1: Thinking with Imposters: The Imposter as Analytic

‘Our friends have been suggesting for quite a long time that we visit this wonderful city. [...] They have a famous cathedral there, Salisbury Cathedral. [...] It’s famous for its clock. It’s one of the oldest working clocks in the world.’

These words are from an interview with two Russian men on Russian state television news (Russia Today, RT) on 7 March 2018 (Figure 1.1).1 Their appearance followed an incident on 4 March 2018, when Salisbury resident Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were rushed to hospital. The authorities found traces of Novichok A-234, a nerve agent, at the scene. The two Russian men were subsequently named as suspects by British police and their faces splashed all over the news (Figure 1.2). The UK government took the bold step of accusing the Russian government of attempted murder and expelling several Russian diplomats. Then suddenly the two suspects appeared on TV. The interviewer asked them why they were in Salisbury and if they worked for the Russian Intelligence Services to which their cryptic reply was “Do you?”. When pressed about their actual profession they offered, “If we tell you about our business, this will affect the people we work with.”

The episode is intriguing because it prompts a whole series of open-ended questions about the identities and activities involved. An imposter is commonly understood as a person who pretends to be someone else in order to deceive others. Who, then, are the imposters here? Skripal was said to be a former Russian agent who worked as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services and had since been pretending to lead a normal life in exile.

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