Erdogan: Gulen “a pawn backed by a “mastermind”

Reuters:  “Turkey’s Erdogan says U.S.-based cleric a pawn backed by a ‘mastermind'”  The following may be of use to those not familiar with the oratory and posturings of  Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Turkish citizens, perhaps even more so among those who dislike Erdoğan, remark on his remarkable powers of oration. They cannot find any other public figure of comparable power of speech. Perhaps only Adolph Hitler was as great a spellbinder. This is noted without any suggestion that their ideologies are comparable. Turkey, after all, is a country where hidden agendas are commonplace.

It is also a place of both imagined and real conspiracies. If the ratio of imaginary to real were 1000:1, the reality of some conspiracies juices the imagination for the rest. In the midst of this, Erdoğan has a characteristic shared to some extent by the most forceful of leaders, but particularly, of demagogues. The science fiction writer L Sprague de Camp, whose interests included extreme beliefs, described a personality trait he denoted as the “Right Man” hypothesis.

Quite simply, the right man is always right, never wrong. This delusion promotes accession to power. Since one is always right, one never anticipates in one’s self the “Peter Principle.” Hence, the higher the better, at whatever the cost to the body politic. Because, the right man can never be wrong. It takes a lot of chutzpah to think of one’s self as the best choice for head of state. A properly functioning democracy attempts to harness the drive in a productive way, with statutory limits on the rightness of the Right Man. The Turkey of today lacks this.

The “mastermind” theme was most notoriously used by Erdoğan and the AKP on March 18, 2015, when an AKP propaganda outlet broadcast an “expose” that revived the myth of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.  AL-Monitor ran an excellent article, “Unraveling the AKP’s ‘Mastermind’ Conspiracy Theory”. It perceptively notes that the antisemitism appeared to be a drop-in conspiracy theory, while the real target was Gulen.

Combined with overall vagueness, this indicates a desire to fabricate conspiracy theories that can be devoured by the public, while ignoring odd tastes, by appealing to their prejudices. This bears directly on Erdoğan’s current problem. Fethullah Gülen may be responsible for the coup, but it is unprovable, and likely to stay that way. How can Erdoğan fashion a response to root out the conspirators, and perhaps sympathizers, considering that considerable numbers of innocents are likely to be victimized in the process? Turkish propagandists have a sophisticated strategy, to fabricate a conspiracy (meaning different from the real one of the coup) that will both agitate the masses, and make them tolerant of oppression.

The coup had leadership, which has yet to be named. They may be named and punished, or simply punished. Not naming permits creation of a new propaganda myth, or augmentation of the one of the 6/18/2015 broadcast, a permanent imagined threat to Turkey.

Reliance on this elaborate propaganda to sustain Erdoğan’s power base is a likely strategy. We may then hear more  of a caliphate in Turkey.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Russia Hacked the DNC; In Defense of Liberty

Most readers probably have an intuitive sense why the Russians hacked the DNC email, to favor the Republican candidate. Donald Trump has advocated cooperation with the Russians on security, and a general pullback from commitments that don’t pay for themselves. But a formal explanation of Russian thought might help. It would, of course, be a fiction. Leaders go with their guts. But formality works in tandem with intuition to help us remember how we feel. It’s a kind of mental shorthand, helping us pick up where we left off.

Hidden behind the NY Times paywall is Vladimir Putin’s op-ed of September 13, 2013. The Washington Post has an annotated version. If you get too worked up about it, read Peggy Noonan’s antidote in the Wall Street Journal. Let’s not get otherwise distracted by judgment of the ingenuous, disingenuous, or cynical nature of the piece. It was obviously an attempt to keep the U.S. out of Syria, antedating Russia’s own involvement.

A statement towards the end received considerable scrutiny at the time:

“And I would rather disagree with a case he [Obama] made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

American Exceptionalism is both a myth and a reality. The myth was first voiced by a tired and ill man, with an active case of smallpox, noted for a high and squeaky voice, without amplification, to an audience of perhaps 15,000. His brief address closed with these words:

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Like science and technology, the myth as a concept is morally neutral. It is a powerful enabler of human beings for good, evil, and various combinations of the two. Myths can be used to promote racial equality, discrimination, war, peace, slavery, and liberty. American exceptionalism has empowered Americans to exceptional efforts. The results spanned  magnificent,  horrible, and ambiguous.

Abolishing  the myth replaces  moral calculus with pay-as-you-go defense of liberty. But although foreign policy has always had a complex morality, American Exceptionalism offers a higher purpose. Perhaps our purpose is not always realistic. Perhaps some want to live free or die, while others just want to live. But regardless of the truth of the myth, the Declaration of Independence is the most parroted document in history. Even in the lie of insincere appropriation, it is the most subversive document ever written. The myth of American Exceptionalism is, for Americans, something to live up to. For many, it is something to aspire to. The Statue of Liberty is merely a material representation of the myth, the true beacon of hope.

Vladimir Putin’s objection to it has a certain symmetry to our objection to the former menace of communism. To the true believer of American Exceptionalism, a government that is not truly democratic is not completely legitimate. To such governments, the message of the myth is subversive.

We compromise by working with these governments, and ignoring their deficiency of democracy. But the various forms of persuasion for positive change, which encompass all forms of open media, and aid  with attached messages, are regarded with the suspicion we have of large and powerful religious cults.  Russia under Vladimir Putin could at best be described as a vestigial democracy. It is sensitive to public opinion, and still permits polling of it, while manipulating opinion by state control of the media. Yet there really is no alternative to Putin. In his absence, the centrifugal forces of nationalism, ethnocentrism, political immaturity and organized crime, would eat the country from the inside out.

Since there is no challenge to Putin’s legitimacy, his affront at American Exceptionalism may have a personal element. As a doctrine, it is a challenge to quality and legitimacy of government, which, by our standards of democracy, has deteriorated, even while the quality of services has improved. Putin rescued a state in chaos, in danger of collapse. Perhaps impressed by the China miracle, he felt democracy to be an unaffordable luxury. If he continues his search for the model of future Russia, he should give it a another look. The “conservative Russia” he espouses will fossilize, fracture, or crumble. But it cannot empower future generations.

The myth empowers what some call “America the World Policeman”, and which Putin calls “American hegemony.” We don’t like the cost,  but the cost is separate from the badge. The myth awards the badge. If the myth is abolished, the badge goes with it. The Russian hack is a favor to the Republican candidate who would abolish it.

The exceptional always bear a burden. But American Exceptionalism  empowers the bearer. It, not prosperity, made America great. Shedding the myth will not make America great again. On the contrary, it would make America ordinary.

We’ve done great things with it, and things of which we are ashamed. With all the good, the myth has empowered harm that cannot be discounted. Even in belief, moral calculus is not simple. It is expensive, perhaps unreasonably so. But it might be as vital to our own existence as the air we breath.

Don’t gamble with it.

China Expansionism Part 2

The Pentagon Papers, completed in 1969, identified China as an expansionist power. Although Noam Chomsky may be polarizing to some, his summary of this  as expressed in the Papers, along with citations from previous studies, is objective, provided his personal bias about Cold War strategies is subtracted.

This may have been an accurate identification of a fleeting phenomena. The Korean War was a strong positive sign. Yet after the Korean War, China seemed self-absorbed. China’s involvement in Vietnam was mostly as a transit route for Soviet war materials. Henry Kissinger’s early  diplomacy revealed that China’s energies were consumed by fear of annihilation by the Soviet Union. If this had not been the case, would expansionist tendencies have been manifest? If this were a tendentious article, I’d be tempted to assert “yes.” But even if it was, it was tied to the Communist Manifesto. There seems to be something different about expansionism that is so powered, and others, such as Manifest Destiny. It runs up against the internal weakness of the revolutionary society, and exhausts itself. Expansionism with an economic energy source has different limits, relating to a loss of economic coherence and advantages of scale.

Kissinger’s voluminous memoirs evidence that, while conducting the affairs of a nation in formal settings, he was an astute observer of individuals and societies. With this as justification, here’s a quote from Years of Renewal, (page 880, hardcover):

“To Beijing, Taiwan is not a foreign country; its claim to independence is perceived as a challenge to national cohesion by legitimizing national aspirations in other geographically remote provinces close to predatory powers. China will go to war rather than give up this principle.”

The technical term for this is revanchism. The whole of Outer Manchuria, which includes Vladivostok, was originally part of China, ceded to Russia in the several of the “unequal treaties”, of 1858 and 1860. Sakhalin Island has a three-way claim: Russia, Japan, and China.  Chinese revanchism is currently quiet. This could change. Russia take note.

Another motivation is economic opportunity. It seems a little overrated. According to the U.S. Energy Administration (Wikipedia), proven oil reserves in 2013 were 11 billion barrels, with a possible total of 28 billion. By contrast, Venezuela’s proven reserves (2012), were 296.50 billion. Even Brazil, #17 on the list, has more proven reserves than this sea. This is bad news for the analysis. It would be reassuring if the South China sea had the reserves of Venezuela. The expansionist impulse could be explained by greed, for which opportunities are limited. Sadly, this is not the case.

Thirteen billion barrels can’t pay for decades of conflict. So what is powering China’s angst? Perhaps it is the status as the world’s most populous country, the majority of whom are very poor, yet alive in the domain of a reasonably well governed state. Perhaps it is imagined lebensraum , dredged out of the muck. What a lousy way to live. Dry land would be better (Russia take note.) But German lebensraum was based in agrarianism, a philosophy that assigned an immutable value to agricultural land. It makes no sense now, unless you, personally, want to be a farmer.

So far, we have cataloged:

  • The Communist Manifesto, obsolete as a motive.
  • Revanchism, which is inherently illogical.
  • Economic opportunity, which doesn’t satisfy cost/benefit analysis.
  • Lebensraum, which is obsolete, and had disastrous consequences for European history when it figured.

None of these make sense, which suggests the possibility, despite admiration for China’s brainpower, that there is no rational reason.  China may have a geographic inferiority complex. This frustrates policy gurus, who may be seeking the unifying principles of a mental health client.

Expansionism and colonialism have an etymological resonance that suggests similarity. But the manifestations have been different. Colonialism is characterized by relatively small movements of people, partial political integration, and a predominant economic motive. Expansionism, involving contiguous territory, has been characterized by large population movements, and near total political integration. The motive tends to be cloaked in romance, with murky economics that may or may not pan out. Both have had moral issues, ranging between mild and genocidal, but let’s not get sidetracked.

  • The British Empire. Colonialism. Economic preeminence, with supple political manipulation.
  • The Italian, Belgian, and German colonies. Smaller, less successful colonial ventures.
  • U.S. Manifest Destiny. Expansionism. Powered by economics, it had a strong romantic tinge.
  • Russia’s 19th century expansion, consolidated by the Bolsheviks. Although economically viable today, it was originally an entirely romantic notion. The Unequal Treaties  are one of the seeds of China’s current revanchism.
  • Japan, between 1894 and 1945. Expansionism mixed with colonialism. Motivated by economics, it combined genocide with policies that resembled a blend of political manipulation with assimilation.
  • Germany. Expansionism. The settlement of World War I created a German revanchism that, combined with the adjuvant of lebensraum, converted to a powerful expansionist impulse, given voice by Hitler. Uniquely, sympathetic ethnic German populations were present in the states of the early victims. This is the preeminent example of a compulsive military/political strategy.

China’s annexation of the South China Sea has these expansionist characteristics:

  • Claims on territory contiguous with the existing state.
  • Weak, or imagined economic benefit.
  • Irredentist justification, meaning, “It has always been ours.”

So China is expansionist, with one unique feature. As the territory in dispute is virtually uninhabited, no internal political strategy is required. Perhaps this is an operational distinction that will spare Russia, for a while.

Next: The foundation of equilibrium.

China Expansionism Part 1

Reuters: Freedom of navigation patrols may end ‘in disaster’: Chinese admiral. Quoting, “‘This kind of military freedom of navigation is damaging to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and it could even play out in a disastrous way,’ he added, without elaborating.” Googling “South China Sea” brings up pages of links on the various contentions. Any list of reasonable length would be too selective. Readers may wish to review the series, “Pivot to Asia” series.

The visible part of U.S. strategy,  force projection,  has elements of risk absent from previous initiatives. This is discussed in Pivot To Asia; Force Projection, Part 3. A sample of the tone of official analysis is the pdf titled ADIZ Update: Enforcement in the East China Sea, Prospects for the South China Sea, and Implications for the United States. Another sample in the same vein is China’s Potential for Economic Coercion in the South China Sea Disputes: A Comparative Study of the Philippines and Vietnam, published by the Journal of Southeast Asian Affairs.  These are excellent, analytic compilations, but they are not projective. This has been a failing of U.S. analysis for decades.

To project, it’s useful to analogize with the  behaviors and strategies of individuals and organizations that plan and execute well. Some conflicts, occurring within an established framework of conflict, have results with outcomes that are known to high certainty.

  • Domestic law provides a conflict framework. Operating within this framework, the F.B.I. almost never brings a case to prosecution they cannot win.
  • Unlike militaries of the Third World, those of the First World win their wars, and since Vietnam, they don’t start wars they cannot win. The conflict framework is established by the First World power as a prerequisite to military action.

Others are examples of conflict-within-a-framework that have uncertain results.

  • Patent litigation frequently ends in failure or a draw.
  • Governmental paralysis is frequent in democracies.

But a framework cannot be assumed. A symmetric military conflict need not have one. Nor does international law provide one, unless the parties to conflict consent to international methods of adjudication.

China is the current case of note. But the  South China and East China seas are both hostage to myriad conflicting claims. Some of these, except for smaller scope, are almost as outrageous as China’s. Is this symptomatic of a broader breakdown in “world order?” In the aptly titled World Order, Henry Kissinger writes (p21), “Today the Westphalian order is in systemic crisis. Its principles are being challenged, though an agreed alternative has yet to emerge.” Noninterference in the domestic affairs of other states has been abandoned  in favor of a concept of universal humanitarian intervention or universal jurisdiction…”

The development of international law precedes the above, though the background of flux may contribute to the general unease. But the China  signatory to the Hague Conventions was the Qing dynasty. Post-imperial China has not signed the convention that establishes the scope of the Permanent Court of Arbitration decision.

One could theorize that the regional confusion is due to the breakdown of international law. But it’s always been an ephemeral thing. To some, the extension of law to the international domain is the foundation of decency. Another viewpoint has it honored mainly in the breach. International law was forged mainly in the West, by states with recent memories of regrettable conflicts. A nation without those memories, full of the hubris of “new”, might not have the collective memory that gives body to the ephemerality.

China is a newborn nation. When the  last of the revolutionary leaders of China passed from the scene,  the Eight Elders, of whom Deng Xiaoping was paramount, the collective memory was erased. It was erased not from the historical record, but as a habit of thought.

The current situation has one similarity with the precursors of total war. It lacks a framework to constrain, shape, and limit conflict. Perhaps this is why some of the  media flaunt the  “war-question-mark” headline so indiscriminately on their websites. But  the Asia defense agreements  are not written with the interlocking doom of those that caused World War I. Compared to   the strict mutual defense obligations of NATO, the wording of the Asian treaties is a step less. Quoting from the State Department synopsis of the U.S. – Japan treaty, “…declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes. “

The current status of the U.S. – China relationship could be described as a zero-intensity conflict. Next: Is China expansionist, and if so, why?

Turkey Coup — Was Gülen Involved?

The history of Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire, have been characterized by secret organizations that, contrary to Western experience, did not leak and were not exposed. One could imagine the scope of it if the assassination of JFK were actually the work of an elaborate conspiracy that has eluded a half century of detective work.

The paramount example occurred in the Ottoman Empire before and during World War I. The  higher echelons of the Ottoman Army had a large Arab contingent, who formed a secret organization devoted to Arab independence. These officers, a modern analog to the Janissaries, served also as hostages to their Ottoman masters. During the Arab Revolt, various members were executed in revenge to their extended families. The bond of secrecy was so strong that members watched other members go to the gallows without batting an eyelash.

The Turkish “deep state”, however real it remains, inherited this capacity for conspiracy, which has of late has become multifarious. But history is silent about hierarchies and rituals. Such may not be part of the culture.

Fethullah Gülen and Erdoğan are bitter enemies, for an easy reason. Gülen’s ideology is similar enough to Erdoğan’s to poach his camp. This has been the case in many western  religious disputes, when churches have split over inconceivably minor liturgical issues.

So  Erdoğan’s pointing a finger at Gülen, and the possible demand for extradition, is a demand to burn the heretic. Responsibility of Gülen for the coup, in a command-chain form, will probably never be adduced in a form acceptable to Western logic. Yet to Erdoğan and his party, Gülen‘s culpability may be obvious.

On this issue, the gap of perception between the authoritarian strain of Turkish culture, of which Erdoğan is the embodiment, and that of the West, yawns wide.

Anatomy of the Coup in Turkey

Edit: The coup has failed, the first coup since Ataturk that, having gone active, has failed. The inevitable trials will follow the pattern of the Ergenekon trials, serving a stern warning to those who may secretly harbor Ataturk’s secular sentiments.  Erdoğan’s authoritarian traits, serving the preferences of a majority of the electorate, will grow.  As Ataturk’s secular creed is in diametrical opposition to Islamism, it may be relegated to the same status as the founders of Communism in modern Russia and China.

Even liberals in Turkey who despise Erdoğan oppose rescue by a military coup. Nevertheless, it is tempting to think that, after some period of dislocation, Turkish democracy might have been reconstituted along the lines of western respect for the rights and opinions of the minority. This is my personal opinion, the opinion of a private citizen.

The original post follows.

An art museum is not an ideal place to write, but I thought there might be a particular interest in the whys and hows of Turkish coups. Perhaps uniquely, the cycle of Turkish government, between military and civilian dominance, is not random. The advent of a coup might have been predictable to intelligence with sufficiently deep hooks into the military.

Since the time of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the military have had the status of special protectors of the Turkish state. While this kind of relationship has not been durable elsewhere, Turkey’s military assume another mantle as well, protectors of Ataturk’s legacy of a secular state. This was Ataturk’s “will”, of which the military are the executors.

In Turkey, more so that in more developed countries, the military represent a substantial portion of the national elite, in education and outlook. By contrast, the majority are the body politic are poor, religious, and desirous to be lead. T.E. Lawrence, writing about British operations in Palestine and Hejaz during World War I, remarks on the instantaneously changeable character of Turkish soldiers. When ordered to be kind, they were kind. Yet when ordered to commit atrocities, they were obedient. This account, of an ego subjugated to authority producing an interchangeable moral framework, became exploitable when Turkey became a country of pluralistic politics.

The existence of a “deep state” rooted in the military has been the nightmare of Turkish politicians. The trials of the past decade instigated by the Islamists but widely supported have had the goal of decapitating the deep state. But what the Islamists did not realize is that the deep state keeps reforming from the bottom up. It does so because the current “Young Turks”, the younger military of every generation, look to the West.  The recent concentration of power in Erdoğan’s office, with his Islamist leanings, is intolerable to them. And there is at least the possibility that they are right. Erdoğan may be a crypto-Morsi.

The history of military coups in Turkey suggests that it may be the ultimate act of patriotism for those involved, who may well know that their eventual fate is vilification.  The perpetual cycle, with variations:

  • The secular state becomes dysfunctional in one of several possible ways: paralysis, drift to a political extreme, or in this case, an Islamist agenda.
  • A coup occurs, with the “young Turks” invoking Ataturk’s legacy.
  • There is a purge. People go to jail.
  • A period of relative stability.
  • The political equivalent of an insurgency develops, as grass root politicians dig their way into the body politic, organize it, and draw resources out of it.
  • The military government finds the country becomes ungovernable.
  • A period of power sharing occurs.
  • The politicians unite to expel the military from positions of power.
  • The newly pure ship of state gradually lists in a populist direction.  This time, the direction was Islamist, and this bias is likely to remain.
  • When the list becomes intolerable to Ataturk’s legacy, there is another coup.

Turkish politics since Ataturk comes as close to rhyme as history offers.

Moscow Rules: American Diplomat beaten in Moscow, Tit-for-Tat Expulsions

This has become widely known in reverse order, with new State Department commentary (Reuters.) The American Interest has two very  good articles, if the paywall does not intervene.

The principle fact to be concealed would be whether the unnamed diplomat was a CIA agent. At this point, it’s a PR issue, since if he was, he cannot return to Moscow. But it is contrary to practice, principle, and policy to identify a person as a CIA agent. Since the Russian public gives high credence to the official media, they probably believe this already.  The reconstruction of the event can be enhanced without compromise of U.S. interest, and it’s entertaining. So why not? In what follows, assume the mere speculation, that the individual assaulted by the Russian guard was a CIA officer.

The popular image of the CIA is of an overly technological group, of blunt intelligence,  subject to massive blunders, and continually outfoxed by  the opposition with superior people-skills. But this evaluation, with qualitative differences, applies to all the services. Even Mossad, who have many admirers, have had bad days. British MI6 has an illustrious history, yet arguably suffered the most egregious penetrations. The overall record of the KGB is  the most impressive, yet the West remains free. Information was not the panacea for the ills of the Soviet Union.

So it should not come as a surprise that, during the Cold War, the CIA had some brilliant minds, brilliant in what is known as tradecraft, and they went to Moscow to test themselves against the best of the adversary.  And they didn’t do badly at all. They perfected their tradecraft with the precision of applied mathematicians, applied it with athleticism, and prevailed many times against apparently insuperable odds.

The environment of those days was incredibly hostile to intelligence work. To keep costs reasonable, the embassy relied on the Soviets for mundane services, such as housekeeping staff.  The embassy was vulnerable to listening devices. Ordinary hallways and offices of the foreign service were exposed to Russian surveillance. The Soviet maid sweeping your office could be memorizing your face, timing your presence, and looking for odd objects in the wastebasket. In Moscow, even pocket lint had value.

Only the code rooms, where messages were prepared for transmission to the U.S.. and decoded on arrival, and the CIA’s special suite, were thought to be securable. And even there, penetrations were both attempted and suspected. Memoirs of professionals from both sides doubt the importance of their services in changing history in any meaningful way. Yet the accomplishments of the CIA in Moscow display remarkable ingenuity. Various memoirs offer considerable qualitative detail.

Pre-Glasnost Moscow was a police state. Compared to the U.S., where Washington is merely a center of government,  Soviet industry, and targets of espionage, were mostly concentrated in the vicinity of Moscow. There was much to explore, and much to protect. The Kremlin  had a vast army of poorly paid eyes in the guise of babushkas and  militia,  saturating Moscow with a forest of guard shacks and  shift-change rooms in the basements of innocuous buildings. Even the dead of winter did not curtail their presence, though the temperatures and frequent shift changes made their sufferings obvious.

The event of an intelligence officer’s foray into the Moscow of the Soviets was the very occasional and exceptional meeting with a source, to service a device, or most frequently, to service a dead drop. But no task could be accomplished without a method to evade the army of watchers.  In the 60’s, the depressing consensus was that it was impossible. But later, the aforementioned brilliant minds developed a set of techniques that actually worked. These became known as “Moscow Rules.” Some of the modern press have misunderstood the term as a kind of mutual courtesy of treatment. This existed, but was not the meaning of the phrase.

The tradecraft known as Moscow Rules has been described qualitatively in memoirs. Part of it involves the use of disguises.  The Russian account of the assault asserts that the individual was wearing a mask. Defeat of the army of watchers was accomplished by a combination of methods, which in sum served to overwhelm the eyes:

  • Disguise, comprising masks and other techniques.
  • Multiple targets whose identities can be confused.
  • Disguise changes on the move.
  • Route changes, while driving or walking, precise to within a few seconds. The kinds of route changes are specific to the technique.

The successful outcome occurred when the intelligence officer “went dark”. With successful evasion, the Soviets no longer knew where the agent was or what he was doing. With the mission accomplished, the individual would typically spend the night “somewhere else”, returning to the embassy the following day. The resources of the trackers would be further worn down in the interval.

Let’s continue with the speculation that the assaulted individual was an intelligence officer. Why would he return to the embassy wearing a mask, as the Russians claim? “Moscow Rules” are a battle against the adversary’s desire for information. Every piece of description known to the adversary about appearance, demeanor, physique, habits, postures, idiosyncrasies, nervous tics, unconscious gestures — anything at all – lessens the probability of going dark. Perhaps three agents went out, of which two were decoys. No inference can be let slip as to who was which.

Since diplomacy has never offered spies titles corresponding to their service, like “Third Underspy”, etc, CIA employees were and are given what is known as diplomatic, or official cover,  any job  the embassy could create for them. The Russian housekeeping staff  constantly watched to see who actually worked at their jobs. A frequent cover job was “mechanic”. One CIA station chief, whose vehicles turned out to be too reliable, washed the ambassador’s limousine.

During the Cold War a courtesy developed that saved a lot of broken bones. Spies with diplomatic cover were only briefly detained, not subject to physical abuse, and subject to no penalty other than expulsion. This was rigorously observed, except for one case of Soviet retaliation to what they perceived as a violation. Spies without this cover, meaning in practice, Soviet citizens, were typically executed. In the recent altercation, the U.S. individual received a broken shoulder. Why, even if he was a spy, was he not extended the courtesies of the past?

Perhaps it is remarkable that, after all these years, Moscow Rules, or variants, still succeed with going dark. But in today’s  wealthier Russia, a babushka/militia army of watchers is not a reasonable expense. Modern-day Moscow is more like a typical Western city. It must be frustrating to the FSB to watch an agent go dark and witness his return at night. Perhaps the Russians, at some level, not necessarily the highest, are attempting to deter what they cannot prevent. Perhaps the intelligence officer, if he was that, was concerned with some other form of compromise. Or perhaps, as some have asserted, the Russians are paranoiac about the West.

As with most affairs of espionage (if that is what it was), the objective truth will not come to light for many years, if ever. Nor is it important in the scheme of things.

But it’s very entertaining.