"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 March 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit and Run 3.1.01

Say what you want about accused FBI superspy Robert Hanssen: The espionage game hasn't produced a character this elegantly aloof since Roger Moore gave up his eyebrow-crunching 007 role. "One might propose that I am either insanely brave or quite insane," the silver-tongued double agent wrote to his Russian handlers last year, in a characteristic tone of resigned self-possession. "I'd answer neither. I'd say, insanely loyal. Take your pick. There is insanity in all the answers." Even more impressive than his verbal skill, however, is the clarity with which Hanssen, a.k.a. "B," "Ramon Garcia," "Jim Baker," and "G. Robertson," understands bureaucracy and office politics.

"I hate uncertainty," he writes. "So far I have judged the edge correctly." He certainly did. Hanssen's 16-year correspondence with his alleged handlers shows how intimately he understood risk management, listened to silences, and judged the levels of competence of his co-workers. From March, 1986:
I can not provide documentary substantiating evidence without arousing suspicion at this time.

From later in the same year:
I wanted to determine if there was any cause for concern over security. I have only seen one item which has given me pause. When the FBI was first given access to Victor Petrovich Gundarev, they asked...if Gundarev knew Victor Cherkashin. I thought this unusual. I had seen no report indicating that Victor Cherkashin was handling an important agent, and here-to-fore he was looked at with the usual lethargy awarded Line Chiefs. The question came to mind, are they somehow able to monitor funds, ie, to know that Cherkashin received a large amount of money for an agent?

In 1988:
Because of my work, I had to synchronize explanations and flights while not leaving a pattern of absence and travel that could later be correlated with communication times.

In June, 2000, after an apparent promise that he would be handsomely paid:
[W]e do both know that money is not really 'put away for you' except in some vague accounting sense. Never patronize me at this level.

And finally, on February 18, as he realized the jig was up:
Since communicating last, and one wonders if because of it, I have been promoted to a higher do-nothing senior executive job outside of regular access to information within the counterintelligence program. It is as if I am being isolated. Furthermore, I believe I have detected repeated bursting radio signal emanations from my vehicle ... Something has aroused the sleeping tiger. Perhaps you know better than I.

The FBI's affidavit in support of Hanssen's arrest, still available from MSNBC, is the most entertaining read in some time. But it leaves open the enigma of why the conservative father of six decided to sell the US out to the Russkies. Early possible explanations include a latent taste for adventure and a fascination with Kim Philby — the latter appears likely, given the way Hanssen's epistolary style seems to mimic the good-humored reserve of the legendary MI-6 turncoat's My Silent War.

More confusing is Hanssen's involvement with Opus Dei, the staunchly anti-Communist Catholic shadow society whose members include FBI director Louis Freeh, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, and just possibly, Dion. The spy's involvement with these red-fighting agents of Rome might lead wary observers to suspect the shadowy hand of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Hanssen's tale. (Newsweek, which decorates its nine-reporter cover story on Hanssen with a moody wintertime photo of an Our Lady of Grace statue, appears to nurse similar suspicions). So far, however, the evidence is circumstantial: Opus Dei founder Monsignor Josemaria, a Francoist who believed the BVM had a direct hand in establishing his organization, met with Fatima seer Lucia Santos in 1945, and his organization has been a backer of such heroes of anti-bolshevism as Augusto Pinochet and Alberto Fujimori.

Which would appear to make Hanssen a true oddball: A member whose devotion to a commie-bashing organization was matched only by his zeal for selling our best secrets to Ivan. And the plot thickens with a Newsweek-reported incident that occured while Hanssen and a fellow agent were listening to NPR — certainly, by the standards of Opus Dei, or for that matter the FBI, savoring the counterculture-McGovernik stylings of Daniel Schorr and Nina Totenberg must be on a level with kowtowing to Chairman Mao.

"That's where people make a mistake, in thinking Opus Dei is so far to the right," says Dianne DiNicola, executive director of Opus Dei Awareness Network, which tracks some of group's oddball behavior. "The truth is, they are whatever they need to be in any situation."

Would any such situation entail spying for the Russians? "Opus Dei is so controlling of its members that I don't see how he could have separated his Opus Dei activities from his spying," DiNicola tells us.

As always, Suck remains agnostic on such matters. But our investigation into Hanssen's choice of aliases led us to another potential source of information: the artist Ramon Garcia, whose paintings are inspired by an alien abduction he suffered in 1990. Could Hanssen's selection of this nom d'espion be a mere coincidence? Unfortunately, our attempts to contact Garcia have been fruitless, and we can only hope foul play is not involved. Meanwhile, we look forward to hearing new and zany details in the saga of Bob Hanssen, a consummate professional who clearly deserved better than he's going to get.

It may not be the stupidest mail-borne meme out there — Mahir still holds that particular title — but "ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US" is easily the most inscrutable. Birthed from a decade-old, badly translated Japanese video game, the phrase washed over the Internet last week like only badly translated phrases from decade-old Japanese video games can. For roughly the first six hours of its existence, there might have been some gamer cred in knowing what the hell was going on, but after that, Lord, being ignorant was cooler.

That's what the Internet does — compresses what might have been an amusing (and happily confined) community trifle into the cultural equivalent of a weekend-long heroin bender. "ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US" can claim its own FAQ, domain, video, endlessly modified graphics, store (after store after store), and, of course, backlash. The only thing the meme needs now, to be officially certified as so five minutes ago, is to become the subject of a Hit & Run.

If you think you can't get anything for free anymore, Hou Wu Ding has some Microsoft products to sell you. The 35-year-old Mountain View, CA resident has pled not guilty to charges that he sold counterfeit and "re-marked" parts and software at trade shows around the Golden State. Ding, a.k.a. "Chester," allegedly had a tidy business selling MS programs, chips and other components for cash (which he then stuffed into a fanny pack), raking in about $3.1 million over two years. Despite Ding's sub-Hanssen efforts to stash his profits in various bank accounts, trade show vendors have taken to giving him the boot. Meanwhile, Sacramento County sheriffs latched onto Ding after buying five counterfeit units of Office 98 — no word on whether the fakes proved less bloated and buggy than the real thing. (Between Ding's bust and some favorable moves in Microsoft's effort to appeal Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's breakup decision, it appeared briefly that things were looking up for Redmond — until an angry Jehovah interrupted a Chairman Bill speech with a miraculously timed earthquake.) Things look pretty grim for Hou Wu Ding right now, but what with the palmed goodies, shiny freebies, and culture of swag that surrounds all trade shows, it's hard not to see Chester's efforts to turn a dishonest buck as an act of just and righteous leveling.

Forgetting how the United States sends its buttinski peace envoys scurrying around the world with mediation plans every time there's a hint of trouble, President Bush the Second on Tuesday dismissed the request of Colombian President Andres Pastrana to help out in his next round of discussions with that country's left-wing rebels. Although American gunships now duke it out with the FARC and Pastrana was elected largely on the promise of negotiating an end to the civil war, the issue is apparently not promising enough or sufficiently related to America's "shrategic inshrishts" to warrant lifting a finger. Which, though it may be strange policy, probably isn't such a bad thing. Given how spectacularly our other peacemaking efforts have turned out, we wouldn't be surprised if people in the land of Coca are relieved that this form of American aid won't be forthcoming.

"How can the Indian IT industry flourish when all that knowledge workers want to do is get on the next plane to San Jose?" asks a story in the current issue of Silicon India. We would suggest showing them any recent business section from the Mercury News — which ought to be enough to scare anybody out of love with the stateside tech industry. But we can never really be sure things aren't even worse somewhere else, and so we decided to blow our last hatful of rupees sending one Suckster to reconnoiter the Indian tech industry, and possibly find us a place to relocate when it all goes belly up. From Bangalore to Hyderabad, and points in between, the whole tale unravels tomorrow, and we urge all readers to tune in.

Spy for the enemy in today's Plastic discussion

courtesy of The Sucksters

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