The Atlantic

Maria Butina Is Not Unique

For years, countries including Russia and China have used their citizens who study in the U.S. as an intelligence-gathering resource.
Source: AP

Maria Butina, the gun-toting Russian graduate student who pleaded guilty in late 2018 to conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent, creates a media frenzy every time she opens her mouth. Lost in the noise so far, however, is the fact that Butina may be one of many. For years, countries including Russia and China have regarded their citizens who study in the United States as an intelligence-gathering resource.

One thing the public should know about Butina is that she was not a “spy” in the traditionalin a piece published on Monday, “If I’m a spy, I’m the worst spy you could imagine.”) Her job, if the allegations are true, was to use her wits to gain access to organizations and individuals of particular interest to Moscow and to provide information to the real spies who might leverage that knowledge to promote Russia’s agenda. Another thing to know about her is that, whether by training or accident, she was spectacularly successful. Her handlers could not have imagined that she would be able to establish a working relationship with the National Rifle Association, pose for pictures with prominent politicians, and even ask foreign-policy questions of Donald Trump when he was a presidential candidate.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic5 min read
Downton, Downton, Revolution
The new Downton Abbey movie is a drug, a delight, a palliative for the pain of being, a balm for battered emotions, a cure for cynicism. Well, almost. After two hours mainlining Carson’s beetling eyebrows, the Dowager Countess’s caustic comebacks, Mr
The Atlantic4 min read
Jojo Rabbit, Joker, and 5 More Movies to Look for This Fall
The second half of the Toronto International Film Festival featured some of the most hyped new titles of 2019.
The Atlantic3 min read
How The Cars Upgraded Rock and Roll
The late singer Ric Ocasek conquered the mainstream with oddball energy and an understanding of how machines can amp emotions.