In the movies, spies use advanced technologies. Real-world spying, it seems, relies more on bad wigs. After Russia’s security service arrested an American named Ryan Fogle recently, the agency circulated a video showing him wearing a hat and obviously fake blond hair. The agency also showed images of items supposedly found in his backpack — a second wig, an atlas of Moscow, a compass, $130,000 in cash, and a letter offering Russian agents “$1 million a year for long-term cooperation.” (The only thing missing was a T-shirt saying, “Kiss me, I’m a spy!”) If Fogle, whom Russia then expelled, wasn’t actually a CIA agent, US officials aren’t saying.
There’s been speculation that Russia played up — even fabricated — some of Fogle’s more comical accoutrements, perhaps as revenge for the FBI’s bust of 10 hapless Russian spies in 2010. Two of them, “Donald Heathfield” and “Tracey Lee Ann Foley,” had settled into a cushy life in Cambridge; “Foley” worked for a real-estate company, while “Heathfield” networked relentlessly and ineptly. The Russian operation yielded little by way of actual secrets.
“I know everyone gets a kick out of the wigs and thinks that went out with the Cold War,” one ex-CIA officer told The New Republic, “but it didn’t!” The awkward Fogle incident has caused conspicuously little damage to US-Russian relations. To the pros, clumsy espionage is just business, wigs and all.