Russian Intelligence: Inept or Hyper-Competent?

Fred Kaplan runs down the Russian spy ring revelations and concludes that Russian spies aren’t very impressive:

It may well be that the Russians just aren’t very good at this sort of thing anymore. When I was the Boston Globe’s Moscow bureau chief in the early 1990s, just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a few ex-KGB officers eked out a living by selling once-secret documents that they’d apparently lifted from the archive. (I interviewed one of these retirees, who, at the end of our chat, asked if I knew the Rosenberg children. “Tell them I have some papers that might interest them,” he said. This was before the release of the Venona Project files, which confirmed that Julius Rosenberg was indeed a Soviet spy.)

After Boris Yeltsin’s reform regime came Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB man himself, who breathed some new life into the secret service but couldn’t possibly restore its full luster. A reasonable guess is that its denizens are comprised mainly of duffers and greenhorns. This operation suggests as much.

The problem with this conclusion, if you ask me, is that if the FSB is in fact a super-competent intelligence agency with brilliant spies lurking throughout the United States of America, leaving these bozos lounging around in New Jersey to get caught and lull everyone into a false sense of security. Which obviously isn’t to say that’s what’s really going on. But the problem with this kind of spy vs spy work is that you just really never ever ever know what’s going on. We’re basically no better informed about the state of Russian intelligence operations than we were before we found any of this.