Out of Russia: The name is Bond, the game is spying

Click to follow
MOSCOW - Not even Kim Philby had enough zing. Karla might have helped drum up business in London. But not on Shevchenko Embankment overlooking the half-frozen Moscow River, behind two shimmering steel doors guarded by a man in camouflage fatigues.

Russia's home-grown spooks never had a chance. 'We needed someone more international,' explains Eugene Tenser, Moscow entrepreneur and pioneer of what promises to be a booming business. Mr Tenser and his partners opted for the obvious name: '007 in Moscow.'

From Russia with Love, it is not. From everywhere else but Russia. The only thing Russian on the premises, rented from municipal authorities much to the chagrin of snooty neighbours, are two tall blonde sales assistants, one in a black Chanel suite dangling gold baubles, the other in black tights and a cashmere sweater. The merchandise is all imported: electronic bugs the size of cigarette lighters, stash canisters disguised as Turtle Wax fabric cleaner, briefcases with high-voltage handles and telephone scramblers that turn conversation into a baby squealing. All this from purveyors of paranoia in America and gizmo-makers of Asia. Sent not with love, but very high price-tags (denominated in dollars but collected in roubles).

Who buys? 'We don't know exactly who they are. Many work in security, I think,' says a slightly sheepish Mr Tenser. 'If they don't say anything we don't ask. Not many want anyone to know they came here.' From the outside the shop looks like an expensive sex parlour.

Get past the armed guard dressed for jungle combat standing in the snow outside, though, and the seediness vanishes. Or at least changes. I've never seen such a spotless floor. A sleek middle-aged man was buying a pair of electronic bugs and a receiver. He wore a silk tie adorned with plump red cherries. Next to him stood his bodyguard. He splashed out 2.15 million roubles ( pounds 1,200) in cash. 'Personal use,' he said when asked what he would do with the purchase. Could he be more exact? 'I don't think anyone in this shop will tell you anything exactly.'

'007 in Moscow' thrives on mistrust. Businessmen, says Mr Tenser, must protect their secrets and uncover those of rivals. Families too: husbands who want to spy on their wives, or wives on their husbands. Mr Tenser practises what he preaches. A camera hangs from the ceiling. All the goods are locked in cases built into the wall. Aside from an assortment of batteries, about the cheapest item is a pair of handcuffs at dollars 5.60.

At the other end is a dollars 4,600 briefcase video kit, fitted with a camera that, thanks to a hole in the side and a radio receiver, can be operated by remote control. The most popular item is a dollars 3,000 deluxe bug detector. Protecting information, says Mr Tenser, helps protect lives, a good sales pitch in a city where businessmen are murdered nearly every day.

The KGB may have changed its name, gone into business, and sent former agents to work as security guards, but it still has trouble selling itself. And so James Bond gets a shop named after him. Russia's most popular agent, Major Pronin, is regarded as a blundering idiot. 'How can you name a shop after him?' asks Mr Tenser. 'No one would come.'