MOSCOW – A couple of wigs, sunglasses and a compass? Really?
Some of the items Russian authorities say they seized from a U.S. diplomat who they accuse of spying look like they came from Austin Powers’ arsenal rather than James Bond’s.
But while the old-fashioned items might seem clownish or reminiscent of Cold War intrigues, they could in some ways be more useful than many modern gadgets, experts say.
Bob Ayers, a former U.S. intelligence officer, said disguises and cash drops have long been staples of the spy world, but cautioned that even an old mobile phone could undo an effort to get off the grid using a compass and map. He added: “You can’t assume that every agent always acts in a rational way.”
Here is a look at the items that Russia’s Federal Security Service, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, proudly displayed as trophies after grabbing the American:
A blond one and another equally fluffy dark one, the wigs offer a quick and efficient disguise. But there is one small problem: While they might help you get lost in a marijuana-loving crowd in Amsterdam, they would instantly draw attention to you on the streets of Moscow, where most men sport crew cuts. That said, Ayers noted that even a bad wig can make it tough to follow someone via CCTV cameras.
Another tried but true way to quickly change appearance. One of the three pairs, the one in dark plastic, appears to have transparent or only slightly tinted lenses. An attempt at a professorial look?
PILES OF CASH
A generous advance to encourage a would-be agent. The currency is euros, which most Russians these days prefer as an illicit cash reward or a bribe.
Contains detailed instructions for a would-be agent about secure communications and future meetings. Also promises a $100,000 advance and a $1 million annual reward for “long-term co-operation.” The mention of dollars as the currency of payment in the letter curiously differs from the euros in the actual cash.
MAP OF MOSCOW
A conservative means of finding your way in the age of Google maps. But think about it: using a digital map application on your cellphone could make you more vulnerable to anyone shadowing you.
The essential complement to the map.
A must for those who love to lurk in dark corners. It also could help protect you from falling into a pit on one of those badly paved and poorly lit Moscow streets.
An old but reliable Nokia model that boasts good battery life. Equipped with a hands-free cord. Ayers cautioned that the user would need to remove the battery when they wanted to avoid being tracked.
There are two, each belonging to a different Russian mobile phone operator. SIM cards are exchangeable identity chips used in cellphones, and they can be obtained anonymously in Russia.
Helpful if you live a life of adventure. Or even if you don’t.
PEPPER GAS CANISTER
May offer some degree of protection in the Russian capital, especially against the stray dogs.
Conveniently has a smaller pocket knife, a small flashlight and what could be a radio scanner attached.
A couple of ordinary looking batteries – or something disguised as such?
Contains some scribbled handwritten notes.
A protective sleeve that prevents anyone from reading private information from credit cards and other items.
Maybe it’s just a lighter.