The return of the Russian spy

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The World's Alex Gallafent on how Americans ? and Hollywood ? may be rejoicing that Russian spies are back.

DAVID BARON: So again, Russians and Americans are facing off over spying allegations. And it may be that we can all use a little Cold War nostalgia. Here's The World's Alex Gallafent.

ALEX GALLAFENT: Author Gary Shteyngart spent the first seven years of his life in Russia before moving to the U.S. He says the United States has always been, and will always be, the main object of Russia's attentions.

GARY SHTEYNGART: Growing up there were slogans, "let's beat the U.S.A. in the production of milk and meat".

GALLAFENT: And so it makes sense to Shteyngart that Russia would still operate spies here, even if the stakes don't feel as high as they once were. After all, the charges don't detail much in the way of high level access and relations between the U.S. and Russia, we're told, have been reset. So among the juicier allegations in the written charges is that one of the accused couples tried to persuade their Russian handlers to let them purchase a suburban house.

SHTEYNGART: They send these people and all they want to do is have mortgages and you couldn't think of a better Hollywood script.

GALLAFENT: Maybe not, but it's not as if Hollywood hasn't tried. Take "Little Nikita" from 1988 starring Sidney Poitier as an FBI agent and River Phoenix as a seemingly all-American teenager.

MOVIE: His entire life is a lie. Your parents are Russian spies, KGB agents, sleepers they are called. Deep cover. No one's been in touch with your parents for 20 years.

GALLAFENT: Stirring stuff. And it made sense in the seventies and eighties when paranoia about reds under the bed was still very much in the air even after the beginnings of detente. In more recent times, we'd kind of forgotten about Russians as boogeymen, but the Russians hadn't forgotten the old spy game says Gary Shteyngart.

SHTEYNGART: It's kind of almost adorable in a sense because all they probably learned in the end, I don't know what damage they've done in terms of contacting nuclear scientists, but I think more than anything they figured out that the mortgage rates in the U.S. are much more favorable than they are in Russia.

GALLAFENT: Our attitudes towards the Russian threat have softened down the years. New threats and fears have taken their place, for painfully obvious reasons. Today's boogeyman is the Islamic extremist. As the second season of the TV show 24 presented things, he too could be living next door, plotting in this case, a way to explode a nuclear bomb in L.A. In this scene, an American father and daughter talk about a man who's about to marry into their family.

FATHER: Why is it you can't trust Reza? I can't believe it's because he's from the Middle East.

DAUGHTER: Dad, you brought me up better than that. I don't know, it's something else.

GALLAFENT: That's TV, but there have been plenty enough real life examples of alleged Al Qaeda cells in American cities to provoke a few nightmares. So perhaps we can take strange comfort from the return of the Russians. After all, on the evidence so far, not least the desire to buy a home, this group of spies may share some American values. It's enough to make you nostalgic for the good old days of Cold War espionage. So, here's a final clip from the 1987 movie "No Way Out". Kevin Costner plays a U.S. Navy officer assigned to the Pentagon. At the very end, spoiler alert, he's revealed to be a KGB mole when he meets his Soviet handler.

MOVIE: It's been very long for me.

GALLAFENT: For us too Kevin, for us too. For The World, I'm Alex Gallafent.