23 January, 2006

Rock steady

Ever since I heard this break on the midnight news on Radio 4, I've been following each surreal, not to say preposterous, twist with mounting disbelief.

Almost 24 hours on, I'm still none the wiser as to how, or rather why, this sort of escapade was ever conceived as a realistic means of conducting foriegn policy. It's absurd! A British spy ring in Moscow is bad enough (is that The Saint theme tune I can hear faintly in the background?), but utilising a battered hollowed-out rock as a means of transmitting secret intelligence? Were they hoping they'd be mistaken for amateur archaeologists and left alone? Were all the phone boxes out of order a la Clockwise ("it's eaten the money! I haven't got any more money!")? Did they think they could dress it up as Rowan Atkinson idly rattling off one last Barclaycard advert for good measure?

The Prime Minister made the elementary mistake of revelling in the fact he hadn't known it was going on, boasting of how he'd only read it "on Teletext" this morning. That's no good! The PM should always give the impression they know absolutely everything, but be sure to never expand upon anything. It's the old maxim: never complain, never explain.

I like the quote from the intelligence tittle-tattler: "In this business nothing is unlikely. Don't dismiss anything out of hand because far more bizarre things have happened than a recording rock." I guess the essence of the whole affair is that clandestine operations against Russia, whether real or not, are once again being treated as significant and everpresent, which given the increasingly singular and - by today's standards - unconventional way it practices government (blowing up pipelines, or switching off gas supplies, or arguing with its neighbours, or closing down newspapers) summons up all sorts of potent echoes of former decades.

And all at a time when Russia is chairing the G8. I doubt we'll be hearing much about Africa during this particular stewardship. Unless it accuses the continent of exporting hollowed-out rocks.


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