But the more interesting element of this case, as it develops, is not that the Russians were playing spy games in America. I’d drop down unwell if the Americans weren’t doing the same to them, and we still have the shining and glorious moment in British intelligence history of the plastic listening rock placed in Moscow by our own gallant lads… No, the more interesting element (relevant to Europeans as well) is that these characters were also empowered to seek out investment opportunities for Russian money in think-tanks and lobbying outfits. The new capitalist Russia doesn’t need to turn westerners to work for them, it gives them a whacking great big research grant instead. Buying influence is again nothing new – western industry has done it successfully for years and years – but this is the great leap that has been made by Russians, particularly in Europe actually.
So, whilst this is embarrassing it is also temporary. This particular ’shocker’ will fade into the annals of news cuttings. The growing influence of Russian money (amongst others, let’s not single out Russia here, there are some very much less desirable funding sources in UK think-tanks and higher education than them) is perhaps the bigger cause for concern. Perhaps the Cold War has given way to a behind-the-scenes battle for ideas. ‘Follow the money’ is the famous cry from Watergate, as it was from the popular TV depiction ‘The Wire’. In both cases, uncovering the money reveals some seriously discomforting revelations.
Don’t worry so much about espionage; start worrying about influence.
Very interesting take on the recent Russian spy case....
Mark Hosenball @ the Declassified Blog ends with a very similar question...
Apart from the SVR's seemingly anachronistic methodology, another big question remains unanswered: why bother to set up such elaborate long-term undercover plants when the Russians could arguably buy as much influence as they want in Washington by simply hiring the right consultants, lawyers, and lobbyists?