Column Date 2006-02-12

Where have you gone, James Bond?

In the spy business, this is as funny as it gets:

Russia's internal security service (the FSB) recently accused the British of a spying operation using a “high tech” rock.

They said they found a "spy gadget" installed inside a fake rock on a street in Moscow, and that British agents exchanged information with their Russian sources using communications equipment hidden inside the rock.

Not only that, but the Russians even showed film footage from a hidden camera (possibly inside a neighboring rock, I would guess – gosh, who would think to look there?) to make their case. Their film shows various people walking up to the fake rock, and one man even picking it up and carrying it away.

"In this business nothing is unlikely," Alex Standish, editor of Jane's Intelligence Review told CNN. "Don't dismiss anything out of hand, because far more bizarre things have happened than a recording rock.”

“Hey, man, is this the Russian Embassy?”


“You dudes order a pepperoni pizza, with a double-thick crust?”

“That is correct.”

“Right. That’ll be $14.95, plus tax. And here in New York City, sir, it’s customary to add a tip.”

“One moment, please. First we have to x-ray the pizza.”

“X-ray the pizza? Man, that’ll cook it even more! Trust me, you never ever want to eat overcooked tastes like cardboard.”

“OK, I understand, you have a good point. Here’s a twenty. Keep the change.”

“Thank you, sir, and if you ever want another pizza delivered fast, just ask for Lamar.”

(The following two phone conversations happen in the next minute):

“Headquarters, this is Lamar. The pizza with the micro-recorders in the pepperoni slices has been delivered and accepted. And the live-action TV camera in the double-thick crust is operational.”

“Sergei, this is Ivan. The twenty dollar bill with the micro-dot radio transmitter pasted on Andrew Jackson’s photo has been delivered and accepted. We’re listening to the subject make a phone call right now.”

Real spying, of course, is a tough, unforgiving business and different countries take different approaches.

Here in the USA, we spend billions on high tech satellites and sophisticated computer systems to analyze zillions of phone calls for scraps of information. We invade the medical and financial records of Americans, seemingly at will. We demand that libraries give the government information on which Americans are reading which books.

And what do we get? Mis-information (e.g. there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, uranium is being sold in Niger, Quakers are plotting subversive activities right here at home, etc.).

The Brits, on the other hand, appear to have lost faith in high tech spying and somehow hit on the completely retro idea of putting that fake rock in the middle of Moscow to help their spies exchange messages.

And what do they get? Caught with their pants down.

James Bond, where are you when Her Majesty’s Government really needs you?

©2006 TCI, Inc.