Globe Editorial

Espionage: From Russia with jargon

July 3, 2010

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Although the secret radio transmissions and brush-pass bag exchanges described in a federal affidavit sound like plot devices from an old James Bond film, at least one alleged member of a Russian spy ring apparently tried to conduct espionage using more modern tools. The suspect who goes by “Donald Heathfield’’ had all the accoutrements of business in the Internet era: the hazily defined consulting gig, the windy mission statement, the LinkedIn page, the relentless impulse toward networking for its own sake.

Gone are the days when spying involved heart-stopping near-escapes from enemy agents; going under “deep cover’’ in 2010, it seems, means becoming that guy nobody wants to get stuck with at a trade association breakfast.

If nothing else, the alleged Russian agent got the lingo down. He started a company called Future Map that boasts of its expertise at “developing strategic proactivity.’’ Future Map accomplishes this, according to a charmingly nonsensical graph on the corporate website, in three ways: by “executing preemptive strategies,’’ “driving preparedness process,’’ and “engaging stakeholders.’’ It’s hard to believe that anyone responded to such a pitch by instantly divulging, say, nuclear secrets. But if a spy sounded credible enough to have coffee with the occasional mid-level wonk, that might have been enough to justify a continued stay in a pleasant part of Cambridge.

Absent a fierce ideological competition between Moscow and Washington, there wasn’t much urgency in infiltrating Harvard’s Kennedy School, but one can imagine the KGB’s successor agency sending agents there out of force of habit. If Heathfield is a spy, espionage may owe less to James Bond than to the world of “Dilbert,’’ where there’s a premium on looking busy and saying nothing — in as many words as possible.

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