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A Spy Story: Sergei Skripal Was a Little Fish. He Had a Big Enemy.

“He missed Russia,” said Ross Cassidy, a burly former submariner who became one of his closest friends. Lisa Carey, another neighbor, observed the Russian on his daily rounds, walking to the Bargain Stop in his tracksuit to buy scratch tickets.

“He used to boast about being a spy, and we would all laugh at him,” she said. “We thought he was mental.”

He did have secrets, though. Mr. Skripal traveled regularly on classified assignments organized by MI6, offering briefings on the G.R.U. to European and American intelligence services. Such assignments may be devised as a way to keep a former spy busy, said Nigel West, a British intelligence historian. It is not unusual, he said, for defectors to feel bored and underappreciated, something he called “post-usefulness syndrome.”

“Case officers are very aware of it,” Mr. West said. “When the time comes, and they say ‘Don’t call me, I’ll call you,’ you may well say, ‘I’ve got something very interesting to do.’ That’s what tends to happen. Their status has been slightly exaggerated and enhanced, and they start swallowing their own bathwater.”

Contacts with fellow intelligence officers took him back to the old days. He made repeated visits to consult with the CNI, the spy service in Spain. He traveled to Estonia and the Czech Republic, among other places.

“Basically they were meetings of people from the same field who used to sit on opposite sides,” said a European intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to characterize Mr. Skripal’s 2012 visit to Prague. “They had lunch together. It lasted for hours. It was great fun.”

The British government, which helped arrange Mr. Skripal’s assignments, has said nothing about them, and British espionage experts shrug them off as unremarkable lectures. But it remains unclear what information Mr. Skripal was passing on. And Russian officials may have been more judgmental than their British colleagues suspected, said Aleksei A. Venediktov, editor in chief of the Moscow radio station Ekho Moskvy, which has reported extensively on the case.

Source: NYT > World

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