This article originally appeared at Off Guardian
Part one of our “Guardian Russophobes” series.
Luke Daniel Harding (born 1968) studied English at University College, Oxford. While there he edited the student newspaper Cherwell. He worked for The Sunday Correspondent, the Evening Argus in Brighton and then the Daily Mail before joining The Guardian in 1996. He was the Guardian’s Russia correspondent from 2007-11.
Aside from his more publicly known achievements, it’s worth noting Harding was accused of plagiarism by Mark Ames and Yasha Levine of the eXile for publishing an article under his own name that lifted large passages almost verbatim from their work. The Guardian allegedly redacted portions of Harding’s article in response to these accusations.
According to his own testimony, Luke Harding is the guy who realised he was in the siloviki cross hairs one day when, during his stay in Moscow as the Guardian’s bureau chief, he came home and found one of his bedroom windows open.
A less situationally-aware person would have made the fatal mistake of thinking one of his kids or his wife had done it, or he’d done it himself and just forgotten, or that his landlord had popped in to air the rooms (a bit of a tendency in Russia apparently). But Luke was sure none of his family had opened the window, because they always kept it closed. So it had to have been the FSB.
You see, Luke isn’t confined as we are by the constraints of petty mundanity. That was why it had been so clear to him, even without any evidence, that the FSB had murdered Litvinenko. And that was why Luke took one look at that open window and realised the entire Russian intelligence machine was out to get him…
The dark symbolism of the open window in the children’s bedroom was not hard to decipher: take care, or your kids might just fall out. The men – I assume it was men – had vanished like ghosts.
And that was only the start of the vicious campaign that was to follow. Tapes were left in his cassette deck, when he knew he hadn’t put them there. An alarm clock went off when he knew he hadn’t set it. Luke was filled with ”a feeling of horror, alarm, incredulity, bafflement and a kind of cold rational rage.”
Things developed rapidly. Luke went to visit a woman called Olga who warned him to take care, because he was “an enemy of Putin.” He was sure someone had hacked his email account. Whenever he said the name “Berezovsky” his phone line would go dead, so he started using the word “banana” instead.
A person from the Russian president’s office called and asked for his mobile number. Unable to imagine a single good reason why a Russian government official would need a cell phone number for the Guardian’s Russia bureau chief, he refused.
That wily Putin wasn’t going to catch him that easily. The game of cat and mouse had begun.
A middle-aged woman with a bad haircut knocked at his door at 7am, and walked away when he opened it. Had she just gone to the wrong door? Of course not, it was the FSB taunting him. At the airport on his way back to London a man with a Russian accent (in Moscow!) tapped him on the back and told him there was something wrong with his jacket. Noticing the man was wearing a leather coat, which meant he must be from the KGB, Luke immediately rushed to the gents and took off all his clothes to find the “bugging device” the man had planted on him. He didn’t find one, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
When the Russian government launched its prosecution of Berezovsky for fraud, someone from the FSB phoned Luke and asked him to come in and make a statement about the interview he’d conducted with the man a short time before. They also advised him to bring a lawyer, which seemed sinister to Luke. A man called Kuzmin interviewed him for 55 minutes. Luke got quite thirsty, but wouldn’t drink the fizzy water he was offered, because he was pretty sure it had been tampered with. Surprisingly Kuzmin didn’t interrogate him as expected, but Luke decided this was because the FSB were trying to intimidate him. They probably didn’t need to do an interrogation, thought Luke, since they’d been breaking in to his flat almost every day for like – ever, switching on his alarm clock and probably also bugging his phone.
After the western-backed Georgian invasion of South Ossetia Luke was amazed to note there was widespread antagonism toward western journalists in Moscow. And the FSB just would not leave him alone. Worried by this “campaign of brutishness” he decided to keep a log of the dreadful things they were doing. Reading this we find not only did they continue to regularly open his windows, they once turned off his central heating, made phantom ringing sounds happen in the middle of the night (Luke couldn’t find where they were coming from), deleted a screen saver from his computer and left a book by his bed about getting better orgasms.
All this would have broken a lesser man. But Luke didn’t break. Maybe that’s why in the end, they knew they’d have to expel him like in the old Soviet days. Which is what they did. Well, they didn’t renew his accreditation, which is the same thing. They pretended it was because he didn’t have the right paperwork for an extended visa and offered him a short extension so his kids could finish up at school. But Luke knew it was actually a Soviet-style expulsion. Because Luke can always see the real game when most of us just can’t.
He demanded to know if President Medvedev had been told – personally – that Luke was going home. The person in the press department he was speaking to just sort of looked at him and didn’t say anything.
Luke was pretty sure he worked for the FSB.
So he went home, got on the lecture circuit and wrote a book all about his terrible experiences in Vladimir Putin’s neo-Stalinist hell. But just when he thought all his espionage problems were over, they started up again when he began his book about Edward Snowden.
This time it was the NSA, GCHQ and a host of other western agencies stalking him. The PTB obviously realised that Luke’s book would be much much more of a threat to national security than even Snowden himself, and did everything they could to try to stop him writing it. They followed him around (he knew they were agents because they had iPhones) and even used spy technology to remote-delete sentences from his computer – while he was typing them. Especially when he was writing mean things about the NSA. But after he typed “I don’t mind you reading my manuscript… but I’d be grateful if you don’t delete it”, they realised they’d met their match and stopped.
He wasn’t sure if the culprits were NSA, GCHQ or a Russian hacker, but one thing it definitely wasn’t was a glitchy keyboard.
I mean that would just be stupid.
After that feel free to complete the following questionnaire:
Is Luke Harding:
1: “the reporter Russia hated”
2: an “enemy of Putin”
3: a borderline psychotic paranoiac, whose narcissistic delusions have been deliberately encouraged and exploited by an intelligentsia that will use any old crap it can find to further its agenda
4: a bit of a tosser