The Spy Who (Almost) Loved Me

Normally, we try to stay pretty high-minded here at The War Room, but now and then the demands of informed reading about national security force us to examine, with regret, stories that might seem otherwise mere tabloid fodder.

I’m talking, of course, about Russian spy-babe Anna Chapman.

Quickly, take picture so we can leave to go plant bomb for Moose and Squirrel.

In the kind of irony usually found only in cheesy 80s movies like No Way Out, the one spy everyone assumed was the dumbest cheerleader at KGB High now looks like she nearly scored the coup of a lifetime, if today’s story at Wired’s “Danger Room” is to be believed.

Turns out that the Russian minx nearly bagged a U.S. Cabinet secretary, and was close enough that the FBI decided to shut the whole circus down in 2010. I swear I’m not making that up. According to the story:

The FBI’s counterintelligence chief tells a BBC interviewer that Chapman was getting “closer and closer to higher and higher ranking leadership.”

“They were getting close enough to a sitting U.S. cabinet member that we thought we could no longer allow this to continue,” says C. Frank Figliuzzi, the assistant FBI director for counterintelligence, according to the Independent. That alleged — repeat: alleged — sexual “closeness” prompted Figliuzzi’s agents to shift from monitoring Chapman’s crew of ten spies to arresting them in 2010.

Figliuzzi doesn’t say which “serving” cabinet official was this close to shtupping Anna Chapman. It would be irresponsible to speculate. But it’s so, so, so hard not to.

Talk about a “sleeper agent.”  (Thank you, I’m here all week. Try the veal!) For those of you not hip to spy lingo, Chapman was a “honeypot,” the term used in the trade for a sexual lure. (Males who seduce female targets are “Romeos.” Shtupping, technically, is not a term used in the intelligence community.)

The Russian honeypot program became more of a threat when they decided that the classic "Col. Klebb look" wasn't working for them.

I did some due diligence on this story — meaning I Googled a lot of it — and it turns out that Mr. Figliuzzi is an assistant director of the FBI. I also double-checked the date: April 2, not April 1, so the story, at least from Wired and the British press, is legit.

The question, of course, is whether Chapman was really all that close to hitting the sheets with a government official, especially since the FBI seems to confirm that she was in no danger of winning Spy of the Year anytime soon:

Anna Chapman appears to have been a pretty incompetent spy. Her crew used what intelligence reporter Jeff Stein termed “primitive radio techniques” and hid loosely encrypted messages in plain sight on the Internet. She traded in “routine political gossip and policy talk,” as the New York Times put it, rather than real secrets. Bedding a cabinet official would seem to be past her means, comely as they are.

I haven’t seen any odds yet on which Cabinet secretary Chapman targeted, but as Wired writes, it was unlikely to be former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was also the Director of the CIA and thus the nation’s top spook for a while. The New York Observer added:

It’s easy to guess who it wasn’t–we can probably write off the Secretary of State or Homeland Security–but that still leaves plenty of interesting targets.

Specifically, if we take out the other two females in the Cabinet, that still leaves 11 people.

All snickering aside, there are other possibilities here. One, of course, is that Chapman really was closing in on a relationship with an an important person (which probably says more about bad judgment than her skills as a secret agent), or that while Chapman may have been targeting someone, the potential threat is being, uh, overblown. (Sorry. Very sorry.)

They had spies here, but we got "Maxim" over into Russia. We win.

Still, keeping abreast of the intelligence news — sorry, again — requires comment on the story, as well as one more cheesecake shot of Chapman, who now, apparently, is trolling to turn her 15 minutes of fame as a celebrity into a job as a…well, as a celebrity. (She also tried to sell her story, according to the Brits. No takers; apparently, men weren’t interested in hearing her speak.)

Intelligence officers will often say that their work, while interesting, isn’t very glamorous or dramatic.

Well…not all the time.

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  1. Not often you get to include a Maxim cover in your posts! 🙂

    Seriously, when I saw the story, I recalled that I’d read the Chapman case linked previously to a cabinet member late last year – Hillary Clinton:

    AP quoted Figliuzzi, who said the ring “were getting very close to penetrating U.S. policymaking circles” via a cabinet official. The reporters then speculated that it was likely the ring’s NJ gal, Murphy, and her closeness to a Democratic fundraiser who had ties to the Clintons.

    No mention of sex in that earlier report (why didn’t make headlines), but that might be the “closeness” concern. Clintons and their fundraising “issues” and a sex scandal mentioned in same sentence as Bill – like the 1990s all over again!

  2. MP makes an excellent point; there were hints in the press already that the FBI moved on the illegals suddenly due to “events.”

    Although the media treated the illegals story with a bit of salacious dismissiveness – Anna C’s baebaliciousness didn’t help (ever wonder if her choice was intentional, Tom?) – there was always more going on than met the (untrained) eye. This network wasn’t the most accomplished ever, but they had to be up to … something.

    The media, of course, never understood Russian illegals doctrine, which emphasizes logisitical support to legal networks, and special activities, more than anything Bondian … hence the letdown, of sorts, in the MSM.

    Later we would get glimpses of what those Russkies were up to – mole hunts in our intelligence agencies, now targeting top cabinet officials, etc.

    This is getting interesting and will get moreso.

  3. The FBI certainly moved in a curious way, almost like someone was walking around and noticed all the Russians in Cambridge, trying to get someone on their team and said really loud one night in the bar: “Hey, are there any Russians in the house? Can I talk to one of all these Russians I see wandering around Cambridge? What’s up with that?” Then again, why like you say bother to recruit in Cambridge, since they’re all, well, not everyone, Communists anyway in Cambridge: “One nuclear bomb can ruin your whole day.” Manning was there too. Ummm. Lots of anarcho-syndicalist types in Cambridge, except they’re really Communists, just to naive to figure that out.
    It would be an honor, almost, to have a honey pot dangled your way you know. You know what the say with Ivan, it’s like chess, really cold, Byzantine complexity, and needing to think ten moves ahead, although also like Burn After Reading, that everyone thinks:
    “That was really cool and convoluted, so many distractions, maskirovka, but, was it worth all that? That was what that was actually all about? Ivan. Gotta love Ivan.”

  4. So the Danger Room had to a crawl down from yesterday’s sexytime with a cabinet official story –

    I must admit, does some good if sometimes slanted journalism pieces not covered by other websites on national security and defense issues. They almost singlehandedly got the FBI to investigate and revise its seriously flawed CT training program. Those briefs they published were scandalous.

    There’s still some issues to ponder here, Tom –

    – Perhaps the British press (BBC, The Independent) tried to misrepresent or selectively edit this story to further sensationalize it (no one mentioned sex, did they?) and/or make the US/Obama/FBI look bad. Not the first time, I’m sure!

    – Spencer Ackerman read between the lines to mean between the sheets. Must’ve been distracted by the Anna Chapman photos. 🙂

    – This story is about closeness, but of a different kind. Perhaps it’s really about the corrupting influence of the closeness between politicians and their desperately needed financiers. The FBI thought the spy ring got too close to a Clinton money buddy and saw a potential national security threat. Like the Clintons weren’t seduced by money and power long ago? Someone wanted to spare them further embarrassment?

    – Or … the breakup of the spy ring was really about something else and way bigger, as John Schindler wisely noted, and this “event” was used as a cover.

    Still a fascinating story about what’s really behind US-Russian relations now.

  5. Penny – The “get close to the would-be financier” thing strikes me as credible and even typical. I don’t buy the matrioshka-like, Inception-style story-within-a-story (sorry, John, I just don’t), because it so miserably fails the test of Occam’s Razor and common sense.

    You know what I think today? I think it was a slow news day in London yesterday. And Wired got sucked in like the rest of us.