Spies Like Us
When the FBI announced the arrest of 10 Russian spies living in deep cover for years, aka sleeper agents,
Why make a scene? Hasn't the new, enlightened American president just reset relations with the
Despite the spy-story trappings, this is scarcely a return to Cold War days. The Cold War was serious. This sounds more like one of
The Hiss-Chambers Affair this isn't. It's more like a Hitchcock movie than an atomic spy ring. I envision
What were these sleepers supposed to be doing over here anyway, besides enjoying the American way of life? To quote one of
"You were sent to
This sounds less like a spymaster than another harried exec grousing about expense accounts in these tough times. It seems even Soviet agents are hooked on the American Dream -- a cushy job, an SUV, and a townhouse in Cambridge conveniently near Harvard, or maybe a bungalow out in the leafy suburbs. In short, the good life -- one devoted to family, dogs and gardening.
Spies? They sound more like upwardly mobile types who put their kids still in embryo on the waiting lists of the best pre-kindergartens around -- just to make sure they're on track for
A neighbor described a couple of the suspects as "suburbia personified." One of them had a master's in public administration from the
One couple's 17-year-old was asked, as he left the family's house in Yonkers, if his folks had any connection with
If there was anything suspicious about those arrested, it was that they were more American than the Americans. Which figures. They were American for all intents and, according to the FBI, subversive purposes. But there's no evidence, not even a whisper, of espionage. What would be the point? This is an age when state secrets are splashed all over the front page of the
If these suspects were foreign agents, they blended in perfectly. One of them, a radio and print journalist, had mastered the next American language, Spanglish, and, back in her native
Her husband the professor taught Latin American politics at
At least one thing hasn't changed since the Cold War, which by now has been gone long enough to invite a strange nostalgia for it. What hasn't changed is American naivete; it never does. One can still find holdouts who refuse to believe Alger Hiss was a Soviet spy. How could he have been? He was a
The best quote of this story, maybe of the whole year, comes from a 15-year-old neighbor of a couple of the suspects. Bless her heart, she couldn't believe the Murphys next door were supposed to be foreign agents. "They couldn't have been spies," she said. "Look what she did with the hydrangeas."
Reading this latest, now semi-amusing story about Russian spies, I'm reminded of a phrase my immigrant mother would use when I would say something particularly innocent, probably about the innate goodness of man or some such nonsense. Or complain about something not worth complaining about -- like any other spoiled American teenager. She would half-smile, half-sigh, and. wholly grateful, say in her wry Yiddish: Ah, Amerikaner-geboren! Born in America, meaning I was the essence of naivete. And knew nothing of the real world.
Conclusion: Cheers, my fellow Americans, and watch your back. And by the way: Thank you, FBI, in peace and war.
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(c) 2010 Paul Greenberg