Russian Spies Might Sell Tips to Capitalists: Susan Antilla

For all its ambitious efforts, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service in the end wound up with a couple of hot tips about the gold market and an outed agent whose supposed predilection for kinky sex was smeared across tabloid headlines.

Things have changed in spyland since the days when Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale carried water for Fearless Leader on “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” cartoons. Those 10 agents who copped pleas and returned home to Moscow in last week’s U.S.- Russian spy swap need to get the message to the bosses that their espionage operation is aching for an upgrade.

If you’re a Russian mole-meister looking to get some bang for your bucks next time you set up shop in the U.S. -- and hey, we know you’re reading us -- consider exploiting some uniquely American opportunities:

-- Read Politico and the Huffington Post. Seriously, you guys obviously worked hard to set up secret agents in hotspots like Yonkers, New York, getting them Americanized so they could ferret out sources in U.S. policy making circles. But around here, we just give out government gossip for free.

No Encryption Needed

I actually felt a little bad to read in the federal complaint that you were all worked up that your financial planner/spy Cynthia Murphy had put time into flushing out information from a “prominent New York-based financier” who, as it turns out, generously spreads his opinions on blogs that don’t even require encryption. The complaint didn’t identify venture capitalist and Bill and Hillary Clinton pal Alan Patricof as Murphy’s client at New York accounting and tax service firm Morea Financial. But, true to his not-very- undercover persona, Patricof speculated on the record to the Washington Post that the complaint probably was referring to him.

-- Stake out some sources at the U.S. ratings companies. These are people who could really benefit from some of your finely honed skills, not to mention that they could use a few new friends. Companies such as Standard & Poor’s, shamed by the release of internal e-mails that portrayed them as a bit too hungry for business -- a deal could “be structured by cows” and still get an S&P rating, one said -- could use your guidance on securing more private communications among co-workers.

Moscow on the Hudson

I particularly liked that Jason Bourne-style setup with “radiograms” that your folks were using to zap data back and forth between Moscow and the various spies in the U.S. without the Internet’s annoying security flaws. We have talented Wall Street analysts whose careers might be saved if only they could chit-chat in writing without fear of some ambitious prosecutor getting his hands on a transcript of their incriminating words.

-- Make some calls to our investment banks. It’s been a tough couple of years for the long-suffering people who underwrite perfectly well-meant offerings like the auction-rate securities about which you have read so many unfair assessments. These bankers and their lawyers do their best to compile documents that really do explain all the risks, if only investors could understand the things.

Now, though, in this financial overhaul project we’ve gotten all exercised about, there is talk about making underwriters explain risks in language that an investor could actually understand. Surely you can help. Our federal agents caught that cool conversation where your man in Yonkers was telling his wife that he’d be slipping her a document to take to South America and that there would be blank pieces of paper on which he would write in “invisible.”

Boon to Capitalists

We in the U.S. almost always leave a few pages blank at the end of our prospectuses anyway, and I can’t help but think that it would be a boon to capitalism, and to your contact-making on Wall Street, if you could help our guys keep those risk sections invisible long enough to get the deals done.

-- Offer your assistance to some of our regulators. This, after all, is how our Master Ponzi Guy Bernard Madoff turned himself into a Teflon man, and it could work for you, too.

You Russians put so much energy into hiding from the authorities, but in America, you can hide in plain sight. Over the years, when our regulators were putting together committees to discuss which way to go on securities industry policy, Madoff or members of his family often had their hands up first to volunteer. Madoff even sat on advisory committees for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

There must be a spot for some experts to help the stock cops on matters of Russian markets, and I’d suggest you make yourselves available. Please don’t be offended if, while working at the SEC, you should pass a computer screen or two and see the photos of your very own, scantily clad Anna Chapman pop up while staffers are porn-surfing. It has been very stressful for the people charged with keeping our markets safe since our financial crisis began, and they have had to utilize every possible opportunity to release all that pressure.

(Susan Antilla is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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To contact the writer of this column: Susan Antilla in New York at santilla@bloomberg.net

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