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A Shopping Bag

A Shopping Bag carried by Marx to contain his pocket litter and computer stuff, instead of a sleek despatch case, is deemed a means of dissembling, as his every move is watched and his perplexing message flow is constantly tapped and analyzed like a urine specimen, and he is flung into the slammer, interrogated interminably ad nauseam, later released unrepentant, and all the while a fog envelops all motives and the Swiss legal rights system blushes.

CHRISTOPH Marx looks like he might emerge from any central or northern European country -- nothing about him, his hair or eyes or build or voice, that would stand out from the crowd, unless you knew him rather well, this all being another aspect of the perfect spy that I forgot to inject into my earlier description of the phenomenon.

A close scrutiny would discover subdued marks of distinction, excellent thin-rimmed tinted half-glasses, informal clothing that is well-made and fits him, a careful unhurried gait. He endures cold well and therefore appears under-dressed in the wintertime. His inconspicuous manner of dress, like his manner of speech, contrasts with his fervent opinions: grey over all is the impression given -- the sturdy comfortable shoes, plain trousers, a sport shirt and a zippered jacket, pale blue eyes, pale general coloration and his hair neither thick nor thin, neither dark nor blonde, of no especial color, neatly but not sleekly groomed.

His figure is ordinary, hardly tall, a little heavy, not athletic by appearance or by activity, yet sprightly when it came to leaping over a brook or climbing a rocky slope.

Thus nothing extraordinary might be deduced from his appearance or manner, except the perfect consistency of this fact in itself, which, you must admit, is a rarity.

His speech in the several languages that he commanded maintained a nonchalant and moderate tone. It could sound complaining on occasion.

He joked, especially did he pun, but without lifting his voice and when he laughed he did not laugh long or loud.

Marx carries a shopping bag. Yes, usually a plastic one from the Basle Coop. I have found after sixty years of searching that the shopping bag, the cheaper and stronger the better, is as close to the kangaroo's pouch as we shall achieve in our present species configuration.

Marx has discovered the same, possibly from hanging around Americans and Canadians but perhaps because he has adopted a revolutionary view toward philosophy, education, publishing, ancient history, morals, religions, public policy, automobiles, archaeology, linguistics, scientific historiography, and so on, and therefore it is as nothing to decide to carry a shopping bag to transport your things instead of the pretentious despatch cases that have grown more and more costly and slick over the years but never can compensate for their basic disadvantages, to wit, they don't hold odd shapes and they don't hold enough, and you have to set them up and manipulate them to open and shut them.

There was a time when the disparity between despatch case and weapon configurations became so disaccommodating that spy fiction writers began to redesign relevant weaponry and the way that guns and bazookas had to be taken apart, reminding one of the Japanese and East Indian painters of olden times who had such spacious imaginations of the joys of sex that they began to redesign women so as to accomplish the copulating poses that were expected of them.

But most Swiss -- forgive me for saying so, everyone knows it, and they admit it -- are pretty square. They wear suits and ties and shined leather shoes and if ever you see anyone who stands out from the crowd, it's not likely to be a Swiss.

So, unsurprisingly, people always being prone to judge others by themselves, the Swiss police, and they are practically required to be the squarest of the square, found this "heavily damaging spy" walking about, and even having a rendezvous with the First Secretary of the Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics carrying a shopping bag. They probably didn't even think how uncomfortable the Russians were. They are not un-square, you know.

There could be only one conclusion: they, the Bundespolizei, suspected that the spies suspected that they were being followed, and that the spies figured that they, the Bundespolizei, would be thrown off the scent if the Swiss spy were to carry his stolen secret documents in an ordinary shopping bag.

Therefore, they the Bundespolizei had to keep their eye on the sack and at some critical moment photograph, witness, rush towards, snatch, confiscate, claim, grasp firmly, and the Chief Arresting Officer turn to the Assistant Arresting Officer and say "don't lose this" and deposit carefully as soon as one got to the station the bag, register its contents, give a receipt to the spy in question, which is taken back with the rest of his pocket litter when he is thrown into the slammer, and let it be known to the investigators, the judges, the press and all the world that this was no ordinary shopping bag but a device intended to conceal the true nature of the incriminating documents -- all of this charade having been elaborately rehearsed for days beforehand.

And to implicate, embarrass, humiliate, indict and condemn the culprit -- who brings shame on the very name Coop -- this inveterate shopper of the Coop who had found out that the Coop gave away the best bags for carrying around state secrets.

As it developed, there was nothing secret in the bag!

But wait. The bag had grown a third meaning, in addition to

its grocerial, cooperational, and constabulary detectional. The Russians had been to spy school and there Potiondy, a playful type, was encouraged into inventiveness, so, observing that Marx carried Coop shopping bags around, he urged him to use it to identify himself upon his first rendezvous with his, Potiondy's, successor to come.

Marx was used to the idiosyncrasies of clientele, and went along with the gag, especially since he would probably be carrying the bag anyway.

Still, as you see, the police, in a perverted way, were correct.

Now let us return to the scene of the arrest. You will recall how the Police Car came swooping down upon the startled Monsieur Marx and First Secretary Leonidov like "Les Deux Flics de Miami," ("Miami Vice" for those of you who watch the film in the original American language). I am supposing that Leonidov was surprised, but maybe he had been courteously informed beforehand. Mr. L. may have thought that Marx had done some shop-lifting as they passed through the Coop, for surely he would not believe that their passage through the super-market was owing to an intention to evade police surveillance. Or did he?

For that matter how did the police know that the suspects would ever emerge from such an attractive exposition of consumer goods, and don't they know that one of the favors often done for East European visitors is to help them shop among the bewildering displays of seductive consumer goods for things to bring home?

One might even ask oneself -- go ahead, you may -- whether the Russians were meeting him away from their offices not solely because of the security nuisance in passing him through the Soviet premises, nor because of shame at the poor furnishings there, nor because they wanted to get his help in buying and sending consumer goods back home, but because they liked the excuse to hang around the abundant displays of misdirected capitalist production.

Then the prosecutors held Marx for fifty-one days and released him only after Mr. L, who was taking his time about making his last-minute purchases, left the country. Why, it may be asked, was the arrest so flagrantly staged in the company of Mr. L, the notorious (at least now) Soviet Spy?

Would it not have been better to arrest Marx when he was alone, when no one was about who could run to the nearest newspaper office, so that the Soviets would remain calm and unsuspecting in the belief that Marx who was always on the wing anyhow had gone to Hannover or somewhere? As a matter of fact he had written me on March 5, "I'm now leaving for the Hannover CeBIT exhibition."

But suppose that the Prosecutors had discovered Marx upon questioning to be even in their eyes innocent. Would the Swiss Foreign Office then have apologized to the Russian Embassy for having rudely disturbed the innocent walk along the Rhine of their Diplomat? Would they have gone ahead and kicked out Leonidov anyhow?

So they must have known that Marx was not innocent, or thought that some major coup of espionage was in progress or imminent, or wanted to send a stark message to the Soviets not to hang around with Swiss nationals. Or thought to force the Russians into better behavior, to get them to content themselves with enjoying Swiss culture, and to pay no attention to economics, technology, computers, management practices, or the strange world of characters who had found a residence, or at least a numbered bank account, in Switzerland.

(When I was in Switzerland one time I needed to open a bank account and a guy at a desk simply asked me whether I wanted my name or signature associated with the account. I said yes and had my cheques printed. The account was also reported on my United States Federal Income Tax Form 1040, Part III, line 10, in case any internal revenue agents are reading these pages.

But if I hadn't reported it I wouldn't be saying this, would I? And if I had a second numbered account, anonymously, I wouldn't be mentioning that now either.)

You either trust somebody or you don't. Once a suspicion fouls the air, that's the end of it. Very few people, once their trust is disturbed, perhaps by no more than a slight twinge, are ever the same again. Only these blessed few can say, good, my suspicion is allayed, everything will be back to normal now.

Try this, just try it, a prick of suspicion voiced to a wife or husband. The sting of jealousy, and that's the end of Paradise. There will be the few who can return to their former calm, unruffled, bland belief, happy few! There will then be the vast majority who resort to every psychological trick in the archives to fool themselves, disbelieve themselves, suppress, repress, squelch, beat back suspicion; they learn in various degrees, from a slight lameness of character to a massive psychic incapacity, to cope with the feeling.

Then comes the sizeable minority who are aroused, who believe, are enraged, become relentless, implacable searchers for the truth, which, like the Star of Venus, they know is there to be revealed once they sweep the clouds away, and here among them are all the crimes committed, and from this group too come the dedicated spy-catchers.

So Don't Try It!

But who am I to go on about the subtle transformations of the mind of a secret agent?

Others have greater experience. Still, do you know, I am not aware of any important treatise written on this subject by a psychiatrist who has been employed in one of the intelligence agencies to interview and handle the depressing problems of the espionage agent. Such reports, if prepared, would be stamped Secret, of course, and never see the light of day. Unless they were leaked.

The bizarre aspects of the arrest of Marx are succeeded by further strange conduct on the part of the Prosecutors. His family, his office, his friends are not notified that he has been placed under arrest. His separated wife, Aglae, it is true, does not want to hear anything about him; but she is not entirely unconcerned.

Though he was in the city jail of Basle, the municipal police admitted to no record of him. Oddly they may have told the truth, for the special Basle police on his case had been assigned to the Federal police and did not have to report their machinations locally. So his children go about to the police and hospitals asking news of him and can be given none.

After a week they are told by the police (after repeated requests by the prisoner) and warned to silence. His business clients are left no messages. Marx has disappeared. Later they may be interrogated by the police.

If I had been there I would have been questioned, although I do not lend myself well to sinister inquiries. I am a kind of client, friend, colleague and associate. Do the police owe such as ourselves nothing?

The main point is this: the Soviet espionage apparatus was immediately alerted to the arrest of Marx, and was then given all the time it could possibly have needed to hitch up its pants and put on a necktie.

Hence, the secrecy must have been directed against the Swiss press, the family and friends of Marx, and the personal business interests of Marx, as a petty reprisal in the fearful atmosphere of spying.

I do not deny that it was also thoughtless. They acted as if to shut down a porn shop, or a speakeasy during the days of Prohibition in the States.

These things are done as a matter of course, unthinking of principle.

The next thing we know, a press release is distributed announcing the expulsion of Leonidov for engaging in political and economic espionage with the help of a Swiss businessman from Basle who is an unsuccessful computer shop proprietor and expert consultant. A person of average intelligence would take about fifteen minutes to discover the identity of the accused; a moron would take a little longer.

Two questions now: why is Marx branded as a spy without a court hearing or being allowed a reciprocal statement that might just as well be incorporated into the Prosecutor's press release? Does the Swiss citizen have to suffer public condemnation by the authorities without a hearing or a chance to respond?

Nor do I address myself to the extended period of incarceration without charges, of continuous interrogation, of the refusal to allow a lawyer or friends of the accused to assist the accused in any way, and to the destruction of an ailing business, which was all the accused had to live from.

Most of this would not be possible under the American legal system; most of it would disturb the stereotype, that a rule of law and due process of law and the protection of human rights are guaranteed as a matter of course in Switzerland.

Nonetheless, Christoph Marx conceivably might hale the Government of Switzerland before the European Court of the Rights of Man, adherence to which the Government is pledged. The most frequently invoked clause requires a proper administration of justice, what in America would be called due process of law. Other guarantees aim to protect the freedom to receive and communicate information, to conduct peaceful meetings and to associate with whomsoever one pleases. The right to move about freely, the right to enter and leave the country, and freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment are also assured by the Treaty. He would be unlikely to win, but the effects of the case might be impressive.

The second question is, why was a press release prepared at all?

There is no use asking the police to answer the question. What right do I have -- or anybody else -- to ask whether the authorities may or may not, should or should not prepare a nicely worded statement concerning the dismissal of a Soviet diplomat and the arrest and prolonged interrogation of a Swiss citizen? I would be told that it is none of my business -- and then what would I do -- create a scene, write angry letters -- to whom? -- denounce the Swiss and all things Swiss? That would be ridiculous. I have nothing against the Swiss or the country, no more than I have against any other land. The Swiss are very much like any other people, a slight prominence or deficiency in this or that trait or type.

Still, no one can prevent me from conjecturing, speculating, ruminating, guessing, calculating, imagining, and sniffing out what reasons may be behind the issuance of the press release, the contents of which I have already summarized for you. I concluded that its purpose was not to influence the espionage scene in any way.

Since the arrest was kept secret and there was no pressure from the media, the reason for the release could hardly have been embarrassment at being forced to disclose the story. Diplomats, furthermore, are often chased out of a country. It is a ho-hum commonplace of Swiss news.

If the release had simply declared that, for reasons that could not be revealed, the Soviet diplomat had been found persona non grata, no interest would have been aroused. They did not have to mention the elaborate scenario at all, unless,

a. they wanted to get Christoph Marx,

b. they were proud of their work, or

c. they were using Marx as a ploy.

Or all three!

Prosecution and police need favorable publicity for justifying their budgets and for maintaining respect for the forces of law and order. It could be, too, that they were proud of their work,

but if so I doubt that the self-congratulations are deserved.

Maxim #13: "Spy upon vitals, and counter-spy upon vital spies."

There is usually no connection between what is spied on and what should be espied. Technicians control the targets while police protect them, but the two become inevitably entangled, dissociated, and demoralized. It is impossible to educate everyone to security, while to the degree that everyone concerned gets frightened to death, the job being protected becomes inefficiently performed. Meanwhile the police choose to protect what impresses them or amuses them or pays them well or gives them larger budgets.

If one were to believe their figures!

The Swiss government claims that some 700 East European spies are working in the country and that alongside them labor some 1000 Swiss moles.

The First Secretary of the Embassy is an important diplomat and unless he is shadowed by a true covered agent in charge, he is the man who engages in, supervises, and reports on espionage activities. Would not then Marx be one of the most important spies in Switzerland, since his work is declared the grounds for the expulsion of a top diplomat?

But if this is the worst that the Soviets are doing in the way of espionage in Switzerland, the land is indeed blessed, and the Swiss ought well to attend to their national anthem, when it tells them,

"Sur l'autel de la patrie

(On the altar of the State,

Met tes biens, ton coeur, ta vie!

Place your goods, your heart, your life,

C'est le trésor precieux

This is the precious treasure

Que Dieu bénira des cieux.

Which God will bless from High.)

On the other hand, we have not exonerated Marx from contributing significantly to the treasures of bank, book, bar, and bedroom that have been spirited off to the Soviet Union. It is a practice of the Soviets to deal directly with their most important spies through their Embassy, and to use intermediaries for lesser agents. This practice, which is neglected from time to time, would then signal Marx as an important spy. It would then impress the Swiss police.

But why would the relationship between the first Piotr and the second Piotr on the one hand, and Marx on the other, be rendered obvious? Marx could have operated a radio, a code, electronic mail, a telex, a telefax, a computer modem connection, a computer junction, a special service with a computer, a messenger service, the flush box of a public toilet, a carrier pigeon, a silent dog whistle, a camel or a donkey.

At one of his meetings with Marx, Potiondy pulls out a Westinghouse transistor radio, "an old model". Here is how it works, he explained. There is a light in the amplifier. If you press this button in back three times, the light goes on. That means a signal is sent to my headquarters. Wait a minute, then repeat. If the light goes off our rendezvous is fixed. Where, when, with what variations -- not said.

Marx does not like the idea. You can call me by electronic mail or telephone, he says. (Besides, he has a low tolerance for behind-the-times technology.)

Why did Potiondy bring up such a silly idea? Answer(s):

a. He is a silly man.

b. He wants to evade the police phone bug.

c. He wants to evade the bureaucratic recording and

responding procedures at the Soviet offices.

d. He wants Marx' messages to come to some secret


e. He wants to draw Marx into his spy network. It would

be the best-looking item on his monthly report: new

spy planted with secret radio transmitter (too, he

will get finally some new equipment and his boss

will stop asking him why all this damned equipment is

not being used). It will also be more believable that

he will have to raise Marx's pay, which he can then

pocket for himself.

The Russians, in such cases, would hardly have wished to stroll around town and dine together in public places. Yet they did.

Who picked up the restaurant bill? If Christoph grabbed the check, he would be a conventional salesman. But he is unconventional in many ways, and anyway he is strapped for cash. If Piotr picked it up, he would be trying to get secrets out of Marx, or knew that Marx was broke. If they split the bill, they would be old-time professional collaborators. (This is what you would call a dead-end line of inquiry. But it has to be checked out.)

That leaves me with the suspicion that Christoph may have been a ploy whom the Swiss police had come to hate, and in accord with the sentiments expressed in their National Anthem (see above), they decided to sacrifice him on the altar of his fatherland.

The Swiss would have broken the cover of the main spy ring of Leonidov and wanted to get him out of the country in order to move in on the members of the ring; they wanted the Russians to believe that the Swiss were highly impressed by the Marx connection and that they were acting in terms of the Marx espionage gig.

Since they detested (de-spis-ed) Marx anyhow, they wouldn't turn a hair at violating his human rights, his rights as a Swiss citizen (whatever these might be), and his business confidences and commitments (although generally most considerate of such matters).

The only sop that they threw after Marx was to withhold his name from the press release that announced his detention and the heinous crimes that he had committed. It was, as I have said, quite useless as protection of his interests, and was done only to avoid a scolding by some judge in some future action at law, a patent subterfuge, but probably all that was needed under the weak surveillance exercised over the Swiss secret service.

Or was it that they had already been roundly scolded by an Examining Judge for having come before him with such a weak case and, therefore, to cover their asses, they had decided to avoid further complications by omitting his name from all discussions forthwith.

This did not hasten their closure of the case. By announcing that criminal investigation was continuing, they were enabled to withhold the passport of Marx, and to continue eavesdropping and postal surveillance. Finally Marx entered a formal appeal against police dawdling ("Trödelei"). After another couple of months, when to the delays of the police were added the delays of the Beschwerdedienst des Eidgenössischen Justiz- und Polizeidepartement (the name alone entails delay), his passport was handed over to him.

In the cantonal prison, Marx was treated as a "Detainee," not as an ordinary criminal, and there is much to be said for the life of such a jailbird. He had a private room with a toilet, a comfortable bed, the right to two shower-baths a week and a half-hour of outdoor exercise daily (which he often turned down), and three meals a day, at 6:30, 11:00 and 4:30, brought in by the cook or cook's helper. His cell was equipped with a radio and he was provided with a free newspaper every day.

He wore his own clothes, which he was allowed to pack along on the occasion of the search of his premises which he had to attend. (His captors were much disappointed that they found nothing in their search of his office and home. It was their first indication that it would be difficult to fix him a highly important spy and a key to a ring of spies.)

He read Buber's translation of the Old Testament, and a treatise on calendars, which inspired him to compose a new Perpetual Calendar along Quantavolutionary lines.

For their own sakes as well as his, his interrogators, never less than two, did not overwork themselves, and carried on their examination only during working hours. The questions and his answers would be banged out on a typewriter and at the end of the period he would be asked to sign each page as gospel fact.

I should mention, lastly, that his food was catered from the menu of the Railroad Station Restaurant of Basle, which as you all know (there was an article about it in the New York Times Travel Supplement just lately) is hardly brig-fare. He nevertheless chose to diet. Once we were in touch again, I asked him whether it was worth going to jail to lose weight, for a newspaper reporter had him claiming a loss of 45 pounds in 50 days. Since the reporter seemed skeptical, I was, too. Yes, he replied,

I can confirm, yes, solitary confinement is indeed the best method I have employed yet to lose weight at the rate of near to 3 kilos per week. I at once asked for a strict low-calory diet, which was readily granted, and except for one yoghurt and one apple per day I flushed everything else directly down the toilet comfortably included with the living quarters. I did in secret have to design a belt (and which I kept for a souvenir) from plastic yoghurt cover rims to keep my trousers up; and on my return I had to spend a first fortune on new clothes. But I consider the time well spent even in this respect, and it certainly needs less spiritual discipline than now that I'm outside and having gained some pounds back again; but I'm nearly sure now that a favorable result will stabilize in the end.

A remarkable accomplishment. I could not have done it. I would have felt so hungry, having little to do otherwise, that I would look forward with ravenous appetite to the next meal. I would have emerged at my eighty-nine kilos even on potato soup, which one of my boys found to be ugly-fat-making in a German jail.

Therefore, I become suspicious. There might be good reason to fast, other than building the body beautiful -- and Christoph's vanity was entirely mental as far as I had ever observed.

But if he were now to grow thinner by the day, without his jailers realizing how strictly he was dieting, or even if they knew that he was eating almost nothing, would they have not believed that he was on a hunger strike and that, if he became very thin,

they would be accused of torture, maltreatment, and starving their prisoner, always with the fear that he could announce his fasting as a hunger strike and reach the press with the news?

Could it have been the fact of his emaciation that led them to release him when they did rather than to hold him until the investigation would have been completed -- for they did say that it would go on even after his release. Whatever the motives, Marx's fasting was a brilliant maneuver, health-giving at the very least.

When I started to explain and expostulate upon this all to Filly, who has small patience with tergiversation, she said, "It sounds far-fetched to me!" Which tempted me to offer her a comfortable bench by the log fire of the Auberge de Presbytère down the street where I might in stupore vinis veritatis get her to acknowledge that, yes, it makes sense, it holds together, it is of a piece, the mosaic is perfect, the truth is whole, the truth is one, and it is one with Maat, too.

We have a ways to go yet, but you will see.


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