Last weekend I finally got the time to catch up on a number of projects that were hanging over my head, and among the things that I desperately needed to get done was to write a column for the Faster Times on the biggest drama of the summer: photographer spies and terrorist patsies.
Were several freelance photographers secretly spying for the Russian government? Did Russia plant a bomb at the U.S. embassy and other locations? We don’t know, what we do know is that these two much ballyhooed cases have provoked serious questions about the Georgian government’s credibility.
When I first contacted journalists and NGO workers in Georgia about coming to this country in the summer of 2009, most said that it was poor timing.
“Everyone’s on vacation, it’s too hot to work, so, nothing really happens in Georgia in the summer,” they said, “except the occasional war.”
Still that was enough for me to buy the one-way ticket and I am now moving into my third eventful summer in the South Caucasus.
This year, while the Western world was gearing up for barbeques and summer movie blockbusters, Tbilisi was host to a fascinating spy scandal involving three freelance Georgian photographers. Two of them worked directly for the government, including one who was the president’s personal photographer. They were accused of being paid to transmit sensitive government documents – including the minutes of ministerial meetings, blueprints of government buildings, official itineraries, etc. to another country.
Meanwhile, more details emerged about a series of mysterious explosions the previous fall that had rocked Tbilisi – actually “rocked” is a bit of an overstatement. All of the devices were small, causing hardly any damage and no one in Tbilisi seemed to pay much attention to them.
Either way, it has been an interesting, if swelteringly hot, couple of months.
On the explosions, I actually happened to be at the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi to interview the ambassador the day after the strange explosion occurred outside their walls. Although I was there to discuss IDP issues, I asked every aide and employee at the place what they thought it was all about. Most shrugged, figuring it was some local digging for copper, who accidentally struck a natural gas line, or perhaps some sort of odd practical joke. Who knows. These things happen in Georgia (in March, a Georgian pensioner allegedly cut off the internet for a significant portion of the South Caucasus – including nearly all of Armenia – while scavenging for buried cables).
To continue reading, click here.