It perhaps says something about the odd way my brain has developed from those "Spy vs. Spy" years to recall that when the news was first announced I thought of Boris and Natasha. (pictured left).
The images from television, movies and books I read about Moscow versus London and Washington in dealing with real-lie espionage agents of course had at least a semi-serious entertainment value. Images of Sean Connery as the tough and wise-cracking James Bond, Michael Caine as the intrepid if slightly flawed Harry Palmer, and, on the lighter side, Don Adams as Maxwell Smart leap to mind.
Some authors wanted to make a stronger case about the seemliness of spy-craft itself and the sometimes ambiguous moral traps and personal problems spied had. Sober portrayals of cold war intrigue were offered up by John LaCarre in his George Smiley novels or Graham Greene in "The Human Factor", where one of his characters defects to Russia out of a personal favor done to him and his lover in South Africa by a KGB agent. Both LaCarre and Greene had served in British Intelligence.
But the earliest inkling in my memory banks that NATO nations and our former Friends in the East were having t each other came from a 1960's cartoon show called "Rocky and Bullwinkle". Rocky was a plucky flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle a dimwitted moose. They were two friends from Frostbite Falls, Minnesota who were frequently running up against the nefarious and short Boris Badenoff and his Amazonian partner and apparent girl-friend, Natasha Fatale.
Pictured here with their two-dimensional spymaster, known only as "Fearless Leader"(above) , this pair of idealized Russian spies set a path of ineptitude and total bad luck that made it rather hard for me and other kids I knew to properly take the Cold War spy-game with too much seriousness.
Parody like this, intended for both children and adults, only went to prove to me that the threats of international communism that had spread like wildfire in the America of the 1950's had been so overplayed that by the next decade it was clear the public wanted relief from such paranoia about "Reds under every bed" .
That the "heroes" of the espionage stories in the Rocky and Bullwinkle saga were none other than a rodent and a large cow-like dufus with antlers only heightened the sense that some politicians in Washington had gone too far in trying to make people stop thinking and just be afraid. This was one man's (Jay Ward, the producer) parody against blacklisting and the politics of red hysteria under men like Senator Joe Mc Carthy, Richard Nixon and others.
But now we live in a post-modern world where irony can pop up anywhere. The irony of Russian agents being sent to an America to gather information while posing as ordinary upscale citizens seems not only unnecessary (what do the Russians need to know about us? That Wall Street mortgage and hedge fund shell-gamers and con-men decimated the economy? That we can't get out of Afghanistan just as they couldn't? That our environment takes a backseat to our desire for natural resources? ) but daft.
Here's the "new Natasha", Titian-tress-ed beauty Anna Chapman, on a news-spot featuring a You Tube video she made before her arrest along with her husband and others..