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Good spies make good neighbors

One of the mysteries of the alleged Russian spy ring is why its members were planted in the suburbs, especially if Moscow Center wanted intelligence on nuclear weapons, economic policy and political infighting.

A former U.S. spy suggested to The New York Times, "Maybe I end up next to a guy that is the minority staff director on some committee and we do barbecues, or I coach his kid in Little League? How can you lose?"

The staff director of a major committee, say, Appropriations or Armed Services, approached by a stranger would immediately be suspicious because he assumes that the stranger is a lobbyist and sooner or later will ask for a favor, especially if the stranger moves his kid from right field to second base.

The minority staff director of -- again, to pluck an example at random -- the subcommittee on legislative and budget procedures will be even more suspicious because no one ever talks to him about his work, not even his wife and especially not strangers.

There is a suspicion that maybe the reputed spies, like the Murphys of Montclair, N.J., settled a little too comfortably into the life of suburbia, the PTA and kid sports, and the success of the jobs that were supposed to be their cover. Ten of those arrested were charged not with espionage but with failing to do the correct paperwork to be a spy in this country. It's calling failing to register as a foreign agent.

A key reason they were not charged as spies, based on what we know so far, is that in the 10 years or so they were in the United States they never actually sent any classified information back to Moscow.

This must have resulted in some fascinating communications. We can guess at two:

(Decoded transmission)

Dear Boris and Ludmila, or should we say Richard and Cynthia:

We are in receipt of your last report via an embedded file. While it seems admirably detailed, the code is not one of the ones we instructed you to use. The counsel to the subcommittee on retirement and aging seems like a valuable source, but what does it mean: "He's after me to let his kid pitch, but Billy can't get the ball to the plate in less than two bounces?"

And this: "If anybody's getting into the starting rotation, it's Robbie. That boy's mom is a cougar."

And then you say you took the team to see the minor league New Jersey Jackals. Are these jackals, like we used to call the capitalists? We think it might be risky and even blow your cover if you revert to communist jargon.

You also have dates and what appear to be codenames -- Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, etc. Are these sources you're meeting with? And what is Little League? Is that like Little Boy, the codename for the first atomic bomb?

You must make every effort to get us details of the Americans' nuclear bunker-buster bombs. If you fail, we will have to consider recalling you.


Your friends at Moscow Center.

(Uncoded transmission)

Neighbors, friends, fellow members of the North Montclair Citizens' and Homeowners' Association:

Plans are well under way for the summer block party, so mark the date on your calendar. There will be a moon bounce, face painting and soft drinks for the kids -- sorry, no clown this year -- something a little stronger for the adults and hot dogs and hamburgers for all. If you can help grill, please call the missus, Cynthia Murphy.

And speaking of help, our daughter Katie needs some assistance with a report she's doing for her sixth-grade science class.

If your expertise runs to Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators, commonly called "Bunker Busters," she'd really like to hear from you, especially on whether the Pentagon is going to update the B61-11 or replace it altogether. Also whether the Air Force has successfully reconfigured the B-2 to carry RNEPs. It would turn her paper from good to great if she could include the results of the Los Alamos hardened concrete penetrator tests.

A final note: Be sure to retrieve your trash containers from the curb as soon after they're emptied as possible.

Thanking you in advance on Katie's behalf,

Richard Murphy,

Association president

-- McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at