The whole business of Anna Chapman and her cohorts is a bit of a mystery in itself. We’re told that the FBI had been tracking these folks for years, patiently gathering awareness of their actions and intent.
And then Wham! Bam! they’re swooped up, charged, and convicted through guilty pleas. So far so good. But wait! They’re put on a chartered jet within hours and flown to Vienna to swap for 4 individuals that the Russian government had been holding in various prisons for years without trial, as far away as Siberia.
The logistics of all of this suggest a lot of planning and action that most likely traces back to the visit between President Medvedev and President Obama last week, if not before. So now it seems we’re conducting FBI operations in synchrony with foreign government actions. That in itself could be an acceptable thing when it relates to counter-terrorism or other multi-national crime, but this specific case doesn’t fit that mold.
So, what was the purpose of the deal? What compelling national interest was served in this unusual deal, breathlessly described by news media reporters as “the largest spy swap since the Cold War?” What was the compelling national interest of Russia to return these people to Russia? They would most likely have been released in a couple of years anyway.
On its face, we got fewer spies back than we gave. Is this to suggest the four we got are twice as important? There seems to be little evidence of that. This seems to be in line with our deal capitulating missile defense in Europe for essentially nothing gained.
Did the arrest, conviction and swap improve our image in the world? Not much evidence of that, either.
Did the spy swap instead signal a willingness to negotiate things better left alone? This might be closer to the target. If so, it signals a weaker foreign policy, and the potential for danger ahead. The message seems to be that if you snatch a few random folks off the street and accuse them of being agents of the CIA, you can bank them for later use in extracting your own agents from the US.
This doesn’t seem to be a great advance in US foreign policy.