Trendwatcher: The Spies Strike Back

© RIA NovostiNatalia Antonova
Natalia Antonova - Sputnik International
I knew it. I just knew it. After a U.S. spy in a blond wig was taken into custody in Moscow – and the inevitable jokes and references to Austin Powers began pouring in – I knew that we were in for a bigger scandal all along.

I knew it. I just knew it. After a U.S. spy in a blond wig was taken into custody in Moscow – and the inevitable jokes and references to Austin Powers began pouring in – I knew that we were in for a bigger scandal all along.

It was almost as if the Western powers were being dared to demonstrate the fact that their spies are not all bumbling fools.

© RIA NovostiNatalia Antonova
Natalia Antonova  - Sputnik International
Natalia Antonova

The fact that the spy apprehended in Moscow had been carrying a compass evoked disbelief at first, then a roar of laughter. “And here I thought we were in the 21st century!” people said. “What’s next? A spy churning his own butter in his secret spy hut? A spy with Stone Age hammerstones?”

Well, in the wake of revelations that the National Security Agency apparently reads all of our emails (I kind of want to start saying “hi” to them in all of my messages now. You know, greet whomever it is I’m emailing – and then greet whatever bored person with security clearance is currently reading what I type), it has also been revealed that in 2009 then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was spied on during the G20 summit in London, by both British and U.S. intelligence, no less.

And you can bet that these Western intelligence officials were not using hammerstones and Morse code.

The report, published by The Guardian with help from American whistleblower Edward Snowden, also detailed how other summit attendees were spied on by British intelligence. These poor people were even tricked into using fake Internet cafes, which is particularly galling. Most Internet cafes are horrific enough as it is, featuring dirt of mysterious origin in the keyboards and a general feeling of ennui.

I suppose there is nothing shocking about the fact that governments spy on other governments. Indeed, certain Russian officials have even downplayed the revelations about the G20 summit. They’ve been in the game long enough to realize how it all really works. Privacy is no longer the default option for any of us, heads of state least of all.

What’s really interesting to me about all of these revelations of surveillance is just when humanity is going to cross that line wherein surveillance becomes so total as to be wholly irrelevant.

I don’t think that human beings will stop keeping secrets – or at least stop doing those Facebook shares that are labeled “for friends only” and prefaced by rants about how “this is totally private, so I’m only sharing this with 700 people as opposed to with everyone” – it’s just that feeling of violation with regard to secrets revealed will no longer be quite so deep or dramatic.

Think about it. Back when a bad sex tape starring Paris Hilton suddenly made the international news, we were all shocked. Nowadays, it’s practically expected for celebrities to be caught in the act. Why, some people are out there making elaborate porn videos that they then attempt to pass off as “private” recordings that were accidentally “leaked” to the public. Don’t believe me? Try googling Farrah Abraham… Or perhaps, on second thought, don’t google Abraham.  Just take my word for it.

Even if we still have the shock factor to contend with, we must remember that spying on everyone is, in the end, a bit like spying on no one. After all, who could possibly process all of that information and make sense of it? Who could attempt to gauge whether or not my angrily texting my husband when he forgets to pick up detergent is a matter of national security? 

If anything, we should all be worried about the rise of robots in conjunction with the rise of surveillance. The only way to process information effectively is to hand it over to tireless – and intelligent – machines. If anyone is wondering what an efficient police state would look like in the 21st century, I can go ahead and dispel the mystery: It will be run by robots (who will go on to stage a coup and install a robotic junta, only to be taken on by some brave Christian Bale type with a scraggly beard).

But we are not there yet. Not in terms of technology – and not in terms of sheer insanity. For now, it’s still OK to laugh about spies in blond wigs.

Trendwatching in Russia is an extreme sport: if you’re not dodging champagne corks at weddings, you’re busy avoiding getting trampled by spike heels on public transportation. Thankfully, due to an amazing combination of masochism and bravado, I will do it for you while you read all about it from the safety of your living room.

Natalia Antonova is the acting editor-in-chief of The Moscow News. She also works as a playwright – her work has been featured at the Lyubimovka Festival in Moscow and Gogolfest in Kiev, Ukraine. She was born in Ukraine, but spent most of her life in the United States. She graduated from Duke University, where she majored in English and Slavic Literature. Before coming to Moscow, she worked in Dubai, UAE and Amman, Jordan. Her writing has been featured in The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Russia Profile, AlterNet, et al.

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