Espionage (colloquially, spying) is the obtaining of information considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage can be committed by an individual or a spy ring (a cooperating group of spies), in the service of a government or a company, or operating independently. The practice is inherently clandestine, as it is by definition unwelcome and in many cases illegal and punishable by law. Espionage is a subset of "intelligence" gathering, which includes espionage as well as information gathering from public sources.
- Early history
- Modern development
- Military Intelligence
- Naval Intelligence
- Civil intelligence agencies
- Counter terrorism
- First World War
- Russian Revolution
- Targets of espionage
- Methods and terminology
- Industrial espionage
- Agents in espionage
- History of espionage laws
- Use against non spies
- Espionage laws in the UK
- Government intelligence laws and its distinction from espionage
- Military conflicts
- List of famous spies
- World War I
- World War II
- Post World War II
- Spy fiction
- Cold War era 19451991
Espionage is often part of an institutional effort by a government or commercial concern. However, the term is generally associated with state spying on potential or actual enemies primarily for military purposes. Spying involving corporations is known as industrial espionage.
One of the most effective ways to gather data and information about the enemy (or potential enemy) is by infiltrating the enemy's ranks. This is the job of the spy (espionage agent). Spies can bring back all sorts of information concerning the size and strength of enemy forces. They can also find dissidents within the enemy's forces and influence them to defect. In times of crisis, spies can also be used to steal technology and to sabotage the enemy in various ways. Counterintelligence operatives can feed false information to enemy spies, protecting important domestic secrets, and preventing attempts at subversion. Nearly every country has very strict laws concerning espionage, and the penalty for being caught is often severe. However, the benefits that can be gained through espionage are generally great enough that most governments and many large corporations make use of it to varying degrees.
Further information on clandestine HUMINT (human intelligence) information collection techniques is available, including discussions of operational techniques, asset recruiting, and the tradecraft used to collect this information.
Events involving espionage are well documented throughout history. The Old Testament of the Christian Bible, which is based primarily on the Hebrew Bible, speaks about Joshua and Caleb and the twelve spies when entering the Promised Land. The ancient writings of Chinese and Indian military strategists such as Sun-Tzu and Chanakya contain information on deception and subversion. Chanakya's student Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Maurya Empire in India, made use of assassinations, spies and secret agents, which are described in Chanakya's Arthasastra. The ancient Egyptians had a thoroughly developed system for the acquisition of intelligence, and the Hebrews used spies as well, as in the story of Rahab. Spies were also prevalent in the Greek and Roman empires. During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongols relied heavily on espionage in their conquests in Asia and Europe. Feudal Japan often used ninjas to gather intelligence.
Aztecs used Pochtecas, people in charge of commerce, as spies and diplomats, and had diplomatic immunity. Along with the pochteca, before a battle or war, secret agents, quimitchin, were sent to spy amongst enemies usually wearing the local costume and speaking the local language, techniques similar to modern secret agents.
Many modern espionage methods were established by Francis Walsingham in Elizabethan England. Walsingham's staff in England included the cryptographer Thomas Phelippes, who was an expert in deciphering letters and forgery, and Arthur Gregory, who was skilled at breaking and repairing seals without detection.
In 1585, Mary, Queen of Scots was placed in the custody of Sir Amias Paulet, who was instructed to open and read all of Mary's clandestine correspondence. In a successful attempt to expose her, Walsingham arranged a single exception: a covert means for Mary's letters to be smuggled in and out of Chartley in a beer keg. Mary was misled into thinking these secret letters were secure, while in reality they were deciphered and read by Walsingham's agents. He succeeded in intercepting letters that indicated a conspiracy to displace Elizabeth I with Mary, Queen of Scots.
In foreign intelligence, Walsingham's extensive network of "intelligencers", who passed on general news as well as secrets, spanned Europe and the Mediterranean. While foreign intelligence was a normal part of the principal secretary's activities, Walsingham brought to it flair and ambition, and large sums of his own money. He cast his net more widely than others had done previously: expanding and exploiting links across the continent as well as in Constantinople and Algiers, and building and inserting contacts among Catholic exiles.
Modern tactics of espionage and dedicated government intelligence agencies were developed over the course of the late 19th century. A key background to this development was the Great Game, a period denoting the strategic rivalry and conflict that existed between the British Empire and the Russian Empire throughout Central Asia. To counter Russian ambitions in the region and the potential threat it posed to the British position in India, a system of surveillance, intelligence and counterintelligence was built up in the Indian Civil Service. The existence of this shadowy conflict was popularised in Rudyard Kipling's famous spy book, Kim, where he portrayed the Great Game (a phrase he popularised) as an espionage and intelligence conflict that 'never ceases, day or night'.
Although the techniques originally used were distinctly amateurish – British agents would often pose unconvincingly as botanists or archaeologists – more professional tactics and systems were slowly put in place. In many respects, it was here that a modern intelligence apparatus with permanent bureaucracies for internal and foreign infiltration and espionage was first developed. A pioneering cryptographic unit was established as early as 1844 in India, which achieved some important successes in decrypting Russian communications in the area.
The establishment of dedicated intelligence organizations was directly linked to the colonial rivalries between the major European powers and the accelerating development of military technology.
An early source of military intelligence was the diplomatic system of military attachés (an officer attached to the diplomatic service operating through the embassy in a foreign country), that became widespread in Europe after the Crimean War. Although officially restricted to a role of transmitting openly received information, they were soon being used to clandestinely gather confidential information and in some cases even to recruit spies and to operate de facto spy rings.
Shaken by the revolutionary years 1848–1849, the Austrian Empire founded the Evidenzbureau in 1850 as the first permanent military intelligence service. It was first used in the 1859 Austro-Sardinian war and the 1866 campaign against Prussia, albeit with little success. The bureau collected intelligence of military relevance from various sources into daily reports to the Chief of Staff (Generalstabschef) and weekly reports to Emperor Franz Joseph. Sections of the Evidenzbureau were assigned different regions, the most important one was aimed against Russia.
During the Crimean War, the Topographical & Statistic Department T&SD was established within the British War Office as an embryonic military intelligence organization. The department initially focused on the accurate mapmaking of strategically sensitive locations and the collation of militarily relevant statistics. After the deficiencies in the British army's performance during the war became known a large-scale reform of army institutions was overseen by the Edward Cardwell. As part of this, the T&SD was reorganized as the Intelligence Branch of the War Office in 1873 with the mission to "collect and classify all possible information relating to the strength, organization etc. of foreign armies... to keep themselves acquainted with the progress made by foreign countries in military art and science..."
The French Ministry of War authorized the creation of the Deuxième Bureau on June 8, 1871, a service charged with performing "research on enemy plans and operations." This was followed a year later by the creation of a military counter-espionage service. It was this latter service that was discredited through its actions over the notorious Dreyfus Affair, where a French Jewish officer was falsely accused of handing over military secrets to the Germans. As a result of the political division that ensued, responsibility for counter-espionage was moved to the civilian control of the Ministry of the Interior.
Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke established a military intelligence unit, Abteilung (Section) IIIb, to the German General Staff in 1889 which steadily expanded its operations into France and Russia. The Italian Ufficio Informazioni del Commando Supremo was put on a permanent footing in 1900. After Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, Russian military intelligence was reorganized under the 7th Section of the 2nd Executive Board of the great imperial headquarters.
It was not just the army that felt a need for military intelligence. Soon, naval establishments were demanding similar capabilities from their national governments to allow them to keep abreast of technological and strategic developments in rival countries.
The Naval Intelligence Division was set up as the independent intelligence arm of the British Admiralty in 1882 (initially as the Foreign Intelligence Committee) and was headed by Captain William Henry Hall. The division was initially responsible for fleet mobilization and war plans as well as foreign intelligence collection; in the 1900s two further responsibilities – issues of strategy and defence and the protection of merchant shipping – were added.
Naval intelligence originated in the same year in the US and was founded by the Secretary of the Navy, William H. Hunt "...for the purpose of collecting and recording such naval information as may be useful to the Department in time of war, as well as in peace." This was followed in October 1885 by the Military Information Division, the first standing military intelligence agency of the United States with the duty of collecting military data on foreign nations.
In 1900, the Imperial German Navy established the Nachrichten-Abteilung, which was devoted to gathering intelligence on Britain. The navies of Italy, Russia and Austria-Hungary set up similar services as well.
Civil intelligence agencies
Integrated intelligence agencies run directly by governments were also established. The British Secret Service Bureau was founded in 1909 as the first independent and interdepartmental agency fully in control over all government espionage activities.
At a time of widespread and growing anti-German feeling and fear, plans were drawn up for an extensive offensive intelligence system to be used as an instrument in the event of a European war. Due to intense lobbying by William Melville after he obtained German mobilization plans and proof of their financial support to the Boers, the government authorized the creation of a new intelligence section in the War Office, MO3 (subsequently redesignated M05) headed by Melville, in 1903. Working under cover from a flat in London, Melville ran both counterintelligence and foreign intelligence operations, capitalizing on the knowledge and foreign contacts he had accumulated during his years running Special Branch.
Due to its success, the Government Committee on Intelligence, with support from Richard Haldane and Winston Churchill, established the Secret Service Bureau in 1909. It consisted of nineteen military intelligence departments – MI1 to MI19, but MI5 and MI6 came to be the most recognized as they are the only ones to have remained active to this day.
The Bureau was a joint initiative of the Admiralty, the War Office and the Foreign Office to control secret intelligence operations in the UK and overseas, particularly concentrating on the activities of the Imperial German Government. Its first director was Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming. In 1910, the bureau was split into naval and army sections which, over time, specialised in foreign espionage and internal counter-espionage activities respectively. The Secret Service initially focused its resources on gathering intelligence on German shipbuilding plans and operations. Espionage activity in France was consciously refrained from, so as not to jeopardize the burgeoning alliance between the two nations.
For the first time, the government had access to a peace-time, centralized independent intelligence bureaucracy with indexed registries and defined procedures, as opposed to the more ad hoc methods used previously. Instead of a system whereby rival departments and military services would work on their own priorities with little to no consultation or co-operation with each other, the newly established Secret Intelligence Service was interdepartmental, and submitted its intelligence reports to all relevant government departments.
As espionage became more widely used, it became imperative to expand the role of existing police and internal security forces into a role of detecting and countering foreign spies. The Austro-Hungarian Evidenzbureau was entrusted with the role from the late 19th century to counter the actions of the Pan-Slavist movement operating out of Serbia.
As mentioned above, after the fallout from the Dreyfus Affair in France, responsibility for military counter-espionage was passed in 1899 to the Sûreté générale – an agency originally responsible for order enforcement and public safety – and overseen by the Ministry of the Interior.
The Okhrana was initially formed in 1880 to combat political terrorism and left-wing revolutionary activity throughout the Russian Empire, but was also tasked with countering enemy espionage. Its main concern was the activities of revolutionaries, who often worked and plotted subversive actions from abroad. It created an antenna in Paris run by Pyotr Rachkovsky to monitor their activities. The agency used many methods to achieve its goals, including covert operations, undercover agents, and "perlustration" — the interception and reading of private correspondence. The Okhrana became notorious for its use of agents provocateurs who often succeeded in penetrating the activities of revolutionary groups including the Bolsheviks.
In Britain, the Secret Service Bureau was split into a foreign and counter intelligence domestic service in 1910. The latter was headed by Sir Vernon Kell and was originally aimed at calming public fears of large scale German espionage. As the Service was not authorized with police powers, Kell liaised extensively with the Special Branch of Scotland Yard (headed by Basil Thomson), and succeeded in disrupting the work of Indian revolutionaries collaborating with the Germans during the war.
In Israel, the Shin Bet unit is the agency for homeland security and counter intelligence.
Confronting antisemitism and racism, in Israel, the department for secret and confidential counter terrorist operations is called Kidon. It is part of the national intelligence agency Mossad and can also operate in other capacities. Kidon was described as "an elite group of expert assassins who operate under the Caesarea branch of the espionage organization." The unit only recruits from "former soldiers from the elite IDF special force units." There is almost no reliable information available on this ultra-secret organisation.
First World War
By the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 all the major powers had highly sophisticated structures in place for the training and handling of spies and for the processing of the intelligence information obtained through espionage. The figure and mystique of the spy had also developed considerably in the public eye. The Dreyfus Affair, which involved international espionage and treason, contributed much to public interest in espionage from 1894 onwards.
The spy novel emerged as a distinct genre of fiction in the late 19th century; it dealt with themes such as colonial rivalry, the growing threat of conflict in Europe and the revolutionary and anarchist domestic threat. The "spy novel" was defined by The Riddle of the Sands (1903) by British author Robert Erskine Childers, which played on public fears of a German plan to invade Britain (an amateur spy uncovers the nefarious plot). In the wake of Childers's success there followed a flood of imitators, including William Le Queux and E. Phillips Oppenheim.
World War I (1914-1918) saw the honing and refinement of modern espionage techniques as all the belligerent powers utilized their intelligence services to obtain military intelligence, to commit acts of sabotage and to carry out propaganda. As the progress of the war became static and armies dug down in trenches, the utility of cavalry reconnaissance became of very limited effectiveness.
Information gathered at the battlefront from the interrogation of prisoners-of-war typically could give insight only into local enemy actions of limited duration. To obtain high-level information on an enemy's strategic intentions, its military capabilities and deployment required undercover spy rings operating deep in enemy territory. On the Western Front the advantage lay with the Western Allies, as for most of the war German armies occupied Belgium and parts of northern France amidst a large and disaffected native population that could be organized into collecting and transmitting vital intelligence.
British and French intelligence services recruited Belgian or French refugees and infiltrated these agents behind enemy lines via the Netherlands – a neutral country. Many collaborators were then recruited from the local population, who were mainly driven by patriotism and hatred of the harsh German occupation. By the end of the war the Allies had set up over 250 networks, comprising more than 6,400 Belgian and French citizens. These rings concentrated on infiltrating the German railway network so that the Allies could receive advance warning of strategic troop and ammunition movements.
In 1916 Walthère Dewé founded the Dame Blanche ("White Lady") network as an underground intelligence group，which became the most effective Allied spy ring in German-occupied Belgium. It supplied as much as 75% of the intelligence collected from occupied Belgium and northern France to the Allies. By the end of the war, its 1,300 agents covered all of occupied Belgium, northern France and, through a collaboration with Louise de Bettignies' network, occupied Luxembourg. The network was able to provide a crucial few days warning before the launch of the German 1918 Spring Offensive.
German intelligence was only ever able to recruit a very small number of spies. These were trained at an academy run by the Kriegsnachrichtenstelle in Antwerp and headed by Elsbeth Schragmüller, known as "Fräulein Doktor". These agents were generally isolated and unable to rely on a large support network for the relaying of information. The most famous German spy was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, an exotic Dutch dancer with the stage name Mata Hari. As a Dutch subject, she was able to cross national borders freely. In 1916, she was arrested and brought to London where she was interrogated at length by Sir Basil Thomson, Assistant Commissioner at New Scotland Yard. She eventually claimed to be working for French intelligence. In fact, she had entered German service from 1915, and sent her reports to the mission in the German embassy in Madrid. In January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and, from the information it contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. She was executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917.
German spies in Britain did not meet with much success – the German spy ring operating in Britain was successfully disrupted by MI5 under Vernon Kell on the day after the declaration of the war. Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, announced that "within the last twenty-four hours no fewer than twenty-one spies, or suspected spies, have been arrested in various places all over the country, chiefly in important military or naval centres, some of them long known to the authorities to be spies",
One exception was Jules C. Silber, who evaded MI5 investigations and obtained a position at the censor's office in 1914. Using mailed window envelopes that had already been stamped and cleared he was able to forward microfilm to Germany that contained increasingly important information. Silber was regularly promoted and ended up in the position of chief censor, which enabled him to analyze all suspect documents.
The British economic blockade of Germany was made effective through the support of spy networks operating out of neutral Netherlands. Points of weakness in the naval blockade were determined by agents on the ground and relayed back to the Royal Navy. The blockade led to severe food deprivation in Germany and was a major cause in the collapse of the Central Powers war effort in 1918.
Two new methods for intelligence collection were developed over the course of the war – aerial reconnaissance and photography and the interception and decryption of radio signals. The British rapidly built up great expertise in the newly emerging field of signals intelligence and codebreaking.
In 1911, a subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence on cable communications concluded that in the event of war with Germany, German-owned submarine cables should be destroyed. On the night of 3 August 1914, the cable ship Alert located and cut Germany's five trans-Atlantic cables, which ran under the English Channel. Soon after, the six cables running between Britain and Germany were cut. As an immediate consequence, there was a significant increase in messages sent via cables belonging to other countries, and by wireless. These could now be intercepted, but codes and ciphers were naturally used to hide the meaning of the messages, and neither Britain nor Germany had any established organisations to decode and interpret the messages. At the start of the war, the navy had only one wireless station for intercepting messages, at Stockton. However, installations belonging to the Post Office and the Marconi Company, as well as private individuals who had access to radio equipment, began recording messages from Germany.
Room 40, under Director of Naval Education Alfred Ewing, formed in October 1914, was the section in the British Admiralty most identified with the British cryptoanalysis effort during the First World War. The basis of Room 40 operations evolved around a German naval codebook, the Signalbuch der Kaiserlichen Marine (SKM), and around maps (containing coded squares), which were obtained from three different sources in the early months of the war. Alfred Ewing directed Room 40 until May 1917, when direct control passed to Captain (later Admiral) Reginald 'Blinker' Hall, assisted by William Milbourne James.
A similar organisation began in the Military Intelligence department of the War Office, which become known as MI1b, and Colonel Macdonagh proposed that the two organisations should work together, decoding messages concerning the Western Front. A sophisticated interception system (known as 'Y' service), together with the post office and Marconi receiving stations grew rapidly to the point it could intercept almost all official German messages.
As the number of intercepted messages increased it became necessary to decide which were unimportant and should just be logged, and which should be passed on to Room 40. The German fleet was in the habit each day of wirelessing the exact position of each ship and giving regular position reports when at sea. It was possible to build up a precise picture of the normal operation of the High Seas Fleet, indeed to infer from the routes they chose where defensive minefields had been placed and where it was safe for ships to operate. Whenever a change to the normal pattern was seen, it immediately signalled that some operation was about to take place and a warning could be given. Detailed information about submarine movements was also available.
Both the British and German interception services began to experiment with direction finding radio equipment at the start of 1915. Captain H. J. Round working for Marconi had been carrying out experiments for the army in France and Hall instructed him to build a direction finding system for the navy. Stations were built along the coast, and by May 1915 the Admiralty was able to track German submarines crossing the North Sea. Some of these stations also acted as 'Y' stations to collect German messages, but a new section was created within Room 40 to plot the positions of ships from the directional reports. No attempts were made by the German fleet to restrict its use of wireless until 1917, and then only in response to perceived British use of direction finding, not because it believed messages were being decoded.
Room 40 played an important role in several naval engagements during the war, notably in detecting major German sorties into the North Sea that led to the battles of Dogger Bank and Jutland when the British fleet was sent out to intercept them. However its most important contribution was probably in decrypting the Zimmermann Telegram, a telegram from the German Foreign Office sent via Washington to its ambassador Heinrich von Eckardt in Mexico.
In the telegram's plaintext, Nigel de Grey and William Montgomery learned of the German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann's offer to Mexico of United States' territories of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas as an enticement to join the war as a German ally. The telegram was passed to the U.S. by Captain Hall, and a scheme was devised (involving a still unknown agent in Mexico and a burglary) to conceal how its plaintext had become available and also how the U.S. had gained possession of a copy. The telegram was made public by the United States, which declared war on Germany on 6 April 1917, entering the war on the Allied side. This event demonstrated how the course of a war could be changed by effective intelligence operations.
The outbreak of revolution in Russia and the subsequent seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, a party deeply hostile towards the capitalist powers, was an important catalyst for the development of modern international espionage techniques. A key figure was Sidney Reilly, a Russian-born adventurer and secret agent employed by Scotland Yard and the Secret Intelligence Service. He set the standard for modern espionage, turning it from a gentleman's amateurish game to a ruthless and professional methodology for the achievement of military and political ends.
Reilly's remarkable and varied career culminated in an audiacious attempt to depose the Bolshevik Government and assassinate Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.
In May 1918, Robert Bruce Lockhart, an agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service, and Reilly repeatedly met Boris Savinkov, head of the counter-revolutionary Union for the Defence of the Motherland and Freedom (UDMF). Lockhart and Reilly then contacted anti-Bolshevik groups linked to Savinkov and supported these factions with SIS funds. In June, disillusioned members of the Latvian Riflemen began appearing in anti-Bolshevik circles in Petrograd and were eventually directed to Captain Cromie, a British naval attaché, and Mr. Constantine, a Turkish merchant who was actually Reilly. Reilly believed their participation in the pending coup to be vital and arranged their meeting with Lockhart at the British mission in Moscow. At this stage, Reilly planned a coup against the Bolshevik government and drew up a list of Soviet military leaders ready to assume responsibilities on the fall of the Bolshevik government.
On 17 August, Reilly conducted meetings between Latvian regimental leaders and liaised with Captain George Hill, another British agent operating in Russia. Hill had managed to establish a network of 10 secure houses around Moscow, and a professional courier network that reached across northern Russia and that allowed him to smuggle top secret documents from Moscow to Stockholm to London in days. They agreed the coup would occur the first week of September during a meeting of the Council of People's Commissars and the Moscow Soviet at the Bolshoi Theatre. However, on the eve of the coup, unexpected events thwarted the operation. Fanya Kaplan shot and wounded Lenin triggering the "Red Terror" - the Cheka implicated all malcontents in a grand conspiracy that warranted a full-scale campaign. Using lists supplied by undercover agents, the Cheka arrested those involved in Reilly's pending coup, raided the British Embassy in Petrograd and killed Francis Cromie and arrested Lockhart.
Another pivotal figure was Sir Paul Dukes, arguably the first professional spy of the modern age. Recruited personally by Mansfield Smith-Cumming to act as a secret agent in Imperial Russia, he set up elaborate plans to help prominent White Russians escape from Soviet prisons after the Revolution and smuggled hundreds of them into Finland. Known as the "Man of a Hundred Faces," Dukes continued his use of disguises, which aided him in assuming a number of identities and gained him access to numerous Bolshevik organizations. He successfully infiltrated the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Comintern, and the political police, or CHEKA. Dukes also learned of the inner workings of the Politburo, and passed the information to British intelligence.
In the course of a few months, Dukes, Hill and Reilly succeeded in infiltrating Lenin’s inner circle, and gaining access to the activities of the Cheka and the Communist International at the highest level. This helped to convince the government of the importance of a well-funded secret intelligence service in peace time as a key component in formulating foreign policy. Winston Churchill argued that intercepted communications were more useful "as a means of forming a true judgement of public policy than any other source of knowledge at the disposal of the State."
Today, espionage agencies target the illegal drug trade and terrorists as well as state actors. Since 2008 the United States has charged at least 57 defendants for attempting to spy for China.
Different intelligence services value certain intelligence collection techniques over others. The former Soviet Union, for example, preferred human sources over research in open sources, while the United States has tended to emphasize technological methods such as SIGINT and IMINT. Both Soviet political (KGB) and military intelligence (GRU) officers were judged by the number of agents they recruited.
Targets of espionage
Espionage agents are usually trained experts in a specific targeted field so they can differentiate mundane information from targets of intrinsic value to their own organisational development. Correct identification of the target at its execution is the sole purpose of the espionage operation.
Broad areas of espionage targeting expertise include:
Methods and terminology
Although the news media may speak of "spy satellites" and the like, espionage is not a synonym for all intelligence-gathering disciplines. It is a specific form of human source intelligence (HUMINT). Codebreaking (cryptanalysis or COMINT), aircraft or satellite photography, (IMINT) and research in open publications (OSINT) are all intelligence gathering disciplines, but none of them are considered espionage. Many HUMINT activities, such as prisoner interrogation, reports from military reconnaissance patrols and from diplomats, etc., are not considered espionage. Espionage is the disclosure of sensitive information (classified) to people who are not cleared for that information or access to that sensitive information.
Unlike other forms of intelligence collection disciplines, espionage usually involves accessing the place where the desired information is stored or accessing the people who know the information and will divulge it through some kind of subterfuge. There are exceptions to physical meetings, such as the Oslo Report, or the insistence of Robert Hanssen in never meeting the people who bought his information.
The US defines espionage towards itself as "The act of obtaining, delivering, transmitting, communicating, or receiving information about the national defense with an intent, or reason to believe, that the information may be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation". Black's Law Dictionary (1990) defines espionage as: "... gathering, transmitting, or losing ... information related to the national defense". Espionage is a violation of United States law, 18 U.S.C. §§ 792–798 and Article 106a of the Uniform Code of Military Justice". The United States, like most nations, conducts espionage against other nations, under the control of the National Clandestine Service. Britain's espionage activities are controlled by the Secret Intelligence Service.
A spy is a person employed to seek out top secret information from a source. Within the United States Intelligence Community, "asset" is a more common usage. A case officer, who may have diplomatic status (i.e., official cover or non-official cover), supports and directs the human collector. Cutouts are couriers who do not know the agent or case officer but transfer messages. A safe house is a refuge for spies. Spies often seek to obtain secret information from another source.
In larger networks the organization can be complex with many methods to avoid detection, including clandestine cell systems. Often the players have never met. Case officers are stationed in foreign countries to recruit and to supervise intelligence agents, who in turn spy on targets in their countries where they are assigned. A spy need not be a citizen of the target country—hence does not automatically commit treason when operating within it. While the more common practice is to recruit a person already trusted with access to sensitive information, sometimes a person with a well-prepared synthetic identity (cover background), called a legend in tradecraft, may attempt to infiltrate a target organization.
These agents can be moles (who are recruited before they get access to secrets), defectors (who are recruited after they get access to secrets and leave their country) or defectors in place (who get access but do not leave).
A legend is also employed for an individual who is not an illegal agent, but is an ordinary citizen who is "relocated", for example, a "protected witness". Nevertheless, such a non-agent very likely will also have a case officer who will act as controller. As in most, if not all synthetic identity schemes, for whatever purpose (illegal or legal), the assistance of a controller is required.
Spies may also be used to spread disinformation in the organization in which they are planted, such as giving false reports about their country's military movements, or about a competing company's ability to bring a product to market. Spies may be given other roles that also require infiltration, such as sabotage.
Many governments routinely spy on their allies as well as their enemies, although they typically maintain a policy of not commenting on this. Governments also employ private companies to collect information on their behalf such as SCG International Risk, International Intelligence Limited and others.
Many organizations, both national and non-national, conduct espionage operations. It should not be assumed that espionage is always directed at the most secret operations of a target country. National and terrorist organizations and other groups are also targets. This is because governments want to retrieve information that they can use to be proactive in protecting their nation from potential terrorist attacks.
Communications both are necessary to espionage and clandestine operations, and also a great vulnerability when the adversary has sophisticated SIGINT detection and interception capability. Agents must also transfer money securely.
Reportedly Canada is losing $12 billion and German companies are estimated to be losing about €50 billion ($87 billion) and 30,000 jobs to industrial espionage every year.
Agents in espionage
In espionage jargon, an "agent" is the person who does the spying; a citizen of one country who is recruited by a second country to spy on or work against his own country or a third country. In popular usage, this term is often erroneously applied to a member of an intelligence service who recruits and handles agents; in espionage such a person is referred to as an intelligence officer, intelligence operative or case officer. There are several types of agent in use today.
Espionage is a crime under the legal code of many nations. In the United States it is covered by the Espionage Act of 1917. The risks of espionage vary. A spy breaking the host country's laws may be deported, imprisoned, or even executed. A spy breaking his/her own country's laws can be imprisoned for espionage or/and treason (which in the USA and some other jurisdictions can only occur if he or she take ups arms or aids the enemy against his or her own country during wartime), or even executed, as the Rosenbergs were. For example, when Aldrich Ames handed a stack of dossiers of U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents in the Eastern Bloc to his KGB-officer "handler", the KGB "rolled up" several networks, and at least ten people were secretly shot. When Ames was arrested by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), he faced life in prison; his contact, who had diplomatic immunity, was declared persona non grata and taken to the airport. Ames's wife was threatened with life imprisonment if her husband did not cooperate; he did, and she was given a five-year sentence. Hugh Francis Redmond, a CIA officer in China, spent nineteen years in a Chinese prison for espionage—and died there—as he was operating without diplomatic cover and immunity.
In United States law, treason, espionage, and spying are separate crimes. Treason and espionage have graduated punishment levels.
The United States in World War I passed the Espionage Act of 1917. Over the years, many spies, such as the Soble spy ring, Robert Lee Johnson, the Rosenberg ring, Aldrich Hazen Ames, Robert Philip Hanssen, Jonathan Pollard, John Anthony Walker, James Hall III, and others have been prosecuted under this law.
History of espionage laws
From ancient times, the penalty for espionage in many countries was execution. this was true right up until the era of World War II; for example, Josef Jakobs was a Nazi spy who parachuted into Great Britain in 1941 and was executed for espionage.
In modern times, many people convicted of espionage have been given penal sentences rather than execution. For example, Aldrich Hazen Ames is an American CIA analyst, turned KGB mole, who was convicted of espionage in 1994; he is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in the high-security Allenwood U.S. Penitentiary. Ames was formerly a 31-year CIA counterintelligence officer and analyst who committed espionage against his country by spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. So far as it is known, Ames compromised the second-largest number of CIA agents, second only to Robert Hanssen, who is also serving a prison sentence.
Use against non-spies
Espionage laws are also used to prosecute non-spies. In the United States, the Espionage Act of 1917 was used against socialist politician Eugene V. Debs (at that time the act had much stricter guidelines and amongst other things banned speech against military recruiting). The law was later used to suppress publication of periodicals, for example of Father Coughlin in World War II. In the early 21st century, the act was used to prosecute whistleblowers such as Thomas Andrews Drake, John Kiriakou, and Edward Snowden, as well as officials who communicated with journalists for innocuous reasons, such as Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.
As of 2012, India and Pakistan were holding several hundred prisoners of each other's country for minor violations like trespass or visa overstay, often with accusations of espionage attached. Some of these include cases where Pakistan and India both deny citizenship to these people, leaving them stateless. The BBC reported in 2012 on one such case, that of Mohammed Idrees, who was held under Indian police control for approximately 13 years for overstaying his 15-day visa by 2–3 days after seeing his ill parents in 1999. Much of the 13 years was spent in prison waiting for a hearing, and more time was spent homeless or living with generous families. The Indian People's Union for Civil Liberties and Human Rights Law Network both decried his treatment. The BBC attributed some of the problems to tensions caused by the Kashmir conflict.
Espionage laws in the UK
Espionage is illegal in the UK under the Official Secrets Acts of 1911 and 1920. The UK law under this legislation considers espionage as actions "intend to help an enemy and deliberately harm the security of the nation". According to MI5, a person will be charged with the crime of espionage if they, "for any purpose prejudicial to the safety or interests of the State": approaches, enters or inspects a prohibited area; makes documents such as plans that are intended, calculated, or could directly or indirectly be of use to an enemy; or "obtains, collects, records, or publishes, or communicates to any other person any secret official code word, or pass word, or any sketch, plan, model, article, or note, or other document which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy". The illegality of espionage also includes any action which may be considered 'preparatory to' spying, or encouraging or aiding another to spy.
An individual convicted of espionage can be imprisoned for up to 14 years in the UK, although multiple sentences can be issued.
Government intelligence laws and its distinction from espionage
Government intelligence is very much distinct from espionage, and is not illegal in the UK, providing that the organisations of individuals are registered, often with the ICO, and are acting within the restrictions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). 'Intelligence' is considered legally as "information of all sorts gathered by a government or organisation to guide its decisions. It includes information that may be both public and private, obtained from many different public or secret sources. It could consist entirely of information from either publicly available or secret sources, or be a combination of the two."
However, espionage and intelligence can be linked. According to the MI5 website, "foreign intelligence officers acting in the UK under diplomatic cover may enjoy immunity from prosecution. Such persons can only be tried for spying (or, indeed, any criminal offence) if diplomatic immunity is waived beforehand. Those officers operating without diplomatic cover have no such immunity from prosecution".
There are also laws surrounding government and organisational intelligence and surveillance. Generally, the body involved should be issued with some form of warrant or permission from the government, and should be enacting their procedures in the interest of protecting national security or the safety of public citizens. Those carrying out intelligence missions should act within not only RIPA, but also the Data Protection Act and Human Rights Act. However, there are spy equipment laws and legal requirements around intelligence methods that vary for each form of intelligence enacted.
In military conflicts, espionage is considered permissible as many nations recognizes the inevitability of opposing sides seeking intelligence each about the dispositions of the other. To make the mission easier and successful, soldiers or agents wear disguises to conceal their true identity from the enemy while penetrating enemy lines for intelligence gathering. However, if they are caught behind enemy lines in disguises, they are not entitled to prisoner-of-war status and subject to prosecution and punishment—including execution.
The Hague Convention of 1907 addresses the status of wartime spies, specifically within "Laws and Customs of War on Land" (Hague IV); October 18, 1907: CHAPTER II Spies". Article 29 states that a person is considered a spy who, acts clandestinely or on false pretenses, infiltrates enemy lines with the intention of acquiring intelligence about the enemy and communicate it to the belligerent during times of war. Soldiers who penetrates enemy lines in proper uniforms for the purpose of acquiring intelligence are not considered spies but are lawful combatants entitled to be treated as prisoners of war upon capture by the enemy. Article 30 states that a spy captured behind enemy lines may only be punished following a trial. However, Article 31 provides that if a spy successfully rejoined his own military and is then captured by the enemy as a lawful combatant, he cannot be punished for his previous acts of espionage and must be treated as a prisoner of war. Note that this provision does not apply to citizens who committed treason against their own country or co-belligerents of that country and may be captured and prosecuted at any place or any time regardless whether he rejoined the military to which he belongs or not or during or after the war.
The ones that are excluded from being treated as spies while behind enemy lines are escaping prisoners of war and downed airmen as international law distinguishes between a disguised spy and a disguised escaper. It is permissible for these groups to wear enemy uniforms or civilian clothes in order to facilitate their escape back to friendly lines so long as they do not attack enemy forces, collect military intelligence, or engage in similar military operations while so disguised. Soldiers who are wearing enemy uniforms or civilian clothes simply for the sake of warmth along with other purposes rather than engaging in espionage or similar military operations while so attired is also excluded from being treated as unlawful combatants.
Saboteurs are treated as spies as they too wear disguises behind enemy lines for the purpose of waging destruction on enemy's vital targets in addition to intelligence gathering. For example, during World War II, eight German agents entered the U.S. in June 1942 as part of Operation Pastorius, a sabotage mission against U.S. economic targets. Two weeks later, all were arrested in civilian clothes by the FBI thanks to two German agents betraying the mission to the U.S. Under the Hague Convention of 1907, these Germans were classified as spies and tried by a military tribunal in Washington D.C. On August 3, 1942, all eight were found guilty and sentenced to death. Five days later, six were executed by electric chair at the District of Columbia jail. Two who had given evidence against the others had their sentences reduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to prison terms. In 1948, they were released by President Harry S. Truman and deported to the American Zone of occupied Germany.
The U.S. codification of enemy spies is Article 106 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This provides a mandatory death sentence if a person captured in the act is proven to be "lurking as a spy or acting as a spy in or about any place, vessel, or aircraft, within the control or jurisdiction of any of the armed forces, or in or about any shipyard, any manufacturing or industrial plant, or any other place or institution engaged in work in aid of the prosecution of the war by the United States, or elsewhere".
List of famous spies
World War I
11 German spies were executed in the Tower of London during WW1.
Carl Hans Lody has his own grave and black headstone in the East London Cemetery, Plaistow. The others are buried about 150 yards away under a small memorial stone alongside a pathway.
World War II
Informants were common in World War II. In November 1939, the German Hans Ferdinand Mayer sent what is called the Oslo Report to inform the British of German technology and projects in an effort to undermine the Nazi regime. The Réseau AGIR was a French network developed after the fall of France that reported the start of construction of V-weapon installations in Occupied France to the British.
Counterespionage included the use of turned Double Cross agents to misinform Nazi Germany of impact points during the Blitz and internment of Japanese in the US against "Japan's wartime spy program". Additional WWII espionage examples include Soviet spying on the US Manhattan project, the German Duquesne Spy Ring convicted in the US, and the Soviet Red Orchestra spying on Nazi Germany. The US lacked a specific agency at the start of the war, but quickly formed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
Spying has sometimes been considered a gentlemanly pursuit, with recruiting focused on military officers, or at least on persons of the class from whom officers are recruited. However, the demand for male soldiers, an increase in women's rights, and the tactical advantages of female spies led the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) to set aside any lingering Victorian Era prejudices and begin employing them in April 1942. Their task was to transmit information from Nazi occupied France back to Allied Forces. The main strategic reason was that men in France faced a high risk of being interrogated by Nazi troops but women were less likely to arouse suspicion. In this way they made good couriers and proved equal to, if not more effective than, their male counterparts. Their participation in Organization and Radio Operation was also vital to the success of many operations, including the main network between Paris and London.
Post World War II
In the United States, there are seventeen (taking military intelligence into consideration, it's 22 agencies) federal agencies that form the United States Intelligence Community. The Central Intelligence Agency operates the National Clandestine Service (NCS) to collect human intelligence and perform Covert operations. The National Security Agency collects Signals Intelligence. Originally the CIA spearheaded the US-IC. Pursuant to the September 11 attacks the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) was created to promulgate information-sharing.
In 2016, it was revealed that Azerbaijan's Minister of Finance Samir Sharifov served as a human asset (agent) for Russian, Turkish, and American intelligence services, according to information leaked by sources inside the Russian intelligence community that was published in the Ukrainian newspaper Gordonua on March 9, 2016.
An early example of espionage literature is Kim by the English novelist Rudyard Kipling, with a description of the training of an intelligence agent in the Great Game between the UK and Russia in 19th century Central Asia. An even earlier work was James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel, The Spy, written in 1821, about an American spy in New York during the Revolutionary War.
During the many 20th century spy scandals, much information became publicly known about national spy agencies and dozens of real-life secret agents. These sensational stories piqued public interest in a profession largely off-limits to human interest news reporting, a natural consequence of the secrecy inherent to their work. To fill in the blanks, the popular conception of the secret agent has been formed largely by 20th and 21st century literature and cinema. Attractive and sociable real-life agents such as Valerie Plame find little employment in serious fiction, however. The fictional secret agent is more often a loner, sometimes amoral—an existential hero operating outside the everyday constraints of society. Loner spy personalities may have been a stereotype of convenience for authors who already knew how to write loner private investigator characters that sold well from the 1920s to the present.
Johnny Fedora achieved popularity as a fictional agent of early Cold War espionage, but James Bond is the most commercially successful of the many spy characters created by intelligence insiders during that struggle. His less fantastic rivals include Le Carre's George Smiley and Harry Palmer as played by Michael Caine. Most post-Vietnam era characters were modeled after the American, C.C. Taylor, reportedly the last sanctioned "asset" of the U.S. government. Taylor, a true "Double 0 agent", worked alone and would travel as an American or Canadian tourist or businessman throughout Europe and Asia, he was used extensively in the Middle East toward the end of his career. Taylor received his weapons training from Carlos Hathcock, holder of a record 93 confirmed kills from WWII through the Viet Nam conflict. According to documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act, his operations were classified as "NOC" or Non-Official Cover.
Jumping on the spy bandwagon, other writers also started writing about spy fiction featuring female spies as protagonists, such as The Baroness, which has more graphic action and sex, as compared to other novels featuring male protagonists.
It also made its way into the videogame world, hence the famous creation of Hideo Kojima, the Metal Gear Solid Series.
Espionage has also made its way into comedy depictions. The 1960s TV series Get Smart portrays an inept spy, while the 1985 movie Spies Like Us depicts a pair of none-too-bright men sent to the Soviet Union to investigate a missile.