Peter Hoskin

The mundanity of espionage

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And the most curious political story of the day has to be the one about Mike Hancock's 25-year-old parliamentary researcher, Katia Zatuliveter. If you haven't seen it already, she is facing allegations of spying for the Russians – and looks set to be deported as a result. It's the first time that a Commons employee has been arrested on charges of spying since the Cold War thawed out twenty years ago.

There's some lively colour in this tale, but the full picture is, as yet, shaded from view. For his part – as per the video above – Hancock has denied that Zatuilivter is a spy. But the only Cabinet minister to comment on the matter so far, Iain Duncan Smith, has said that the allegations have to be taken seriously. The main concern appears to be that, given Hancock's role as a member of the defence select committee, anyone working for him could have access to some fairly high-grade military chit-chat.

The parallels with the recent spy ring in America are striking, even if nothing has yet been proved in Zatuilivter's case. There, the Russian agents were operating in the lowest foothills of government. Here, the allegations centre on the assistant to a Lib Dem backbencher. The scramble for intelligence secrets may be heating up, as Fraser reports in his cover story this week. But it is, so often, far more mundane than Ian Fleming's back catalogue would have you believe.