After unveiling the James Bond-like details of an alleged Russian spy conspiracy, Georgia has gone a step further with a gripping TV drama-documentary about the details of the alleged spy ring's operations. Secret messages sent via cheap Turkish flashlights-cum-radio receivers, chips installed in a mobile phone charger, coded messages encrypted in a song by the 1980s pop sensation Chris De Burg; this is just a short list of the alleged espionage antics uncovered by Georgian counterintelligence officials.
The Georgian Interior Ministry offered some details about the spy shocker at a November 5 news conference. Ministry officials said they had arrested 13 people, including four Russian citizens, on charges of supplying classified defense information to Russian intelligence services.
But this was just the trailer. The full premiere of the spy conspiracy was to appear in a prime time documentary aired by the government-friendly television station Rustavi-2.
The documentary, a mix of police footage, interviews and dramatization, told a story that nearly makes the Manchurian Candidate pale in comparison.
Secret meetings in a seaside hotel, infrastructure sabotages, explosions, recruitment of agents through threats and blackmail -- according to Rustavi-2 and the Interior Ministry, these are some of the dark workings of Russia's Georgian spy network. The only thing missing to qualify the documentary for a proper film noir was a femme fatale -- all the arrested suspects were men.
Tasked to undermine Georgian security, the men allegedly sent and received intelligence information through such methods as innocent-looking photos attached in an email. After using a special decoding software to process the images, the photos allegedly turned into a Microsoft Word file containing instructions.
One of the alleged agents reportedly used his mobile phone to record a performance of "Lady in Red" by Chris de Burgh this summer in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi. The agent then encoded a secret message into the multimedia file, and dispatched it via phone to Russian intelligence services, the Interior Ministry claims.
Messages were also supposedly transmitted through large camping flashlights/radio receivers which were popular in Georgia during the frequent electricity blackouts of the early 1990s.
Georgian counterintelligence officials learned all of this through a sleeper agent called Enveri, a former Soviet army officer who agreed to work for Georgia inside the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. The Russians gave Enveri papers containing decoding instructions. When treated with ultraviolet light, the paper would reveal a table of codes. For instance, “health condition is getting better” meant “resume fulfillment of tasks.”
The Russians, Rustavi-2 claims, were mainly interested in Georgia’s military reforms, procurements, and deployments, as well as cooperation with the United States and political developments in Georgia. One of the detainees, Gabriel Ustalishvili, confessed to have guided Russian attack helicopters during the 2008 war to a forested area where Georgian helicopters allegedly were hidden. The Russians then set fire to the area, which is part of Georgia’s National Borjomi Park .
Moscow so far has denied everything, but also issued a threat. Russian Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairperson Konstantin Kosachev asserted on November 5 that the Kremlin reserves the right to free Russian citizens detained by the Georgians by any means, including a military operation. “Those who makes such provocations should remember this,” Kosachev said.