucratic inertia. Imagine that some curmudgeonly ex-KGB officer cooked up the idea shortly after the Soviet collapse, and he never had the heart to cut off the loyal comrades who kept filing mundane dispatches via short-wave radio. Seen from this perspective, there’s something more than a little cute about the whole episode.

Click the Image to View Our Gallery of Spies We Loved

Philip Shenon: The Spy Ring’s Ripple Effects But what if the arrest of The Illegals represents the culmination of an elaborate deception—cover for a deeply embedded network of truly formidable superspies who really have managed to penetrate the highest levels of American society? Though I can’t speak for the Russian government, I know who I’d want for my ultimate spy ring. And one wonders if some of the women and men I’m about to list really are spies.

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Carlos Osorio / AP Photo

* Shortly after Sen. John McCain named then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, she noted that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her considerable foreign policy experience. At the time, Palin was ridiculed for suggesting that one could literally see Russia across the Bering Strait. Yet one wonders if there were perhaps a deeper meaning to the remark. Is Sarah Palin a Russian sleeper agent, and were her handlers communicating with her via smoke signals that were untraceable via the sophisticated technological methods employed by the CIA?

To be sure, Palin was accused of having a hostile stance toward Russia. After the Russian invasion of Georgia, Palin reiterated her commitment to expanding NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine. Russia has long stated that it sees NATO expansion into the former Soviet Union as a provocation. Moreover, Palin has championed the deployment of missile defense systems in central and eastern Europe that have long been condemned by the Russian government. This could, however, be part of a deeper game on the part of the Russians, who might want to dupe American Russophobes into seeing Palin as one of their own—when she is in fact a sleeper agent committed to returning Alaska to its rightful Russian owners soon after the U.S. federal government declares bankruptcy.

* As Peter Orszag, President Obama’s well-regarded OMB director, prepares to leave office, many wonder whether the White House will be able to find an equally effective replacement. Orszag has stated that he intends to spend time with his new wife, ABC News’ correspondent Bianna Golodryga, an extraordinarily talented woman who majored in Russian/East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Could it be that Golodryga found herself under the sway of a Rasputin-like SVR agent while at Austin, who persuaded her to cripple American efforts to address its long-term fiscal imbalance by wooing Orszag away from his vitally important role in the Obama administration? This is a bit of a stretch. For one thing, wily Russian espionage veterans might consider recruiting a fluent Russian speaker too obvious. But who knows?

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Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

* For years, Hillary Rodham Clinton was accused of harboring left-wing sympathies. In recent years, however, she has gone to great lengths to establish her credibility as a centrist. During the final years of her husband’s presidential administration, she also backed a hawkish course of action in Kosovo, a stance that put her directly at odds with the Russian government of the time, which defended the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the rump Yugoslav state. But what if this was all a ruse?

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Saul Loeb / AP Photo

Scott Beauchamp: The Spy Who Interviewed Me

Julia Ioffe: Russia Is Laughing at Us
Consider that Clinton has backed a robust counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. After the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA backed Islamist insurgents who fought ferociously against occupying Soviet forces, fostering a bitterness toward the United States that still persists in some corners of Russia’s national security establishment. Could it be that Clinton backs a counterinsurgency effort in Russia because her Russian handlers want the United States to get bogged down as badly in Afghanistan—the graveyard of empires—as the Soviet Union in the 1980s? An overstretched United States could be ripe for the plucking by a Russian Army secretly building its strength. Under this scenario, Clinton could become ruler of a Russian-backed puppet regime stretching from her native Illinois to her adopted states of Arkansas and New York, leaving the rest of the country to various cousins of Vladimir Putin.

* Sam Kass, White House chef and director of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Food Initiative, gives no indication of being a Russian spy, which may well demonstrate the meticulous attention he pays to tradecraft. As the Obama family’s personal chef, Kass has gained the trust of the leader of the Free World. Were Kass to “accidentally” give President Obama indigestion by overseasoning his chicken consommé, he could change the course of history. And if Kass somehow managed to somehow incapacitate the president by serving some kind of foul brew, Vice President Joe Biden would take the reins, leaving the United States easy prey for Russian commando units hiding in the Sonoran Desert and in the Canadian Prairie, poised to launch a blitzkrieg pincer attack.

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Charles Dharapak / AP Photo

* While the Russian government does seem to have gained the allegiance of El Diario columnist Vicky Palaez, one imagines that she does not enjoy the same access to top government officials that New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman takes for granted. What if Friedman, known for sporting a mustache that would not look out of place under the nose of a pre-revolutionary Russian aristocrat, has been secretly serving Mother Russia for years? It’s true that Friedman has encouraged the United States to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, a stance that places him at odds with the interests of oil-and-gas-rich Russia. It is also true, however, that Friedman bears a striking resemblance to the current Russian president Dmitry Medvedev—so striking, in fact, that one wonders if the younger Medvedev is in fact a clone of Friedman, grown in a secret Soviet laboratory. Actually, the two men look nothing alike, but I have yet to see convincing proof that Medvedev is definitely not a Friedman clone.

* While the Russian government does seem to have gained the allegiance of El Diario columnist Vicky Palaez, one imagines that she does not enjoy the same access to top government officials that New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman takes for granted. What if Friedman, known for sporting a mustache that would not look out of place under the nose of a pre-revolutionary Russian aristocrat, has been secretly serving Mother Russia for years? It’s true that Friedman has encouraged the United States to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, a stance that places him at odds with the interests of oil-and-gas-rich Russia. It is also true, however, that Friedman bears a striking resemblance to the current Russian president Dmitry Medvedev—so striking, in fact, that one wonders if the younger Medvedev is in fact a clone of Friedman, grown in a secret Soviet laboratory. Actually, the two men look nothing alike, but I have yet to see convincing proof that Medvedev is definitely not a Friedman clone.

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Peter Schneider, Keystone / AP Photo

* In her chart-topping single “TiK ToK,” youthful chanteuse Ke$ha convinced millions of young Americans to embrace an alcohol-soaked life lived in filth and squalor. Assuming Ke$ha succeeded in her efforts to corrupt Generation Y, U.S. GDP would plummet as all economic activity that does not involve boozing, bumping, and grinding came to a halt. This, of course, would allow the Russian military to launch a surgical strike of the United States that would involve plundering valuable assets, like large-screen HDTVs and mineral wealth.

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Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

Who knows how many other Russian spies are lurking in our midst?

Reihan Salam is a policy advisor at e21 and a fellow at the New America Foundation.