BY OWEI LAKEMFA
THIS seems to be the month of spies. Almost daily, the air waves are taken over by their stories.Â A couple has just been convicted in America for being Cuban spies;Â a Russian spy ring smashed; it is like the spy diet is inexhaustible.
Like a kid attracted to toys, I find the world of spies quite fascinating. Except that it can be quite deadly, leading to horrendous loss of lives, spyingÂ is basically a game; almost like the hide -and -seekÂ children play.
There is the case of the Iranian â€˜nuclearâ€™ scientist, Sharam Amiri who went on pilgrimage to Mecca and disappeared. The Iranians accused the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the kidnap.
Now 14 months later, Amiri resurfaces making claims thatÂ the CIA with Saudi Arabian connivance had kidnappedÂ and tortured him before his release in the US.
He received a heroâ€™s welcome in Tehran. On the other hand, the Americans claim that Amiri had willingly sought political asylum, had a nice stay in America before changing his mind and asking that he be allowed to return home.
Who is lying? That is almost impossible to say; the Americans are notorious for kidnapping innocent people across the world and dumping them elsewhere.
They call it extra- ordinary rendition. But why go to such lengths with a â€œregularâ€ Iranian scientist who does not appear to be involved in his countryâ€™s nuclear programme? Perhaps it over-valued Amiri.
The American story of Amiri seeking asylum is not implausible.Â Back in 1985,Â Vitaly Yurchenko, a brilliant Soviet spy defected to America. He exposed some Soviet spies like Ronald W Pelton and Edward Lee Howard, a CIA official who had given the Soviets a list of American spies in Moscow.
The spies had been rounded up and mainly executed. When the Americans went for Howard, he escaped and resurfaced in Moscow. Inexplicably, Yurchenko three months later decided to return to Moscow.
He grinned as he waved America goodbye. If he genuinely defected and exposed Soviet spies, why would he happily return to Moscow where he would certainly be executed? We may never know; nothing in the spy world is certain.
There are also the ongoing attempts at the United Nations to sanction North Korea for sinking a South KoreanÂ warship, the Cheonan in which 40 sailors died.
The formerÂ protested its innocence claiming that the crime was committed by the CIA which wants the world to punish it. North Korea is a supremely confident country known for owning up to its actions, so if it denies attacking the ship, it is likely to be so.
On the other hand, the Americans are known to play such dirty tricks. For instance when it needed an excuse to invade Vietnam, the US attacked its own ship, blamed it on the Vietnamese and on that pretext, declared war on Vietnam.
The world has just been treated to an opera by the Russians and the Americans. It began with America rounding up 10 Russian spies and rushing them to court. They included a couple, Mikhail Kutzik who lived under the name, Michael Zotolli, and Natalia Pereverzeva, better known as Patricia Mills.
One of the spies, Juan Lazaro readily admitted his crime while two others, Peruvian-bornÂ journalist, Vicky Pelaez and travel agent, Mr Semenko joined the others in court. An 11th suspect, Christopher Metsos who was arrested in Cyprus was granted bail there and promptly disappeared.
The American public brazed itself for a case that had all the trappings of an Hollywood movie. But while the trial was being staged in the courts, American Under SecretaryÂ of State for Political Affairs, Williams Burns was locked in negotiations withÂ the Russian Ambassador in Washington, Sergei Kislyak which were to render the court process a farce.
The next stage was the airport in Vienna where the Americans had brought the 10 Russian spies in exchange for four Russians convicted for being American and British spies.
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian arms control expert was detained in October 1995 and convicted in 2004 for passing classified information to America through a front BritishÂ company. Sergei Skripal a colonel in the Russian military intelligence was recruited by British intelligence in 1995 and arrestedÂ nine years later.
Alexander ZaporozhskyÂ a former deputy chief at the Russian Foreign IntelligenceÂ Service (SVR) began spying for the Americans in 1994 and was jailed in 2003. Gennady Vasilenkoâ€™s case has not been made open, nevertheless all four were pardoned by President Dmitry Medvedev and swapped with the Americans.
Except for theÂ hype, this is a routine spy game. One of the most famous spy exchanges involved Francis Gary Powers, pilot of the US U-2 spy plane shot down near Sverdlovsk, central Soviet UnionÂ on May 1, 1960.
He was exchangedÂ on February 10, 1962 with Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, director of a Soviet spy ring in United States who had been arrested in 1957.One of the largest exchanges involved 29 American, Soviet and polish spies on June 11, 1985.
Some of the high profile CIA agents in history are King Ibn Talal Hussein of JordanÂ who was known as Agent Norman. He spied for the CIA for 20 years before his exposure in 1977.
The other was BashirÂ Gemayel who was elected Lebanese president in 1982 but was killed in a bomb explosion on September 14, 1982, nine days before he was to assume office. I likedÂ CIA agentÂ Philip Agee whose booksÂ such as Inside The Company: CIA Diary fired my interest in spies whileÂ my favourite spyÂ isÂ the KGBâ€™sÂ Kim Philby who led the famous â€œCambridge Spiesâ€ which included Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. Philby, perhaps the most successful spy in history penetrated at the highest levels, BritishÂ intelligence and the CIA. He was so convincing that after he was fingered, the British government went before parliament to vouch for his innocence!
Whatever the drama being enacted today over spy rings and swaps, the fact is that spying is a profession being practiced every second; even friendly countries spy on themselves.