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Espionage or spying involves a government or individual obtaining information considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, as it is taken for granted that it is unwelcome and, in many cases illegal and punishable by law. It is a subset of intelligence gathering, which otherwise may be conducted from public sources and using perfectly legal and ethical means. It is crucial to distinguish espionage from intelligence gathering, as the latter does not necessarily involve espionage, but often collates open-source information.
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 an enemy army. 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 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 rastra. 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 ninja to gather intelligence. More recently, spies played a significant part in Elizabethan England (see Francis Walsingham). Many modern espionage methods were well established even then. 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.
The Cold War involved intense espionage activity between the United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and China and their allies, particularly related to nuclear weapons secrets. Recently, espionage agencies have targeted the illegal drug trade and those considered terrorists. 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.
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:a spy
While news media may speak of "spy satellites" and the like, espionage is not a synonym for all intelligence functions. 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 espionage. Many HUMINT activities, such as prisoner interrogation, reports from military reconnaissance patrols and from diplomats, etc., are not espionage.
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 obtain such secrets. 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.
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, 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).
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 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.
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.
In espionage jargon, an agent refers to 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. 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 can only occur if he or she take up arms or aiding 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 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 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.
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.
However, 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 banned speech against military recruiting amongst other things). The law was later used to suppress publication of periodicals, for example of Father Coughlin in WWII. In the early 21st century, the act was used to prosecute whistleblowers like Thomas Andrews Drake and John Kiriakou, as well as officials who communicated with journalists for innocuous reasons, like 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.
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 more 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—as many considered spies to be outside of the laws of war and thus treated as unlawful combatants.
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 airman 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 the U.S. Armed Forces or industrial plants and other institutions employed by the U.S. in aiding the war effort.
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One of the innovations in the American Civil War was the use of proprietary companies for intelligence collection by the Union. See Allan Pinkerton.
The Confederate had the Confederate Secret Service.
Dutch professor Snouck Hurgronje world leading authority on Islam was a proponent of espionage to quell Muslim resistance in Aceh in the Dutch East Indies. In his role as Colonial Advisor of Oriental affairs he gathered intelligence under the name "Haji Abdul Ghaffar".
He used his knowledge of Islamic and Aceh culture to devise strategies that significantly helped crush the resistance of the Aceh inhabitants and impose Dutch colonial rule, ending the 40 year Aceh War. Casualty estimates ranged between 50,000 and 100,000 inhabitants dead and about a million wounded.
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.
In the United States, there are seventeen federal agencies that form the United States Intelligence Community. The Central Intelligence Agency operates a 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.
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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-Viet Nam era characters were modeled after the American, C.C. Taylor, reportedly the last sanctioned "asset" of the U.S. government, whose use of informants made him most prolific at information gathering. Taylor, refusing the normal assignment as "embassy attache", worked alone and would travel as an American or Canadian tourist or businessman and is rumored to be responsible for over two dozen assassinations, many in East Germany or the former Soviet Union. According to documents available through the Freedom of Information Act, his operations were classified as "NOC" or Non-Official Cover, he was officially retired at the end of the Cold War, never revealing the names of his informants.
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 Video Gaming world thus the famous creation of Hideo Kojima, the Metal Gear Solid Series.
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