Arriving at a biker’s convention in Ukraine on his Harley Davidson trike, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered a few observations on his recent celebratory meeting with the ten Russian sleeper agents deported from the United States. “They had a very difficult fate,” the former KGB colonel noted sympathetically. “They had to carry out a task to benefit their motherland’s interests for many, many years without a diplomatic cover, risking themselves and those close to them.”
The reunion was heartwarming. They sang patriotic songs and “talked of life.” Putin assured them, reports the Associated Press, that they would have good jobs and a “bright” future. How sweet. But before they ride off into the Russian sunset on their Harleys, it’s worth pausing to consider just what chumps we have been throughout this episode. That Putin should be utterly brazen and unrepentant about this breach of law and diplomatic etiquette is not surprising. But our conduct, both official and unofficial, was pathetic. Let’s review. From the start, the Obama administration reacted to the exposure of the spy ring as if we were the ones who should be embarrassed. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued an angry denunciation of the arrests, calling them “unfounded” and in pursuit of “unseemly goals.” Foreign Minister Dmitri Lavrov added that it was “regrettable” that these arrests should have occurred at time when the U.S. claimed to seek a “reset” of relations.
Whoa! Who spied upon whom? Surely it was the Russians whose commitment to a “reset” in relations was called into question? But no, the White House and State Department pretty much confirmed Lavrov’s interpretation. State Department spokesman Phil Gordon stressed that the Justice Department was on its own “channel” and that the arrests, far from casting a shadow over the new relationship with Russia, merely highlight the need for “greater trust and cooperation” between us. As for President Obama, press secretary Robert Gibbs said he had “no reaction” to the arrests and was sure it would not affect our relations with Russia.
So eager was President Obama to avoid giving offense to the nation that violated our laws and sovereignty that he rushed to repatriate the spies in what must have been the fastest trade in espionage history. Few seemed to notice or care that by bundling them back to Mother Russia so precipitously, we sacrificed any opportunity to question them about their contacts here (i.e. potential American traitors), other possible sleeper cells, or anything else. Of course, it’s possible that the conventional wisdom — that they cost Russia a pretty penny without producing any valuable intelligence — is true. But now we’ll never know.