Spies from Stoke Newington


Written by Olly Price
05 Monday 05th July 2010

Who’d have thought sleepy old Stoke Newington would be the implicated in a spying ring? Well, Anna Chapman, one of the 11 Russians accused of being deep cover spies by the US government this week, lived there before heading off to the states to get the real work done. So do organic food shops, yoga studios and homeopathic clinics provide the perfect cover for honing ninja skills and committing daring espionage, or are spies just getting soft now the cold war is over?

Another two of the spies were eavesdropped by the authorities asking for money to buy their New Jersey pad because the US is a ‘society that values home ownership’ and ‘when in Rome’ do as the Romans do. When Moscow wouldn’t stump the cash they protested impetuously that they had never ‘deviated’ from their mission. Another cell managed to rack up a whopping £42,500 worth of expenses. Presumably there will be a job for them in Whitehall when they get out of jail.

Not one of the eleven even managed to get charged with espionage, merely ‘failing to register as an agent of a foreign government’. In other words they were rubbish spooks. No blood on their hands, no Aston Martins with rocket launchers for headlights, no missions into space to build satellite ray guns capable of vaporising entire cities, I doubt they could even deliver a box of Milk Tray. Not like our James Bond at all. We Brits cracked the Enigma code; we do this whole spying thing better than anyone else.

Except that it wasn’t that long ago that two blundering British agents got caught talking to a stone in a public square in Moscow. 2006 it was, and it turned out they had filled a rock with electronic equipment to pass on Russian official secrets to London. Apparently London had failed to brief them on cellular telephones and the World Wide Web, the spying equivalent of Japanese guerrilla cells still fighting in the Philippines 29 years after the end of World War 2.

Sure, it’s all starting to feel a little quaint now, in these days of international terror networks like Al Qaeda, but we shouldn’t be surprised that the old enemies still try to spy on one another.  We might all meet up to discuss quantitative easing over a round of golf every year at the G20, but don’t think that means we all trust each other now. Would you trust a man like Silvio Berlusconi for example? Not as far as you could throw his wife’s heavy heart. It’s just nice to see a bit of conspiracy in the mainstream media for a change. Since the cold war ended we’ve all had to visit David Icke’s website and read about reptilian humanoids bent on influencing the creation of human history through their secret campaign of Bilderberg meetings, 9/11 inside-jobs and Illuminati, to get our fix. At least now conspiracy has returned to broadsheets fit for the coffee tables of Stoke Newington. 

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