Oh, not to be young and Russian in Washington DC, “Politico” reports:
Nothing prepared the young Russians of Washington for the wintry blast of social isolation and suspicion that followed the arrest this July of an attractive young Russian apparatchik. When Maria Butina, 29, was charged with acting as an unregistered Kremlin agent from her perch as a grad student at American University, it seemed to confirm Washington’s worst suspicions about them…
Their Tinder dates keep asking them if they’re spies. Their landlords are interrogating them. Their résumés are getting tossed in the trash, and when they do get the job, their boss might warn them not to mention their nationality to people at the office. If that sounds bad, many of them—especially opposition figures and gay men in exile—are regarded with more suspicion by their own government back home than by their new neighbors here.
To be young and Russian in Washington is, often, to live in the gray ambiguities of a John le Carré Cold War spy novel. You’re pretty sure those questions about being a spy are innocent flirtations, and your boss might be joking when he asks you to keep your birthplace to yourself, but it is not totally clear. Then there’s the too-good-to-be true job offer on LinkedIn: Have you lucked out, or are you being recruited for something else?
Perhaps it’s time for le Carre to update his classic: “Tinder, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. And some of them might indeed be spies:
The age-old tactic [of sexual entrapment] has been given a new spin by dating apps, which allow would-be spies to make far more passes and do so at a safe distance, posing new challenges for U.S. counterintelligence—as well as for single Russians just trying to get a date.
“We can’t go to Tinder and say, ‘Give us a list of everyone with a Russian surname,’” said Frank Montoya Jr., a former FBI special agent and former director of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Directorate.
Instead, people with access to sensitive information are trained to be wary when engaging with young Russians (as well as young Chinese nationals, or even people who do not appear to be foreign at all) on dating apps and social media.
“If she has a Russian last name, that doesn’t mean don’t engage, especially if you’re really attracted to her,” Montoya advises. Instead, deep state daters should be on the lookout for red flags once they swipe right. “Are they asking specific questions about what you do? Do they persist in those questions? And when are they asking you about those things? Is it after a drink? After a lot of drinks? Is it pillow talk?”
Montoya advises a bit of common sense. “If that person is really interested in you, they’re going to ask about your family, they’re going to ask about your hobbies, they’re going to ask you about where you want to go for drinks tomorrow night,” he said. “They’re not going to ask you what you do in that windowless room in the belly of the beast in Langley.”
When he was working in sensitive government posts, Montoya even had to warn his three young sons that they could be targeted online by women seeking access to their father. LinkedIn may be worse than dating apps, added Montoya, who regularly received unsolicited business propositions from Russian and Chinese women on the networking site.
Now I’m feeling terribly unimportant – I’ve never been flirted with online by a foreign spy, even when I was working in foreign affairs and had a security clearance. “It’s not worth it, Svetlana, he’ll just put you in his ‘Girls Gone Wild on Brisbane Tinder’. And he won’t give you any useful information – just look at all the shit that he’s blogging!”
Mind you, I did once, a few years ago, go out on a date with a Russian girl called Lana. She was way out of my league, with legs from here to eternity, but I have won her over to the idea of meeting me with my wit (or so she said). She was born in the Urals, educated in St Petersburg, and in Australia for five years, having originally moved here with a boyfriend. A scientist by education – as many of them are – she was now working in business trying to market a line of expensive organic cosmetics. Over a jug of white sangria she told me her previous boyfriends included an army engineer and a criminal who looked like Robert Downey Jr., with whom she had sex on top of the Parliament House in Canberra. I couldn’t top that (so to speak), despite having actually worked on and off at the Parliament House for years. It was not to be; a non-spy that didn’t shag me.