Aside from the switch to color photography, there isn't much difference between Monday's arrest in Moscow, and Stombaugh's arrest in 1985. A successful intelligence operation can be a thing of beauty, the elegant result of serious training, planning, and execution. A compromised intelligence operation, on the other hand, in every respect looks like a bungling pratfall, a clumsy, amateurish misadventure that begs critical review. In my 30 years in the CIA, I had the full mix -- the elegant successes and a share of sad failures. It's part of the territory.
Every item a Moscow CIA officer carried to a clandestine meeting was necessary and thoroughly examined. Tolkachev had been told repeatedly that the money and the other things he demanded would immediately compromise him if anyone were to take note, but he was steadfast. Those things were part of the deal. And we bent over backwards for him: he was a completely vetted CIA asset, a man who had done so much damage to the Soviet Union that there was no question of his bonafides.
But even the best spies can be sloppy. When Tolkachev first attempted to volunteer his services to the CIA, his recklessness was harrowing -- dropping notes in cars with American diplomatic plates, or making entirely random approaches to American diplomats or, in one case, an Italian employee of the embassy in Moscow, to pass his letters.
The CIA was finally able to reach out directly to him by getting an officer, surveillance-free, to locate a phone booth near Tolkachev's apartment and call him at home. The call instructed him, that very moment, to go to the phone booth on the street and pick up a dirty glove he would find lying on the ground a few feet away. Then the CIA officer left the scene. Inside the glove were secret writing materials, a lengthy "Dear Friend" letter (not at all unlike the one Fogle was said to have been carrying) telling him how to prepare his answers to a list of scientific questions, and an accommodation address for him to mail his cover letter (with secret writing on the back) to Germany. He followed the instructions, and for the next six years became one of the most productive CIA agents of the Cold War. KGB counterintelligence never caught on to him until he was betrayed by the spies working in our own house. Adolf Tolkachev was tried and sentenced to the "exceptional measure of punishment." He was executed in October 1986.
I can't tell you what happened to Fogle in Moscow last Monday, I can't explain how he got sloppy or if he made mistakes at all. But I haven't seen much that makes me think much has changed from the way we, and the Russians, play the game. I for one, would be inclined defer judgment for the time being.