Thursday,20 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)
Thursday,20 June, 2019
Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Playing the ‘Great Game’

The great game
The great game

What is going on in Washington DC is beyond comprehension. Imagine a huge playground with all sorts of games at your disposal — hide and seek, chutes and ladders, musical chairs, charades, card-games, tick-tack-toe — each group is playing a different game and no one knows what the other is playing.

Call it wire-tapping, hacking, leaking, surveillance, intelligence, counter-intelligence, it all comes down to the same thing: spying. One party is spying on the other, obtaining information considered secret or confidential, without permission.

This in short is called espionage and has been practised throughout history — since man discovered he had an enemy. It is mentioned in the Bible: “Joshua and Caleb and the 12 spies entering the promised land”. Ancient writings of the Chinese and Indian military strategists describe deception, subversion, secret agents, spies and assassins.

Ancient Egyptians had a thoroughly developed system for the acquisition of intelligence. The Hebrews used spies as did the Greek and Roman empires. The Moguls depended heavily on espionage in their conquests in Asia and Europe.

History is replete with stories of espionage, a practice inherently clandestine, unwelcome and illegal, punishable by law. Yet it continues to develop and enhance with the new techniques of the times. And it pops up in all areas, in industry, economics, politics, commerce, military affairs and now even in show-business and the world of fashion.

It never ceases, day or night.

What is shocking is that the Americans are themselves shocked that Russia was spying on them during their recent presidential elections. Has it not for decades, before the elections, after the elections and will continue ad infinitum? Have not the Americans spied on the Russians as well as on every other country, friend or foe?

Even allies spy on each other regularly. Accounts of Israel spying on America and vice-versa are abundant, often brow-raising, but everyone knows that is how it goes.  Why then are Americans so befuddled over the Russian spying, hacking or wire-tapping when there is no evidence that it influenced the result of the election?

A more important issue is how they are incredulous over the fact that before his departure Barack Obama ordered the wire-tapping of the Trump Tower. President Donald Trump got hammered by the media for suggesting that. Only now are they beginning to investigate the facts when a month ago in this very column we described details of the Obama effort to sabotage the incoming president. Not only was the Trump Tower wire-tapped, Obama lowered the traditional standard of “highly classified” material by the National Security Agency to be lowered to “classified”, allowing other agencies to have access to it resulting in more suspicion, doubts and rumours, by more people about the Russian connection.

It was none other than Obama’s own assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Evelyn Farkass, who admitted on TV, one month ago, that Trump was improperly surveilled. Why then is Congress in disbelief? Because their idol Obama is implicated. What a mess he left behind.     

If it is merely concern over Russia, why was the Clinton- Russo connection never fully investigated? Did not Hillary Clinton sell 20 per cent of the American uranium to the Russians, which was followed by a Russian donation to her foundation as well as a hefty fee to Bill Clinton of $500,000 for a lecture in Russia? Such are the games politicians play.

Dubbed as “The Great Game” by Rudyard Kipling in his novel Kim, written against the backdrop of the rivalry between Russia and Britain in Central Asia, espionage is a crime under the legal code of many nations.

Masters at the Great Game, the British gave it a touch of intrigue and romance. From a gentleman’s amateurish game they transformed it to a ruthless professional methodology for the achievement of military and political ends. Their love of conquest and domination was passed on to their major colony in the new world, the USA, along with their hatred of Russia.

By the late 19th century, modern tactics were developed by the British. The UK today maintains 19 government intelligence agencies for gathering information at home and abroad. While most of us are familiar with M15 (home intelligence) and M16 (foreign intelligence), we have often wondered what the M stands for. In fact the code-letter M stands for nothing. It is a fictional initial borrowed from James Bond’s boss in Ian Fleming’s famous novels whose name was Mansfield Smith Cumming. Indeed there is an M1 to M19… M1 stands for code-breaking, M19 for POW debriefing.

The US has 17 government intelligence agencies, best known are the FBI and the CIA. They are allowed to use clandestine means of bugging, subversive software, breaking and entry and other electronic systems, used in many countries. They have toppled several regimes like Pakistan, Guatemala, Cuba, Iran and Egypt.

Not to be outdone, Europeans established their own rules for the Great Game.

The Austrian Empire founded the “Evidenzbureau” in 1850, the French the “Surete Generale”, and the Germans their “Abteilung”, both in 1889 followed by the Italians and their “Ufficio Informazioni dei Commando Supremo” in 1900. Was it World War I they were getting ready for?

The dreaded KGB was established in 1953, and dissolved by Yeltsin in 1991, but the Russians are not without their Foreign Intelligence Service among others.

Playing the Great Game comes with a great price which some of us refuse to pay.

I will guard my way that I may not sin with my tongue;

I will bridle my mouth so long as the wicked are in my presence.”

Sun Tzu (sixth century BC)      

add comment

  • follow us on