12.The Art of Spying
In a democracy the answer to that recurrent question:
‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?’
This is a general introduction essay into the world of espionage. Some of what you read below may shock or offend you but I believe you have a right to consider.
Spying and espionage is often seen purely as a function of government, this is a great misnomer.
A baby’s monitor can constitute a listening device which in other circumstances will be perceived as a bug.
Moving up the scale to the private detective (hired to observe a possible errant partner) is another low level instance in the spying profession.
Neither the baby, nor private detective will form a substantive part of this essay; instead I propose to discuss organisational spying or espionage whether the organisation is a government; a terrorist or freedom group; a political party or more often a commercial company with a GNP greater than that of many small countries.
I have divided this essay into a number of parts:
Definitions and where spying fits into the intelligence activity.
An overview from a global and British perspective.
What is happening now, taken from U.K. & world viewpoints.
(1) impact of individual surveillance;
(2) how terrorists operate.
.Some short studies as to how I have operated.
Throughout the essay additional emphasis may be obtained via the linked articles displayed in blue.
I particularly recommend the general reader to listen to the BBC radio 4 broadcast ‘BeingBugged’ which can be accessed from this link. [NB Link to the broadcast requires Real Player and may change]
For the more serious scholar I include a brief summary upon the lives and works of Sun Tzu, The Art of War, and Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince. If you want to be successful in any vocation, you must be willing to spend your time gathering current, hard information.
People have a tendency to want to rely on past experience, general theory, or old information rather than doing the work necessary to keep themselves well informed. Sun Tzu warns about these mistakes and tells you what you must do.
Machiavelli elaborates upon the policies you need to follow to reach your goal.
The essence of espionage is to be found within these works, should you wish to understand how the minds of our spymasters think; a careful study of these works will give you the answer. The essay below is a palimpsest to them.
Spying is seen as the act of obtaining information clandestinely. The term applies particularly to the covert act of collecting military, industrial, and political data about one nation for the benefit of another.
In truth the majority of the information collected is not that ‘secret’ but often the interpretation of the synergism is. Espionage is defined as the practice of spying or the using of spies.
Spying and espionage is a part of intelligence activity, which is also concerned with analysis of diplomatic reports, newspapers, periodicals, technical publications, commercial statistics, and radio and television broadcasts.
In the last fifty years espionage activity has been greatly supplemented by technological advances, especially in the areas of radio signal interception and high-altitude photography. Surveillance with high-technology equipment on the ground or from high-altitude planes and satellites has become an important espionage technique (i.e. Cuban missile crisis). Code making and code breaking (cryptography) have become computerized and very effective.
The threat of foreign espionage is used as an excuse for internal suppression and the suspension of civil rights in many countries.
Espionage is a very important part of guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency. The defensive side of intelligence activity, i.e., preventing another nation from gaining such information, is known as counterespionage. Under international law, intelligence activities are not illegal; however, every nation has laws against espionage conducted against it.
Beginnings through the Nineteenth Century
The importance of espionage in military affairs has been recognized since the beginning of recorded history. The Egyptians had a well-developed secret service, and spying and subversion are mentioned in the ‘Iliad’ and in the ‘Bible’.
The ancient Chinese treatise (c.500 B.C.) on the Art of War (see Sun Tzu) devotes much attention to deception and intelligence gathering, arguing that all war is based on deception.
Whilst Sun Tzu was unknown to Niccolo Machiavelli many of his concepts found new vigour within Machiavelli’s writings. In the Middle Ages, political espionage became important.
Joan of Arc was betrayed by Bishop Pierre Cauchon of Beauvais, a spy in the pay of the English, and Sir Francis Walsingham developed an efficient political spy system for Elizabeth I. (See also Francis Walsingham’s acolytes Christopher Marlowe and Francis Bacon) With the growth of the modern national state, systematized espionage became a fundamental part of government in most countries.
Joseph Fouché is credited with developing the first modern political espionage system, and Frederick II of Prussia is regarded as the founder of modern military espionage. During the American Revolution, Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold achieved fame as spies, and there was considerable use of spies on both sides during the U.S.
Civil War; though it was not until the Second World War that the USA convincingly took to espionage. (‘Pearl Harbour’ was the product of the spymasters failure to collect, analyse and then act.)
In the Twentieth Century
By World War I, all the great powers except the United States had elaborate civilian espionage systems and all national military establishments had intelligence units. To protect the country against foreign agents, the U.S. Congress passed the Espionage Statute of 1917.
Germany and Japan established elaborate espionage nets in the years preceding World War II. In 1942 the Office of Strategic Services was founded by Gen. William J. Donovan. However, the British system was the keystone of Allied intelligence, and the fount in which USA intelligence was baptised.
Since World War II, espionage activity has enlarged considerably, much of it growing out of the cold war between the United States and the former USSR.
Russia and the Soviet Union have had a long tradition of espionage ranging from the Czar’s Okhrana to the Committee for State Security (the KGB), which also acted as a secret police force.
In the United States the 1947 National Security Act created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to coordinate intelligence and the National Security Agency for research into codes and electronic communication. In addition to these, the United States has nine other intelligence gathering agencies to which the old adage ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’ appears to apply equally well to espionage.
Famous cold war espionage cases include Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers and the Rosenberg Case. In 1952 the Communist Chinese captured two CIA agents, and in 1960 Francis Gary Powers, flying a U-2 reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union for the CIA, was shot down and captured.
During the cold war, many Soviet intelligence officials defected to the West, including Gen. Walter Krivitsky, Victor Kravchenko, Vladimir Petrov, Peter Deriabin Pawel Monat, and Oleg Penkovsky, of the GRU (Soviet military intelligence).
Among Western officials who defected to the Soviet Union are Guy F. Burgess and Donald D. Maclean of Great Britain in 1951, Otto John of West Germany in 1954, William H. Martin and Bernon F. Mitchell, U.S. cryptographers, in 1960, and Harold (Kim) Philby of Great Britain in 1962. U.S. acknowledgment of its U-2 flights and the exchange of Francis Gary Powers for Rudolf Abel in 1962 implied the legitimacy of some espionage as an arm of foreign policy.
China has a very cost-effective intelligence program that is especially effective in monitoring neighbouring countries. Smaller countries can also mount effective and focused espionage efforts.
The Vietnamese Communists, for example, had consistently superior intelligence during the Vietnam War. Israel, size for size probably has the most efficient espionage establishment in the world. Some of the Muslim countries, especially Libya, Iran, and Syria, have highly developed operations as well. Iran’s Savak was particularly feared by Iranian dissidents before the Iranian Revolution.
In the Twenty First Century
The 1990s saw the end of the cold war. 9/11 began with a failure of intelligence. No amount of defence can compensate for poor intelligence. In the 1990s espionage via the use of the spy on the street went backwards.
Active front line spying was perceived as a cost saving benefit occasioned by the conclusion of the cold war. Intelligence systems had lost its human touch to the application of technical intelligence; information like how many missiles China has pointed at Taiwan was available, but less information was to hand as to whether or not China intended to fire them.
Now there is a return to human intelligence. The ability to develop foreign agents, get inside information from those who know about terrorism, and to be in a position to understand the terrorist’s mindset to anticipate their next moves. Spies on the ground are needed who possess the language and expertise to get inside terrorist organisations.
What needs to happen to fight terrorism is to re-create a level of human talent, a spy. Then we need a new generation of intelligence professionals who understand how to operate human agents and the technical systems in a seamless way. In short, to defeat terrorism in the twenty first century we must return back to the basics as preached by Sun Tzu and Machiavelli.
Britain’s secret history
Britain has a murky record of official secrecy which stretches continuously back to the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I was obsessed that Spanish-backed Catholic plotters, loyal to her half-sister Mary, were attempting to overthrow her. The Virgin Queen's spymaster, Francis Walsingham, famously trapped Mary into making a move against Elizabeth through a series of faked letters from her supporters.
Many secret documents were disguised as business transactions. A letter to Sir Robert Cecil in 1591 about a cargo of wines was actually a coded description of the Spanish fleet. English and then British espionage grew during the next two hundred years. Indeed, part of the success of the Duke of Wellington's often heavily outnumbered army against Napoleon was down to a network of spies and codebreakers, especially during the Peninsula Campaign.
The growth of the mass media and increasing literacy throughout the 19th Century meant information was potentially far more damaging once it had been leaked by civil servants. The British government usually resorted to the civil courts to pursue the media as there was no legislation with which to prosecute the leakers. Even when a young draughtsman named Terry Young was suspected of selling warship designs to the French in 1887, there was no law under which to prosecute him.
The modern age of British government secrecy began with the wide ranging Official Secrets Act of 1911. Born of fears of increasing German military power, the act did not differentiate between secrets and made it an offence to reveal any government information.
Government officials joked at the time that even the menu in the Civil Service canteen was secret - and in fact it was under the act, which remained on the statute books until 1989.
During the inter-war period the government began to use the secret services as an important tool, not only to protect itself against espionage by foreign powers but also against political groups it saw as a threat.
The British establishment, shaken by the fate of the Russian royal family at the hands of the Bolsheviks, targeted left-wing groups. The ‘Zinoviev letter’, which purported to reveal links between the Labour Party and the Soviet Union, was alleged to have been circulated by MI6 to newspapers to discredit Labour on the eve of the 1924 general election. The letter was later revealed to have been a forgery.
The secret service was strengthened during World War II by an enthusiastic Winston Churchill. The successes of the Bletchley Park codebreakers, who cracked the German Enigma code, led to the founding of GCHQ, which began intercepting communications from around the world.
During the 1950s the government began to recognise that the public wanted access to government documents and introduced the Public Records Act of 1958. But people interested in government secrets would have to wait 50 years before the documents were released to the public. (The equivalent is 100 years in Scotland as is noted in the Dunblane Enquiry) The act was reviewed in 1967 and the waiting time was reduced to 30 years.
Despite this government secrecy around the development of its nuclear programme was particularly tight during the Cold War. D notices, which the government used to prevent the press from revealing military and other secrets, were widely issued. In 1979 all Cabinet papers on atomic energy were made exempt from disclosure under the 30-year rule.
In 1993 the D notice system was replaced with standing Defence Advisory (DA) notices, which cover five areas - military operations and plans; nuclear weapons; ciphers and codes; installations and home addresses; and the intelligence services and Special Forces.
Several media organisations were reminded of these standing notices recently, during the Iraq conflict, especially with regard to the operations of the SAS and SBS. In 2000 a media blackout was agreed to prevent rebels in Sierra Leone learning about a pending SAS operation which eventually freed a group of captured British soldiers.
As our lives have come under increased scrutiny from the government so the campaign for access to that information has intensified. The Campaign for Freedom of Information, Liberty and Charter 88 have successfully lobbied government for the right of individuals to access the data held on them by government and private companies.
The Official Secrets Act of 1989, while de-classifying a great deal of government information, was seen as a backwards step by campaigners as it introduced drastic new controls on the media, including powers to prevent publication. The government had been worried by the 1985 Spycatcher affair, in which retired MI5 agent Peter Wright published memoirs containing embarrassing revelations about the security services.
More recently the case of David Shayler has revealed the lengths the government will go to protect its secrets. Labour came to power in 1997, having committed itself to introducing Freedom of Information legislation. When the Freedom of Information Bill was actually presented to the Commons in 2000, ministers retained significant powers to withhold information at their discretion and the bill was criticised for maintaining the culture of secrecy many believe still exists within the corridors of Whitehall.
The current status
What is happening now, taken from the U.K. citizen’s viewpoint. The five articles below are taken from the BBC News Online. Whilst the articles are now somewhat dated the gist is good.
Collectively these articles present a good layman’s guide to the UK information availability. These articles focus on the inward perspective.
The next four articles below are taken from assorted papers. Whilst the articles are now somewhat dated the gist is good. You may appreciate that from a world perspective the U.K. is not seen as a ‘good guy’
Collectively these articles present a good layman’s guide to the UK information availability. These articles focus on the outward perspective. For a more detailed appraisal of current thinking both the articles below will stimulate the scholar.
Echelon interception system - download the (PDF) file
A Revolution in Intelligence Affairs - download the (PDF) file
Hubris is a quality of people
Under the influence of being right.
Beware of power wielded in a cause
Restrained by nothing more than higher laws,
Intent on doing good through measured might.
So do righteous rulers' reigns turn lethal.