The ‘Russian spy ring’ story is playing out as a return to the cold war, with the female spies being labelled Bond girls or femme fatales. And like the Bond stories, the narrative seems to suggest a controlling force back in Russia, and controlled agents and ‘sleeper cells’ who can be switched on where necessary, much like the baseball player in Naked Gun. In this analysis everything the person does is part of the cover story, hence this quote:
Their friends and neighbours today expressed surprise and shock at their double lives: some of the accused even had children with each other. (Guardian)
But why are these conspiracy theories and the idea of single-minded evil at all necessary. Perhaps this couple were a couple before they even thought about spying. Maybe one became a spy and then the other, or perhaps only one did the real spying but they both took a wage.
More pertinently, some of the career paths that have been mentioned should be seen as incidental to the spying, as opposed to being wholy to facilitate the spying. The ‘glamorous’ Anna Chapman appears to have married a Brit, worked at Barclays, divorced, worked for other financial companies and set up a successful property business. Now unless the Russian government has ways of getting her a job and building the business, she must have put a lot of effort into this (one also imagines she earned more from this work). Was all this career in the hope that she would find herself in the US in a legitimate job? It would have been much easier to give her a typing job in the embassy.
Similarly, Vicky Pelaez was a succesful journalist:
in the public spotlight for more than 30 years – first as a trailblazing TV reporter in her native Peru, and then as a reporter and columnist for New York’s own El Diario-La Prensa (Daily News).
Surely a more likely explanation is more like Our Man in Havana. Someone approached them and asked them if they wanted to earn extra money, they said yes, and started looking for information they could sell. They were probably approached for a number of reasons: in a good job so likely to know useful sources, living in the right place, some loyalty to Russia, contacts back in Russia, trusted. Perhaps they had a job interview at this stage, and some don’t get work.
There is no need for ‘cover stories’ and the idea that they have been trained since their teenage years until they are sent on their mission. Instead, some of them could be ordinary people living their lives, becoming spies and continuing with these same lives, with some spying tacked on. The best ‘cover story’ isn’t a cover story at all. Sadly this fails on the glamour, conspiracy, and evil registers, and so makes a dull story.