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USA, Russia: Discussing ‘Spies’ 2.0

Anna Chapman, picture from her Facebook account

Anna Chapman, picture from her Facebook account

The June 29 arrest [EN] of 11 individuals belonging to a network of alleged Russian spies (named in the FBI report as the “Illegals” [EN]) became the topic of the week on the Russian Internet. The personality of Anna Chapman [EN], a 28-year-old “venture investor,” attracted most attention. The online discussion went into several directions: mocking both the “spies” and the US officials; analyzing the consequences for the US-Russian relations; discussing Chapman's online data and pictures; and the future of covert operations under conditions of total virtual “transparency” provided by the new media.

Although the topic was popular, the sources of ongoing reporting on the story were scarce: only the Voice of America Russian Service provided live coverage with reports from the courtroom [EN] via their LJ community (golos_ameriki) and Twitter.

Bloggers’ initial reaction: irony

One of the first bloggers to react to the arrests was LJ user nl, who posted scans of an FBI complaint document and entitled his post “With spies like these, who needs enemies?” The blogger mocked both the confessions of FBI agent Amit Kachhia-Patel, comparing the text to a low-quality sequel to the movie “Spies Like Us,” and the technological backwardness of the alleged spies.

fyysik continued [RUS], referring to the process of encoded message transmission via transformed images [EN]:

Не исключаю, что специалисты ФБР оказались не менее продвинутыми, чем агенты СВР и в 2005-м году научились извлекать EXIF и прочие высокоценные вещи из джипегов.

Думаю, следующим шагом в технологическом соревновании спецслужб будет разработка по помещению и извлечению текстовых тэгов в mp3-шки.

It may well be that the FBI specialists turned out to be as professional as SVR agents, and in 2005 learned how to extract EXIF [EN] and other valuable things from JPG's.

I think the next step in the secret service technological competition would be a research in including and extracting text tags into MP3.

The surreal nature of the “spy” process and especially its details reminded [RUS] some bloggers of a 2006 case, another “spy ring” detection in Moscow, the so-called “Spy Stone story” [EN].

Another trend of mocking was to refer to Stirlitz [EN], a fictional World War II Soviet spy in Nazi Germany. LJ user e-dikiy came up with a contemporary development [RUS] for this popular story:

Штирлиц зашел во френдленту и глубоко задумался. Нет, про поездку в Швейцарию писать лытдыбр сегодня, пожалуй, не стоит.

Stirlitz opened the friend feed and meditated: “No, I guess today there's no sense [blogging] about my latest trip to Switzerland.”

Discussions of the political aspect of the arrest

One of the bloggers who discussed the consequences of the arrest [RUS] was Ivan Kurilla, a historian of the U.S.-Russian relations, (aka LJ user alliruk):

Вопрос: зачем арестовывать их 1) громко и публично и 2) сразу после визита в США Д.Медведева?

[…]

Вывод один: в США есть влиятельные круги, решившие испортить атмосферу российско-американского сближения. Раньше такие попытки были более заметны с российской стороны. Сегодня мы убедились в существовании американских противников сближения.

Вполне вероятно, что до России этим людям дела нет, – их цель – Барак Обама. Компрометация его достижений на российском направлении есть удар по президенту.

A question: why arrest them 1) loudly and publicly and 2) right after president Medvedev's visit to the United States?

[…]

There's only one conclusion: there are influential groups in the United States that have decided to spoil the atmosphere of the U.S.-Russian rapprochement. In the past, such attempts were typical of the Russian side. Today, we have received proof of the existence of American opponents of the rapprochement.

Probably, these people have nothing to do with Russia, – their main target is Barack Obama. Discrediting his achievements on the Russian direction is a strike at the president.

Attention to Anna Chapman

Anna Chapman, something of a ‘star’ of the whole spy scandal, became an object of various speculations, hatred, and even adoration. A LiveJournal community “Free Anna Chapman” [EN] has been launched (although it didn't attract too many fans).

LJ user feeling_of_void analyzed the popularity of Chapman's website domdot.ru, a real estate search portal. According to the open statistics, domdot.ru is a relative failure, with the daily audience of about 1,000 unique users, which is incomparable to any competitors in this field in Moscow. The blogger suggested that all Chapman's online ‘venture’ projects were a hoax.

‘Spies’ 2.0

The case of Anna Chapman and her ‘colleague’ Mikhail Semenko is a representation of the new type of “spies” – “spies 2.0.” Both used social networks (LinkedIn (Chapman's profile [EN], Semenko's profile [EN]), Facebook, Odnoklassniki), both led an open virtual life and were sharing quite revealing pictures [EN] of themselves. In the comment to Chapman's YouTube interview [RUS], user Slinqshot asked:

Зачем профессиональному шпиону светиться во всех соцсетях, где только можно?

Why would a professional spy expose herself in all the possible networks?

The question illustrates the change of a paradigm of the covert operations in the environment of the social media. As philosopher Alexander Morozov (aka LJ user amoro1959) put it [RUS], referring to the aforementioned Stirlitz (a symbol of a Soviet/Russian spy):

человек, не имеющий присутствия в сетях, – ЯВНО ПОДОЗРИТЕЛЕН.
Наверное, “шпион”.
Иначе говоря, имейся во времена третьего рейха ЖЖ – Штирлиц, несомненно, вел бы дневник. О птицах. Как энтомолог-любитель. Допустим. А уж как любитель раритетных автомашин – это просто наверняка.

A person who is not present in social networks is DEFINITELY SUSPICIOUS.
Probably, “a spy.”
In other words, if LiveJournal existed in the times of the Third Reich, Stirlitz would certainly have a blog. About birds. As an amateur entomologist. Probably. Or as a vintage car fan – that's for sure.

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