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We discovered our parents were Russian spies (theguardian.com)
208 points by nkurz on May 7, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments



The most interesting thing for me is how easily KGB survived the fall of the USSR. Not only did they seamlessly continue all their espionage programs started during the Cold War, but they also easily came back into full power in less than a decade, appointing one of their agents as the ruler of Russia for life.

This shows the power of any major secret service. They can do literally anything they want. They don't care about anything except their own survival, and they will easily adapt to any circumstances and any political climate.


The Spy Handler book ( http://www.amazon.com/Spy-Handler-Officer-Recruited-Hanssen/... ) written by the KGB officer, who handled both Ames and Hanssen, explains a bit how the whole thing looked like from inside the KGB.

The KGB along with the party and the Soviet Army were kind of the ironic counter part to the balance-of-powers system the US has. Each one had its strengths and weaknesses and they could keep an eye on each other. KGB was special because it had the information, the best educated people, it knew were resources were, how to get to them etc. When people talk about a conspiracy cabal that would control and pull strings behind the scenes, it was that cabal.

Because of the KGB was best positioned to take advantage of the power vacuum and many had turned to grab as many resources as possible after the fall of the Soviet Union. The most patriotic communists had turned super-capitalist practically overnight.

But at the same time, however, by late 80s and 90s few really believed in the "cause" so to speak. They probably all just wanted cushy jobs, fancy apartments and big pensions when they retired. And of course there were a lot of defections.

Even this group of spies from the story, remembering how many were making fun of their stupid and outdated methods, or praising the FBI for uncovering them, was ultimately betrayed by a defector. So was Hanssen.

Wondering if perhaps now SVR is in a better position today, as at least there is no need to pretend do believe in any great communist cause and then be disillusioned later, and defect. Perhaps now it is just business -- "You get a good job and if you betray us we'll find you and sprinkle some Polonium-210 in your tea".


This is why having been born just out of dictatorship in Portugal, and knowing how the McCarthy worked out, why I always wonder how US citizens have this glamours idea that their secret services follow some kind of law, besides their own agenda.


What did McCarthy have to do with the secret services of the US?



As a Portuguese you definitely made me wonder now... Care to expand?


Like many of us, I had family fighting in colonies and know lots of histories from people that were affected by PIDE/DGS or had "nice interviews" with their officers.

I wonder how you can wonder about those days, unless from being part of more younger generations where those days sadly don't mean anything any more.

Do you know that the way PIDE/DGS imprisoned some students is part of the genesis for Amnesty International?


This is a very interesting book analazing and explaining the situation by former chess world champ. G. Kasparov: Winter is comming (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1610396200/).


> This shows the power of any major secret service. They can do literally anything they want. They don't care about anything except their own survival, and they will easily adapt to any circumstances and any political climate.

And that is the reason we should get rid of them. It's anti-democratic in large parts.


they are fighting a legal battle to win back their Canadian citizenship, stripped from them six years ago. They believe it is unfair and illegal that they are expected to answer for the sins of their parents

This is mis-stating (I suspect deliberately) the situation under Canadian law. They weren't "stripped" of Canadian citizenship (as can happen to war criminals who lie on their citizenship applications); rather, it was discovered that they had never been Canadian citizens in the first place. Their parents lied to them and told them that they were Canadians; but the fact that they were harmed by their parents' fraud is not a reason for the fraud to be made reality.

On the other hand, the Canadian government does seem to be wrong when it comes to blaming them for the circumstances and annulling Alex's student visa. The fact that have they lived in Canada and identify as Canadian seems like strong considerations in support of an application for a visa or even permanent residence; the fact that they were tricked into thinking that they were Canadian once doesn't mean that they shouldn't have the opportunity to truly become Canadian.


They were born in Canada so they should be citizens independently of their parents.


The article mentions the applicable exception:

> Everyone who is born in Canada is eligible for Canadian citizenship, with one exception: those who are born to employees of foreign governments.


Even more fun. He said he applied for a visa, to use on his Russian passports. Canadian citizens are ineligible to get visas, as they are not needed. So just by him getting a visa indicates the Canadian government views him as not Canadian.

Had the same thing with my kids. Born to me (Canadian). So instant citizenship. But to travel I've got to get their Canadian passports, which requires other docs, including the passport from their other country of citizenship. I asked if I already had that other passport, could she apply for a visa? Nope, she's a Canadian citizen, even if there is no documentation other than a birth certificate with a (naturally born) Canadian parent on it. They had quite a look of enjoyment as they explained I'd have to do double the work for zero benefit.


So do the children of "actual" Canadians who betrayed their true country and turned to work for foreign, non-Canadian governments have their citizenship annulled? The children of the Canadian counterparts to Ames and Hansson? (I'm sure there have been some)

Or have about those Canadians who work legitimately for foreign embassies? Canada clearly has those [1]. I assume their kids don't have their citizenship retracted.

My guess that this is meant as some sort of punitive action against the parents, but it seems wrong to punish the children. Even assuming the kids knew, as the article pointed out, what's a 16-year old who finds out his parents are foreign spies supposed to do? Call the FBI? I can see children in a totalitarian country reacting that way out of fear or an excess of patriotism, but have we really reached that point here in the West?

1. http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/nnrsdnts/ntcs/frgn-eng.html


Children of Canadian citizens acquire citizenship by blood. The "employees of foreign governments" clause only applies if the parents are neither citizens nor permanent residents.


That's a bit of a stretch of the definition of employee. They sound more like freelancers, but this is why you have courts and lawyers.


In many jurisdictions, you are not a freelancer if you have only one customer.


I'm not sure what you mean by "should" here. Are you arguing that I've misstated the law, or that the law is stupid?


The law is not necessarily stupid, but an exception, if possible, probably should be made in this case, on moral grounds, since the kids seem to be victims of a situation they played no part in creating.


There are seven billion people in the world who are victims of not being born Canadian citizens. The distinguishing fact of these two is that their parents pretended to be Canadian; but while I have sympathy for the kids, it seems that it would be a bit perverse to say that if parents lie to their kids for long enough then we have a duty to make those lies come true.


Who is saying anything remotely like "if parents lie to their kids for long enough then we have a duty to make those lies come true"?

Unless you're claiming 7 billion people in the world were born in Canada, the most distinguishing fact about these two is obviously not that their parents pretended to be Canadian.


Unless you're claiming 7 billion people in the world were born in Canada

Not at all. I'm claiming that 7 billion people are not Canadian citizens due to the circumstances of their birth.


> Not at all.

Then, as I said, the most distinguishing fact about these two is obviously not that their parents pretended to be Canadian.

There really is no point in arguing this since you believe the circumstances of someone born in Canada, raised to some extent in Canada, and having an affinity with Canada are analogous to someone who doesn't even know Canada exists, like a large proportion of that 7 billion you talk about.

BTW, did you edit your other post? Not that it changes anything, but I don't remember it saying "victims of not being born Canadian citizens" when I replied.


Interesting that I've suddenly, just now, received no less than two downvotes on the above (otherwise popular) post and my post above it (4 simultaneous downvotes on just two posts), despite this currently sliding down Page 5 of HN.

To be legit, that's at least two separate people coincidentally downvoting the same day old posts at the same time, on a Page 5 submission.


Not a duty. But I still think it would be the humane thing to do.


Very well said. Indeed, I could not have put it so better.


Earlier you wrote:

> it was discovered that they had never been Canadian citizens in the first place. Their parents lied to them and told them that they were Canadians

You misunderstood a key fact from the article: They were born in Canada.

"You are probably a Canadian citizen if you were born in Canada", according to:

http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/citizenship/rules/index.asp

where "probably" means there are very obscure exceptions that only a bureaucrat can dream up.


Unless born to foreign government [government] workers.


To make this clearer:

This means diplomats, ambassadors, and other staff working in embassies etc. They get immunity from Canada's laws, and usually taxes, but in return get no benefits from being there. They aren't considered residents of Canada.


The taxes thing was a pain when I worked in stores in Canada. You'd get about 10 customers a day presenting some kind of ID and claiming to be exempt from either gst or PST, and as a till monkey you'd have no knowledge or training in whether they were exempt or whether the IDs were legit. Add on people buying 6 cakes to avoid gst, and you might as well just press random tax buttons on the register


Probably that was the spirit of the law, but the letter of the law happens to cover the sons' situation. It's an unlikely edge case that the people who drafted the law could never have foreseen.


It clearly sounds like money is no obstacle, and perhaps this is due to the parents' return to Russia as heroes and subsequent plush career placements.

So while the kids's psyche are probably quite damaged, they won't be going hungry.

Very interesting read.


maybe its time for all the people everywhere to start to act like secret agents, and thus we can achieve equality. Never talk about yourself, fake your CV or dont have one, mount recording cameras everywhere around you,use SSL, dont care too much about the borders that governments make. You will not suffer that much as real agents do sometimes. No more ambush sufferings either, as people will avoid meeting in public crowds.


I assumed at the time, and at the time of other similar busts, that US counterintelligence (mostly but probably not entirely the CIA), is aware of some number of persons doing illicit intelligence-gathering here. Whether, when, and whom to arrest and deport I take to depend on factors including whether our agents have been arrested, whether there is some other point we need to make, etc. I would not be surprised to learn that more than another ten Russian agents remained known or at least suspected, but unmolested for various reasons: to protect informants, to channel information or misinformation through them, or simply to have someone to arrest a few years down the road.


Surprised not a single mention of "The Americans" which sounds very similar (and a great show).

Edit: my bad. I did a search and it didn't return anything.


The article does mention "The Americans":

"If Tim and Alex’s story sounds eerily familiar to fans of The Americans, the television drama about a KGB couple living in the US with their two children, that’s because it’s partly based on them. ..."


Except for this one:

> If Tim and Alex’s story sounds eerily familiar to fans of The Americans, the television drama about a KGB couple living in the US with their two children, that’s because it’s partly based on them.


Ok people, no need to be so harsh about a simple mistake. We all do them.


I liked the 1st season and stopped watching in the middle of the 2nd one, felt that the writers deliberately tried to make the main characters less likable than they were in the beginning.


I think they tried to use a softer introduction and then harden them up once the audience got to know them. They are brutal killers, you aren't necessarily supposed to like them.

SPOILERS

They eventually reveal themselves to the daughter and she tells her priest. It's really pushing suspension of disbelief for me that the several additional mouths stay shut.


I agree. The only way such a casual reaction is plausible is if they are also KGB agents.

The problem I'm having is that it doesn't really invoke any Cold War aspect any more.

They basically just are Americans, meeting with other "Americans", watching American movies or David Copperfield, visiting EPCOT or EST, alongside some rather tedious non-political espionage. They (very suddenly) don't seem to have any solid association with the Soviet Union or "the cause" any more.

The now sadly all too rare Rezidentura scenes (with some of the most interesting aspects and characters of the show IMO) and Reagan clips just seem like tacked-on lip-service to the original concept.


Oh, my. I tried to turn my head away when I read the spoilers sign, but couldn't.

Thanks for ruining the season for me. =(


Jon Snow dies. I think the reasonable statute of limitations on politely saying nothing is something like 6 months (it's been almost a year).


Except, from the little I read, there was no murders attributed to these "illegals".

No doubt a bit of TV license. Just like the top spies or doctors spend time doing boring labwork a low level worker could do.


Dramatic TV shows, movies and books are about entertainment, not telling the truth as it really happened. Almost all such things carry the disclaimer "based on" and anything can be changed and be different.


Yeah, I was talking about the characters.


If only you had done a search with your eyeballs, by reading the article.


I did read over 2/3 and was surprised not to see the reference to that point. I also did a search but included "s which found the commenter who also expressed surprise at the "omission" so I thought I was on firm ground. My apologies.


Not sure what the purpose of your reply is. It's clear that you haven't read the article nor even bothered to ctrl+f, as that would reveal it is mentioned that the family was inspiration for the show.


I actually did read most of the article and did a ctrl-f for "the americans" (with quotes) and the only instance it found was in a comment that also didn't see the reference. Sorry about that.


This is a pretty cool story. A shame they got caught. :(


This is probably quite common among Grauniad writers.


To me, after all the Snowden leaks , the story about two Russian spies sounds kind of ridiculous because of the level of hypocrisy :)


Usually hypocrites don't like it hypocrisy being mentioned ...




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