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| ART BUCHWALD

The Changing Face of the Espionage Game

May 04, 1999|ART BUCHWALD

The recent spy scandal concerning a Chinese nuclear scientist at Los Alamos, who pilfered all our atomic secrets, changed the spook profession forever--not only in nonfiction, but fiction as well.

In the past, the main character would be a retired British agent named Willow, who was living with his former secretary, Blondie. Willow is visited by M, the head of S-1. "We believe a foreign power has infiltrated our nuclear laboratories at Blemish. You have to come in from the cold before they destroy the world."

Willow puts on his dirty raincoat and goes out to find his quarry.

He first goes to see Chang Chang, the owner of the China Doll restaurant. He asks Chang if he has seen anyone in the restaurant with atomic secrets.

Chang says, "I saw Wei Chow this morning. He was microfilming mathematical formulas in wonton soup and asked me when the last mail pickup was."

Willow goes to Wei Chow's house, and just before Wei mails the microfilm to an acupuncturist in Shanghai, Willow shoots the spy dead.

Now that's the old version of the story. The modern version is M sends an e-mail to Willow that says, "Someone is stealing all our secrets."

Willow replies, "I read you. As soon as we can figure out his password, we'll put a virus in his hard disk and make him crash."

Willow goes through the files that have been transmitted from Oxford to Beijing. He discovers a pattern. All the messages sent out are labeled "Atomic Secrets--Choose One From Each Column."

Willow stays at his computer for a month. He is certain that his man is Wei Cheng.

Willow sends a fax to M, who raids Wei Cheng's apartment, where he takes an ax and destroys the computer before Wei Cheng can blow up the world.

At the end, looking wistfully at his trench coat, Willow says to Blondie, "The spying business isn't as much fun as it used to be."

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