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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, as the legitimate holder of the information may change plans or take other countermeasures once it is known that the information is in unauthorized hands. See clandestine HUMINT for the basic concepts of such information collection, and subordinate articles such as clandestine HUMINT operational techniques and clandestine HUMINT asset recruiting for discussions of the "tradecraft" used to collect this information.



Incidents of 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 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.[1] During the 1200s and 1300s 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.[2]

The Cold War involved intense espionage activity between the United States of America and its allies and the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China and their allies, particularly related to nuclear weapons secrets. Recently, espionage agencies have targeted the illegal drug trade and those considered to be terrorists.

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[3]) officers were judged by the number of agents they recruited.

Various forms

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 to whom he was selling 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. Espionage is a violation of United States law, 18 U.S.C. § 792798 and Article 106 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice".[4] 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.

Espionage is usually part of an institutional effort (i.e., governmental or corporate espionage), and the term is most readily associated with state spying on potential or actual enemies, primarily for military purposes, but this has been extended to spying involving corporations, known specifically as industrial espionage. Canada is losing $12 billion a year due to industrial espionage.[5] It is estimated that German companies were losing about €50 billion ($87 billion) and 30,000 jobs to industrial espionage every year.[6] Many nations routinely spy on both their enemies and allies, although they maintain a policy of not making comment on this. In addition to utilizing agencies within a government many also employ private companies to collect information on their behalf such as SCG International Risk and others. Black's Law Dictionary (1990) defines espionage as: "...gathering, transmitting, or losing...information related to the national defense".

While news media may speak of "spy satellites" and the like, espionage is not a synonym for all types of 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. Not all HUMINT activities, such as interviewing prisoners, reports from military reconnaissance patrols and from diplomats, etc., are espionage.

A spy is a person employed to obtain such secrets. Within the US 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 and are sometimes unaware that they are participating. This is often referred to as "the Tyson Effect", where important players are unaware of their own participation.[citation needed] See Clandestine HUMINT for details of the actual operations and people of espionage systems.

Case officers are stationed in foreign countries to recruit and supervise intelligence agents, who in turn spy on targets in their countries where they are assigned. A spy may or may not be an actual citizen of a target country. While the more common practice is to recruit a person already trusted with access to sensitive information, there are cases where a person may attempt to infiltrate a target organization, with a well-prepared synthetic identity for them, called a legend in tradecraft.

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).


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, 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.

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 needed to get agents into target countries to learn security routines around their targets. They also needed to arrange secure ways of transferring money.

Communications both are necessary to espionage and clandestine operations, and also a great vulnerability when the adversary has sophisticated SIGINT detection and interception capability.

See espionage organizations for national and non-national groups that conduct clandestine human operations, for any of a number of reasons: assessment of national capabilities at the strategic level, warning of the movements of security and military organizations; financial systems; protective measures around targets.

Spies in various conflicts

FBI file photo of the leader of the Duquesne Spy Ring (1941)

Espionage under Elizabeth I of England

Espionage in the American Revolution

Espionage in the Napoleonic Wars

Espionage in the American Civil War

One of the innovations in the American Civil War was the use of proprietary companies for intelligence collection. See Allan Pinkerton.

Espionage in the Second Boer War

Espionage in World War I

Espionage in World War II

Informants were common in World War II, examples include the Oslo Report that warned the British of German secret weapons, and the Réseau AGIR reporting 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 the "Japan's wartime spy program".[1] Additional WWII espionage examples include Soviet spying on the US Manhatten project, the German Duquesne Spy Ring convicted in the US, and the Soviet Red Orchestra spying on Nazi Germany.

Women in Espionage

Before the Second World War, it was still viewed as being unethical to have women holding any major position in war or in espionage. However, times were changing and the demand for male soldiers resulted in many women replacing them in their daily jobs. It was this increase in women's' rights, along with the tactical advantages of female spies that lead the Special Operations Executive (SOE) to employ the first British Spies in April of 1942. Their task was to transmit information from the Nazi occupied France back to Allied Forces. The main strategic reason for their implementation was because all men in France were at the risk of being interrogated by Nazi troops, and so women were safer and less likely to arouse suspicion. In this way they made good couriers and proved equal, if not more effective than their male counterparts. The two other main areas of espionage that women were included in were Organization and Radio Operation. These were vital to the success of many operations including the main network between Paris and London.

Espionage technology and techniques

Spy fiction

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, a large amount of 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. While it is obvious from reading news accounts that many real spies, such as Valerie Plame, are attractive and sociable, the fictional secret agent is 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.

While fictional secret agents, such as Johnny Fedora, were popular during the 1950s and 60s, James Bond, the protagonist of Ian Fleming's novels, who went on to spawn an extremely successful film franchise, is the most famous fictional secret agent of all[citation needed]: he uses the best toys and excels at fighting and seduction, completely ignoring the more tedious side of espionage. In direct contrast to this, John le Carré's character George Smiley is often considered the "anti-Bond" and one of the more realistic fictional spies: he is a finite and imperfect man, initially defeated by enemies within the Secret Service, who eventually prevails by patience, intelligence, and compassion. Another is the boy spy Alex Rider, created by Anthony Horowitz; Rider is said to be useful due to his youth. Other popular spies are the characters Johnny Fedora by Desmond Cory; Quiller by Adam Hall; Philip McAlpine by Adam Diment. Nikita, played by Peta Wilson, and Michael Samuelle, played by Roy Dupuis, in the TV series La Femme Nikita (1997–2001), Jack Ryan in numerous Tom Clancy novels, as well as Jason Bourne from Robert Ludlum's Bourne trilogy, and Sydney Bristow, played by Jennifer Garner, in the TV series Alias (2001–2006). The British TV series Spooks is another example of spy fiction.

A recent example of a secret agent that took a different path than the previous ones is Michael Westen from Burn Notice. Michael Westen is known for being very skilful in creating gadgets similar to James Bond, however Michael Westen's gadgets have the appearance of working with modern day technology.

Spy fiction has also become prevalent in video gaming, where the "wetwork" aspect of espionage is highlighted. Game situations typically involve agents sent into enemy territory for purposes of subversion. These depictions are more action-oriented than would be typical in most cases of espionage, and they tend to focus on infiltration rather than information-gathering. Some examples are GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Thief, Metal Gear and Splinter Cell. Recent incarnations have attempted to introduce more psychological aspects of infiltration, such as social camouflage and moral decision making, into gameplay.

Further reading

There is a vast and ever-growing body of literature devoted to espionage. The following reading list features some of the better known and more comprehensive accounts.


Author(s) Title Publisher Date Notes
Jenkins, Peter Advanced Surveillance: The Complete Manual of Surveillance Training - - ISBN 0953537811
West, Nigel MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service Operations 1909-1945 - 1983 -
Smith Jr., W. Thomas Encyclopedia of the Central Intelligence Agency - 2003 popular
Richelson, Jeffery T. The U.S. Intelligence Community - 1999 fourth edition
Richelson, Jeffery T. A Century of Spies: Intelligence in the Twentieth Century - 1977 -
Owen, David Hidden Secrets: A Complete History of Espionage and the Technology Used to Support It - - -
O'Toole, George Honorable Treachery: A History of U.S. Intelligence, Espionage, Covert Action from the American Revolution to the CIA - 1991 -
Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth & K. Lee Lerner, eds. Terrorism: essential primary sources Thomas Gale 2006 ISBN 9781414406213
Lerner, K. Lee and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, eds. Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence and Security - 2003 1100 pages. 850 articles, strong on technology
Knightley, Philip The Second Oldest Profession: Spies and Spying in the Twentieth Century Norton 1986 -
Kahn, David The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet - 1996 Revised edition, 1200 pages. First published in 1967.
Johnson, Robert Spying for Empire: The Great Game in Central and South Asia, 1757-1947 London: Greenhill 2006 British Intelligence and its imperial connection
Friedman, George America's Secret War: Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies - 2005 since 9-11
Bungert, Heike et al. eds. Secret Intelligence in the Twentieth Century - 2003 essays by scholars
May, Ernest (ed.) Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment before the Two World Wars - 1984 -
Black, Ian and Morris, Benny Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services - 1991 -
Andrew, Christopher For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush - 1996 -

World War I

Author(s) Title Publisher Date Notes
Tunney, Thomas Joseph and Paul Merrick Hollister Throttled!: The Detection of the German and Anarchist Bomb Plotters Boston: Small, Maynard & company 1919 Chapter 9 is about Capt Fritz Duquesne and is available on Wikisource: see text
Beesly, Patrick Room 40 - 1982 Covers the breaking of German codes by RN intelligence, including the Turkish bribe, Zimmermann telegram, and failure at Jutland.
Burnham, Frederick Russell Taking Chances - 1944 Chapter 2 is about Capt Fritz Duquesne
Chapter 31 is about Howard Burnham
May, Ernest (ed.) Knowing One's Enemies: Intelligence Assessment before the Two World Wars - 1984 -
Tuchman, Barbara W. The Zimmermann Telegram Ballantine Books 1966 -

World War II: 1931-1945

Author(s) Title Publisher Date Notes
Babington-Smith, Constance Air Spy: The Story of Photo Intelligence in World War II - 1957 -
Bryden, John Best-Kept Secret: Canadian Secret Intelligence in the Second World War Lester 1993 -
Hinsley, F. H. and Alan Stripp Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park - 2001 -
Hinsley, F. H. British Intelligence in the Second World War - 1996 Abridged version of multivolume official history.
Hohne, Heinz Canaris: Hitler's Master Spy - 1979 -
Jones, R. V. The Wizard War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945 - 1978 -
Kahn, David Hitler's Spies: German Military Intelligence in World War II' - 1978 -
Kahn, David Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1939-1943 - 1991 FACE
Kitson, Simon The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France - 2008
Lewin, Ronald The American Magic: Codes, Ciphers and the Defeat of Japan - 1982 -
Masterman, J. C. The Double Cross System in the War of 1935 to 1945 Yale 1972 -
Persico, Joseph Roosevelt's Secret War: FDR and World War II Espionage - 2001 -
Persico, Joseph Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey-From the OSS to the CIA - 1991 -
Ronnie, Art Counterfeit Hero: Fritz Duquesne, Adventurer and Spy - 1995 ISBN 1-55750-733-3-
Sayers, Michael & Albert E. Kahn Sabotage! The Secret War Against America - 1942 -
Smith, Richard Harris OSS: The Secret History of America's First Central Intelligence Agency - 2005 -
Stanley, Roy M. World War II Photo Intelligence - 1981 -
Wark, Wesley The Ultimate Enemy: British Intelligence and Nazi Germany, 1933-1939 - 1985 -
Wark, Wesley "Cryptographic Innocence: The Origins of Signals Intelligence in Canada in the Second World War" in Journal of Contemporary History 22 - 1987 -
West, Nigel Secret War: The Story of SOE, Britain's Wartime Sabotage Organization - 1992 -
Winterbotham, F. W. The Ultra Secret Harper & Row 1974 -
Winterbotham, F. W. The Nazi Connection Harper & Row 1978 -
Cowburn, B. No Cloak No Dagger Brown, Watson, Ltd. 1960 -
Wohlstetter, Roberta. Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision - 1962 -

Cold War era: 1945-1991

Author(s) Title Publisher Date Notes
Aldrich, Richard J. The Hidden Hand: Britain, America and Cold War Secret Intelligence - 2002 -
Ambrose, Stephen E. Ike's Spies: Eisenhower and the Intelligence Establishment - 1981- -
Andrew, Christopher and Vasili Mitrokhin The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB Basic Books 1991, 2005 ISBN 0465003117
Andrew, Christopher, and Oleg Gordievsky KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev - 1990 -
Aronoff, Myron J. The Spy Novels of John Le Carré: Balancing Ethics and Politics - 1999 -
Bissell, Richard Reflections of a Cold Warrior: From Yalta to the Bay of Pigs' - 1996 -
Bogle, Lori, ed. Cold War Espionage and Spying - 2001- essays
Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World - - -
Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West Gardners Books 2000 ISBN 978-0-14-028487-4
Jim Colella My Life as an Italian Mafioso Spy - 2000 -
Dorril, Stephen MI6: Inside the Covert World of Her Majesty's Secret Intelligence Service - 2000 -
Dziak, John J. Chekisty: A History of the KGB - 1988 -
Gates, Robert M. From The Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story Of Five Presidents And How They Won The Cold War' - 1997 -
Frost, Mike and Michel Gratton Spyworld: Inside the Canadian and American Intelligence Establishments Doubleday Canada 1994 -
Haynes, John Earl, and Harvey Klehr Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America - 1999 -
Helms, Richard A Look over My Shoulder: A Life in the Central Intelligence Agency - 2003 -
Koehler, John O. Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police' - 1999 -
Persico, Joseph Casey: The Lives and Secrets of William J. Casey-From the OSS to the CIA - 1991 -
Murphy, David E., Sergei A. Kondrashev, and George Bailey Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War - 1997 -
Prados, John Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II - 1996 -
Rositzke, Harry. The CIA's Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action - 1988 -
Srodes, James Allen Dulles: Master of Spies Regnery 2000 CIA head to 1961
Sontag Sherry, and Christopher Drew Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espinonage Harper 1998
Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies and Secret Operations Greenwood Press/Questia 2004 -
  • Anderson, Nicholas NOC - 2008 eBook[7] and 2009 published Enigma Books.

See also


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Espionage is the practice of surreptitiously obtaining information about an organization or a society that is considered secret or confidential.


  • And we did have fun. For five years we bugged and burgled our way across London at the State's behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way.
  • Because something is not what it is said to be, Ma'am, does not mean it is a fake. It may just have been wrongly attributed.
  • Indeed, there may well be many who will agree that death by hanging is almost too good for a sailor who will encompass the death of thousands of his shipmates without qualm.
    • "Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi spies" (Public Record Office, 2000), p. 198
    • Lt-Col Robin Stephens, Commandant of Camp 020, in a report recommending no reprieve from sentence of death for Duncan Scott-Ford who had admitted communicating information about Allied ships to German agents. Scott-Ford was hanged.
  • Mrs O'Grady has been sentenced to death. Personally I doubt whether she is guilty of anything more than collecting information. She probably pictured herself as a master spy, and cannot bring herself to say that there was really nothing behind it all.
    • Guy Liddell, diary entry, 17 December 1940. Refers to Pamela O'Grady, an Isle of Wight landlady; on appeal her sentence was reduced to fourteen years' imprisonment. Guy Liddell was Director of Counter-Espionage for MI5, the British Security Service.
  • No spy, however astute, is proof against relentless interrogation. Some unforseen circumstance, some trivial lapse, is pounced upon, exploited by the interrogator, until a break is complete.
    • "Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi spies" (Public Record Office, 2000), p. 105
    • Lt-Col Robin Stephens, Commandant of Camp 020 which was the secret British centre for interrogating suspected Nazi spies during World War II. Stephens aimed to get "a break" in which the spy would make a full confession, and almost always succeeded.
  • The spies of the underworld are legion. Craven crooks, for the most part, they are prey to blackmail.
    • "Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi spies" (Public Record Office, 2000), p. 106
    • Lt-Col Robin Stephens, who divided spies into three broad categories: patriots, of the underworld, and just mercenary.
  • To MI5, if you steam this open you are dirty buggers.
    • Peter Wright, "Spycatcher" (Heinemann, 1987), p. 46
    • Letter sent to a prominent member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and opened by MI5. According to Wright, Major Denman (MI5 officer in charge of post interception) classified it as 'obscene post' (so that he was not required to send it on), framed the letter and put it on his office wall.
  • what is espionage but the very thing we exercise daily in our lives?
    • John Le carre


  • There have been only two kinds of CIA secret operations: the ones that are widely known to have failed—usually because of almost unbelievably crude errors—and the ones that are not yet widely known to have failed.
Look up espionage in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

Simple English

Espionage or spying is a practice of getting information about an organization, society, or country that is meant to be secret or confidential, without permission. That is called invading. Espionage involves having access to where the needed information is stored or the people that know the information.

In this context, an agent is an employee of one country (or organisation) who is employed to get information from another country (or organisation).

A double agent is one who trades information to both sides, and is (without their knowledge) being employed by both sides.

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