MOSCOW - All that low-tech equipment that Russian security officers displayed for the TV cameras after detaining Ryan Fogle, American diplomat and alleged spy, made it look as though he stepped right out of the annals of 1980s Cold War espionage.
Now, the Interfax news agency is reporting that the wigs he allegedly had with him match a wig seized from Michael Sellers, a U.S. diplomat kicked out of the Soviet Union back in 1986. That wig is in the archives of the FSB, Russia's Federal Security Service. Citing sources, Interfax speculated that the CIA has used the same wig supplier down through the decades.
It may be a way to stifle doubts that the paraphernalia supposedly found on Fogle on Monday night was in fact genuine. It all looked a bit goofy. A compass? A street atlas? And the whole sequence of events is reminding some Russians of a popular Cold War miniseries here, about KGB agents thwarting Western spy plots, that was called TASS Is Authorized to Declare. . ..
Now, it's Interfax that's authorized to declare.
Russia doesn't always give accused spies such a public send-off. An FSB officer told a television news program Wednesday that a CIA officer, identified as Benjamin Dillon, had been quietly expelled in January. He said that Russian officials had complained at the time to Americans about recruitment efforts here.
The FSB say it has been following Fogle for the two years he worked here, Interfax reported Thursday. It said he left the embassy Monday in the back of a car, wearing one of his wigs, then changed to the other wig and a new set of clothes when the car stopped at a service station. He was detained while allegedly on his way to meet a contact.
His case became a big item on Russian TV, in a way that seemed calculated to embarrass the United States. The simple spy equipment, the shaggy wigs and especially a highly incriminating letter that Fogle was allegedly carrying - with its promises of up to $1 million a year, it has been compared to a Nigerian Internet scam - created plenty of merriment. But was it planted on him to heighten the ridicule?
The derision that has been directed at the wigs is in decided contrast to what happened after the detention of Sellers back in 1986. He had a wig and a fake mustache; the disguise was so convincing that his captors didn't realize who he was until they were in the car on the way to KGB headquarters and one of them ripped the mustache off.
Now history repeats itself, but maybe as farce.