Spy versus Spy

When the cold war was hot, the Soviet Union, “the headquarters of world communism”, was public enemy number one everywhere in the western world, including the colonized countries from Africa to the Caribbean to South American continent.

While the spying business is as old as the hills, we were trained to believe that “real spying” is the stock in trade if not the sole preserve of the Communist Soviet Union. It was as if spying was imprinted on the communist DNA. Everywhere communists were identified, vilified and criminalized.

The business of finding Soviet spies developed into a hunt for communists and communist sympathizers in USA. They were looking for those who hold “membership in, affiliated with or sympathetic association”, and who are connected to organizations deemed to be “totalitarian, fascist, communist or subversive”.

The net was cast wide capturing everything that smelled of communism. In the US, it was subversive to be seen reading the works of Marx and Lenin. Needless to say that at the end of it, workers were fired while members of the arts, the academic and film community were all caught in the net. Cynics have often said that there was a communist under every bed, every doormat. While the US took it to extremes, Europe and its colonies played their part as well.

Such extreme actions led some to dismiss the whole idea of Soviet spying and subversion as a fabrication and turn it on its head, making them heroes instead. The truth of course is somewhere in between: the Soviets were indeed stealing secrets, supporting opposition forces in “enemy” countries, engaging in sabotage, using every means to get an edge over their rivals, in short they were doing exactly what the CIA, the British M16, other Western spy agencie, Israel’s Mossad, etc, were doing. It has always been tit for tat for as long as nations/tribes have existed.

We also know that the Soviets have been used as cover for ills of our own doing. This is proven many times over when secret government documents are declassified and made available to the public. They also show that we are subject to propaganda, false news, misleading statements to the same extent as Soviet/Russian citizens – ideas that our free media have been all too willing to disseminate. We too have come to believe our myths.

That is why the UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland could announce with a straight face that they will be hosting a Global Conference for Media Freedom (GCMF). This, they implied is an urgent and necessary response to Russia’s “active role in spreading disinformation”. They have invited politicians, journalists and activists from over 100 countries but they emphasized that no representative from Russian media was invited.

With the phrase “Media Freedom” as the central term in the title, you would expect that the conference would uphold the rights that the media always thought they had, like protecting news sources or publishing information as long as it adheres to standards of truth in reporting; and doing that without fear of persecution or prosecution.

That reasonable expectation was shattered on the spot during the press conference chaired by Hunt and Freedland because as they spoke the British police, Scotland Yard, was investigating leaked UK government documents which criticized Trump and his administration for being inept and dysfunctional. The police said that the leak may have violated the Official Secrets Act, and both the leaker and the journalists who publish the leak could be guilty of a crime.

So Scotland Yard’s actions are in fact a serious threat when you consider that Julian Assange of Wikileaks is languishing in a British jail after his virtual imprisonment in the Ecuadorian Embassy for nearly a decade. Wikileaks had acquired and released leaked documents that exposed what amounted to American war crimes and the unsavoury conduct of Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton who was campaigning to defeat Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Jeremy Hunt and Chrystia Freedland made quite a pair speaking of Russian meddling in other countries’ affairs. They didn’t even blush as they spoke even as Canada acts openly to topple the Venezuelan government.

It’s time we understand that there is a lot of dirt and muck out there, and few countries get by without getting their hands dirty. Neither Canada or the UK can be counted among the few.