What's up in the spy world?

William F. Buckley
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Posted: Jun 21, 2003 12:00 AM

The Big Bad Russians have pulled a fast one which bears pondering. The victim is one Aleksandr Zaporozhsky, by U.S. lights a hero, by Russian lights, a traitor. We learn that in November, 2001, he was enticed to revisit his homeland, on stepping foot in which he was whisked off, tried, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Several questions immediately arise. True, Zaporozhsky spied against Moscow, but when he did that, he was spying against a Soviet regime ultimately repudiated by the Russian people. It was ten years between the time the Russians shook off Communism and the time the Russian secret police got around to luring Zaporozhsky back to Russia. Why should they be mad at a citizen who turned against the regime finally rejected by everybody, including the Soviet president?

It is conjectured by James Risen, writing in the New York Times, that what the defector had done was cue the FBI onto the trail of Robert P. Hanssen, the FBI traitor who worked for Soviet money for 20 years, betraying Russians who were giving us important information, resulting in mayhem and death. We gave Hanssen a life sentence, and there are those who at his trial were wistful for the gallows when that sentence was passed. Conjecture: Were the Moscow secret police sending a signal to Hanssen? Were they saying to him, "Comrade Hanssenski, here is a little debt we have repaid, to requite your valuable services for 20 years. We prepared carefully a plot to lure your betrayer back to the fatherland and we have nabbed him. He will be in jail for eighteen years."

The link between the two cases could tighten up one step further. What if Moscow were to offer to return Zaporozhsky to the United States, in return for the release of Hanssen to Russia? Lots of spy exchanges were effected during the Cold War, most spectacularly the exchange of our U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers for the master spy/photographer Colonel Rudolf Abel. They met on Berlin's Glienicke Bridge in 1962, Gary Powers headed home, Colonel Abel headed home. It isn't often that a western spy goes to Moscow to live out the rest of his life, but of course the notorious Kim Philby did exactly that, and died in 1988, one part asperity, one part booze.

What grabs attention is the trans-ideological nature of the Zaporozhsky ambush. Hanssen did not betray his country because the star of socialism blinded his eye and captured his soul. He wanted more money than the FBI was paying him. Zaporozhsky was, from all accounts, someone who rejected the Communist system and wished to fight against it, as so many sometime Communists did. Was corporate pride at work here? — We Russians may be governed by a different order, serving different gods, but we will not forgive a betrayal even though it was of a predecessor government everywhere rejected. What would we have thought if the government of West Germany, licensed in 1954 by the occupying powers with full authority (excepting defense policy), had lured back to Bonn a German who had defected from Hitler and given secrets to the Allies, sentencing him to imprisonment?

There is something commendable about the canons of the spy world. Ideally, one spy would not tell on his counterparts. But telling on one another is one of their principal missions. And yet there is a code of honor about betraying their own. This they will not do, except when the pressures are irresistible, and irresistible pressures are not the kind of thing the West goes in for. So we catch a Hanssen and put him in jail for life, without extorting from him everything he knows about other stakeouts in the enemy's intelligence battalions.

And finally, the Zaporozhsky affair reminds us that intelligence is an endless enterprise, and it isn't only knowledge of what Saddam Hussein and the Beloved Leader of North Korea are up to that we want. The Russians were paying spy Hanssen well even after Communism's war against capitalism was abandoned. Still, they want to know what we are up to. And, without giving away any secrets, permit us to say that we want to know what the Russians are up to, including all of their motives in luring back the wretched Zaporozhsky.