News & Opinion | July 25, 2018 10:37 am

Was This Aspen Uber Driver a Spy?

An inquisitive Uber driver raises questions as top U.S. national security experts meet in Aspen.

(Getty Images)

Last week, the Aspen Security Forum brought together the most high-level national security experts in America. As GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe got into an Uber, a woman she calls Gloria started asking questions. They were pretty general at first, but then they took a sudden turn when Gloria asked about what’s going on in North Korea. Ioffe answered vaguely until Gloria said, “You know, I’ve been to North Korea.”

Ioffe said she looked up, startled, and tried to get more information from the woman, but she never did. Gloria continued to drive Ioffe and other journalists throughout the rest of the conference, and Ioffe writes that all of them felt suspicious that Gloria might be something more than just an Uber driver. Gloria recognized that Ioffe was from Russia, though Ioffe says she does not look particularly Russian or classically Slavic and her last name is not in her Uber profile.

Ioffe writes in GQ that she spoke to a myriad of journalists and security experts at the convention about Gloria.

“I don’t want to stoke the paranoia, but without knowing specifically what ‘Gloria’ was asking, and indulging in pure speculation—it’s not inconceivable that some intel service would commission someone like that to ‘find out what you can,’ ” John McLaughlin, the former acting head of the CIA and the unofficial mayor of the Forum, told her.

But then he continued: “Alternatively—and here I’m thinking of some of the NPR-addicted D.C. cab drivers I encounter in D.C.—it could simply be some smart person, well-educated and literate, who’s unable to get work in their country of origin and who is genuinely interested and curious for innocent reasons.”