Byline: Tara McKelvey
The coolest gadgets, the stealthiest agents, and more country-by-country comparisons from the world of espionage.
This week, President Obama nominated John Brennan, currently his counterterrorism adviser, to run the CIA. Brennan's hiring aside, it hasn't been a great few months for the CIA: first, there was David Petraeus's sex scandal; then, more recently came word that the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating whether the CIA gave too much access to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty. All this drama surrounding the CIA got us wondering: How does it compare to other agencies around the world on various measures of spycraft? And which agencies have historically excelled--or conspicuously failed--at particular tasks? Here, a highly unscientific and purely anecdotal guide.
The Russians created an umbrella that shot defector Georgi Markov with a ricin pellet in 1978. They also allegedly poisoned Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 by slipping a radioactive isotope into his tea in a London hotel, according to media reports.
In 1992, a Kurdish politician, Sadegh Sharafkandi, was gunned down in a Berlin restaurant, one of several dozen Iranians killed abroad under orders from the Supreme Leader.
In 1988, Israeli commandos entered the villa of PLO leader Khalil al-Wazir in Tunisia carrying a box of chocolates (it contained a gun). They shot and killed him. In 1996, a cellphone blew up, killing Hamas bombmaker Yehiyeh Ayyash; security experts believe the Mossad was responsible. And agents working for Israel, including one on a motorcycle, have reportedly killed four nuclear scientists in Iran.
Source for the deaths of nuclear scientists: Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars, By Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman
For decades, the chief of MI6 was known only as "C." The Brits have been stealthy in other ways, too. Working at Bletchley Park during World War II, code-breakers unraveled the mystery of the German Enigma cipher machine, though for decades afterward none of them would talk about what they had done. Years later, MI6 managed to recruit Oleg Gordievsky, an official who had been working at the Soviet embassy in London, and with his help got hold of hundreds of reports about his colleagues.
In 2010, a Mossad agent, carrying a tennis racquet, was caught on video before allegedly killing a Hamas official in a Dubai hotel. Back in the 1990s, Mossad agents poisoned Hamas's Khaled Mashal in Amman, Jordan--then got caught. Embarrassed, Israeli officials ended up giving him an antidote for the poison. He survived.
Pakistan's ISI has been clumsy about double-crossing: they've allegedly worked with a terrorist group, the Haqqani network, that kills Americans in Afghanistan--and word has gotten out.
Anna Chapman--dubbed 'Red' Head by the New …