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I haven't seen random events. AI seems pretty good but they also get a small bonus I suspect. Diplomacy is basic CIV style trading X for Y basic mechanic.
Spy's are a unit in the game to be moved and used to uncover research, production ques, etc... They can be captured and a Special Forces unit can potentially free them which is kind of neat. If they are uncovered for a particular country, they are arrested if they go back to that country. I wish each country had different units (or at least a path of soviet vs. us equipment), but its not that big of a deal. You do have a tech advancement tree to upgrade your units (night vision, smoke screens, AP rounds, etc..). Units also gain experience. --AOM