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Spying has been part of American history since the revolution. Major Andre was attempting to link up with Benedict Arnold for the betrayal of West Point when he was caught. He was hanged as a spy on Washington`s explicit orders, probably due to the Hale case.
During World War II, American spies were run through the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) under the supervision of Bill Donovan. Following the war, all foreign spying was given to the Central Intelligence Agency, which is forbidden by law from conducting operations within the country.
Espionage is the use of spies, or the practice of spying, for the purpose of obtaining information about the plans, activities, capabilities, or resources of a competitor or enemy. It is closely related to intelligence, but is often distinguished from it by virtue of the clandestine, aggressive, and dangerous nature of the espionage trade.
The term espionage comes from a French word meaning to spy. The Middle French espionner appears to be related to the Old Italian spione, which in turn is linguistically akin to the Old High German spehon. This is interesting philologically, since French, Italian, and German have very different historic roots: the first two derived from the Latin of the Roman Empire, while the third comes from the language of the Romans' ⊺rbarian" foes across the Rhine. It is perhaps fitting that the very etymology of espionage would reflect surreptitious connections.
A brief history. Though the word itself entered the English language from the French in 1793, at a time when the foundations of modern espionage were being laid, the concept of espionage is as old as civilization. Ancient and classical era scripts often mention spies and the use of espionage (e.g., the Bible mentions spies some 100 times) while the Greek legend of the Trojan horse suggests that covert operations and ȭirty tricks" are nothing new. The roots of espionage in the East are likewise very deep: in the third century B.C. , both the Mauryan empire of India and the China's Ch'in dynasty ensured control over their vast realms with the help of spy networks.
Despite this early evidence of organized spying in east Asia, espionage tended to be an ad hoc enterprise until the late eighteenth century. The reign of terror that followed the French Revolution—significantly, in 1793— marked the beginnings of the modern totalitarian police state, while the American Revolution a few years earlier saw the beginnings of a consistent interface between military operations and intelligence. Military intelligence came into its own during the American Civil War, while the late nineteenth century saw the birth of the first U.S. military intelligence organizations.
The twentieth century and beyond. Espionage reached a new level of maturity in World War I. Although Mata Hari may
have been the most visible, and romantic, spy of the war, there were many others on both sides. The war also gave birth to the first true totalitarian state, in Russia, and this was followed soon afterward by the establishment of fascism in Italy. Totalitarianism spawned its own elaborate spy networks, and increased the requirements for espionage activities on the part of democracies, as evidenced by the U.S. experience with Nazi and later Soviet infiltrators on American shores.
The era that perhaps most commonly comes to mind at the mention of the word espionage is the Cold War, which lasted from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire. Yet the end of Soviet communism was certainly not the end of espionage, a fact that became dramatically apparent as new U.S. enemies emerged among Islamist terrorists and their supporters.
In any case, espionage is not solely the enterprise of governments: companies have long sought to gain the advantage over competitors through the use of economic or industrial espionage. In a world increasingly dominated by huge corporations, economic espionage is not likely to disappear. Nor is espionage only undertaken against enemies: the United States has captured, and punished, spies who passed U.S. secrets to such allies as Israel and South Korea.
Year of the Spy (1985)
The Cold War was on its last gasps, but you would have never guessed it by all the moles in the U.S. government who were passing secrets.
It was 1985—and as a result of a string of high-profile espionage arrests by the FBI and its partners, the press dubbed it the “Year of the Spy.”
Among those identified and their stories:
John Anthony Walker, Jr.
- U.S. government job: U.S. Navy Warrant Officer and communications specialist, 1967 to 1985.
- Also worked for: The Soviet Union.
- Secrets passed: For more than 17 years, Walker provided top cryptographic secrets to the Soviets, compromising at least one million classified messages. After retiring from the Navy, he also recruited three people with security clearances into his espionage ring: his brother Arthur, his son Michael, and his good friend Jerry Whitworth. The information passed by Walker and his confederates would have been devastating to the U.S. had the nation gone to war with the Soviets.
- How discovered: A tip from his ex-wife.
- Fate: Arrested on May 20, 1985, pled guilty, and sentenced to life in prison.
Jonathan Jay Pollard
- U.S. government job: Civilian intelligence analyst at the Navy’s Anti-Terrorist Alert Center in Maryland.
- Also worked for: Israel.
- Secrets passed: Started selling sensitive documents in 1984 the actual content has not been revealed but the quantity was significant. His wife Anne assisted him.
- How discovered: Co-workers grew suspicious.
- Fate: Arrested along with his wife Anne on November 21, 1985, outside the Israeli Embassy both pled guilty the following year, with Jonathan Pollard receiving a life sentence.
Sharon Marie Scranage
- U.S. government job: CIA clerk stationed in Ghana.
- Also worked for: Ghana.
- Secrets passed: Scranage began dating Michael Soussoudis, a cousin of the Ghanaian head of state, in 1983. She provided him with CIA information, including the identity of CIA affiliates and intelligence on communications, radio, and military equipment.
- How discovered: Routine CIA polygraph raised suspicions.
- Fate: Charged along with boyfriend in July 1985, pled guilty, and sentenced to five years in prison.
Larry Wu-tai Chin
- U.S. government job: Chinese language translator/intelligence officer for CIA, 1952 to 1981.
- Also worked for: China.
- Secrets passed: Classified documents and photographs, including CIA reports on the Far East.
- How discovered: Not revealed.
- Fate: Arrested on November 22, 1985 convicted at trial but committed suicide before sentencing.
Ronald William Pelton
- U.S. government job: Communications specialist, National Security Agency.
- Also worked for: The Soviet Union.
- Secrets passed: Because of money problems, Pelton went to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C. shortly after resigning from the National Security Agency and offered to sell secrets. Provided classified information for five years, including details on U.S. collection programs targeting the Soviets.
- How discovered: Information provided by a KGB defector.
- Fate: Arrested on November 25, 1985, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
These are just a few of the dozens of spies who we identified and arrested during the 1980s, including 12 in 1984 alone. For the FBI, it wasn’t the “Year of the Spy”—it was the “Decade of the Spy!”
The Middle Ages
After the collapse of the Roman Empire in Europe, espionage and intelligence activities were confined to wartime or local service. Warring factions under barbarian lords may have used strategic espionage to gauge the strength of their opposition or learn about enemy defenses, but no written records of such activities survive. The only considerable political force in Europe during the Dark Ages was the Catholic Church, but operations on the European periphery were confined to monastic outposts that struggled for survival.
In the Middle Ages, the birth of large nation-states, such as France and England, in the ninth and tenth centuries facilitated the need for intelligence in a diplomatic setting. Systems of couriers, translators, and royal messengers carried diplomatic messages between monarchs or feudal lords. Literacy was a rarity, even in the early royal courts, so messages were carefully delivered verbatim by couriers, or clergy acted as scribes.
Espionage remained mostly limited to battlefield operations, but the development of the feudal system, in which lords swore fealty to monarchs, created a complicated allegiance network. The web of allegiances gave rise to laws prohibiting treason, double allegiances, and political espionage against allied lords.
In the eleventh century, the Catholic Church rose to the fore in European politics. With a large bureaucratic network, the resources of feudal military forces, and the largest treasury in the world, the Church formed policy that governed all of Europe. Throughout the course of the Middle Ages, two events, the Crusades and the Inquisition, solidified the power of the Church and created the only long-standing, medieval intelligence community.
In 1095, Pope Urban II called for the first Crusade, a military campaign to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Lands from Muslim and Byzantine rule. The Church massed several large armies, and employed spies to report on defenses surrounding Constantinople and Jerusalem. Special intelligence agents also infiltrated prisons to free captured crusaders, or sabotage rival palaces, mosques, and military defenses. The Crusades continued for nearly four centuries, draining the military and intelligence resources of most of the European monarchs.
The Crusades also changed the tenor of espionage and intelligence work within Europe itself. Religious fervor, and the desire for political consolidation, prompted thirteenth century church councils to establish laws regarding the prosecution of heretics and anti-clerical political leaders. The ensuing movement became known as the Inquisition. Although the Church used its political force as impetus for the Inquisition, enforcement of religious edicts and prosecution of violators fell to local clergy and secular authorities. For this reason, the Inquisition took many forms throughout Europe. The same movement that was terror-filled and brutal in Spain, had little impact in England and Scandinavia.
Espionage was an essential component of the Inquisition. The Church relied on vast networks of informants to find and denounce suspected heretics and political dissidents. By the early fourteenth century, Rome and the Spanish monarchs both employed sizable secret police forces to carry out mass trials and public executions. In southern France, heretical groups relied on intelligence gathered from their own resistance networks to gauge the surrounding political climate, and assist in hiding refugees.
In 1542, the process of Inquisition was centralized within the Church. Pope Paul III established the Congregation of the Holy Office, a permanent council, composed of cardinals and other officials, whose mission was to maintain the political integrity of Church. The council relied on censure and excommunication to coerce problematic individuals, forsaking the brutal cloak and dagger methods of early Inquisitors. The council maintained spies and informants, but shifted their focus to scrutinizing the actions of Europe's monarchs and prominent aristocrats. The advent of the Renaissance in Italy in the mid-fifteenth century quelled much of the fervor and political fear that drove the Inquisition, and the movement faded.
A brief history of US-China espionage entanglementsMs Tech
Since the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, intelligence services in both Beijing and Washington have vied to uncover secrets in one another’s countries, and to safeguard their own secrets, in pursuit of military, economic, and technological advantage. Many bona fide spies on both sides have been caught many innocents have been unfairly implicated. What follows is a brief history of key events in this conflict.
Qian Xuesen, cofounder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and professor at Caltech, is stripped of his security clearance for alleged connections to the Communist Party. Qian, who had questioned Nazi rocket scientists on behalf of the US government after World War II and worked on the Manhattan Project, resigns from Caltech and asks to leave the US for China, at which point he is held under house arrest for five years. In 1955 the US deports him Qian is greeted as a hero in China and goes on to become the father of Chinese rocketry, helping jump-start China’s space and missile programs. No substantive evidence has ever been released that he was a Chinese spy. Deporting Qian was “the stupidest thing the country ever did,” according to Dan Kimball, undersecretary of the Navy at the time of Qian’s arrest.
Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping shakes hands with President Jimmy Carter at the White House.
January 1, 1979
The United States normalizes diplomatic relations with China. Three years later there are 10,000 Chinese students in the US, and the FBI begins directing field offices to recruit students for counterintelligence operations.
October 11, 1996
Congress passes the Economic Espionage Act, which makes it a federal crime to steal trade secrets either for the benefit of a foreign power or with the intent of damaging the company.
Protesters demonstrating outside the US consulate in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou carry portraits of Chinese journalists killed in NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
US bombers destroy the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, killing three Chinese journalists. US government investigations find the incident to be an accident, a claim the Chinese government rejects.
September 13, 2000
Wen Ho Lee, an American citizen born in Taiwan, pleads guilty to one count of illegally possessing government data related to national security and is released for time served. The government’s case alleging that Lee was a super spy who helped China develop a next-generation nuclear warhead ultimately collapses, and the judge overseeing Lee’s case apologizes for the way Lee was treated (including solitary confinement). Though many of Lee’s actions remain mysterious, few suspect he was ever a Chinese spy. Lee goes on to win a $1.6 million settlement from the government and several news organizations for leaking and publishing his name before he was formally charged. The supposed mole who stole nuclear secrets has never been found.
December 11, 2001
China joins the World Trade Organization, agreeing to adhere to multilateral rules enforced by supranational arbitration panels. The agreement is heralded as China’s full entrance into the global order.
October 28, 2005
Chi Mak, a naturalized US citizen born in China, is arrested after his brother was stopped at Los Angeles International Airport carrying encrypted disks containing information from Chi. In March 2008, Chi Mak is found guilty and sentenced to 24 years in prison for conspiring to export military technology to China, among other crimes. The prosecution argued that Chi was a sleeper agent when he came to the US in the 1970s and worked his way up as an engineer at a defense contractor. Many of the alleged secrets were not revealed, but Mak is believed to have passed intelligence related to quieting submarine propulsion to avoid detection.
February 8, 2010
Dongfan “Greg” Chun, the first person convicted under the Economic Espionage Act, is sentenced to 15 years in prison. Starting in the 1970s, Chun had passed classified information on the B-1 bomber, the F-15 fighter jet, the Chinook helicopter, the US space shuttle program, and the Delta V rocket while working for Rockwell and, later, Boeing. Chun, who was found to have made millions of dollars selling secrets to China, claimed he was merely a pack rat hoarding classified documents.
China unravels the CIA’s network of spies in the country and executes over 20 people for espionage. While a mole may have played a role, a Yahoo News investigation later claims that the CIA’s poorly secured communications network was likely hacked by the Iranians.
The laptop, thumb drives, cell phones, and other items confiscated from Wengfeng Lu during his 2012 arrest as he tried to board a plane to China.
Wengfeng Lu is arrested before boarding a plane to China, where he planned to start a company copying medical-device technology he stole from two previous employers. In January 2019 he is sentenced to 27 months in prison.
Mo Hailong, a Chinese national working in the US, is arrested for conspiring to steal trade secrets: proprietary seeds made by DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto. He is eventually sentenced to three years in prison.
May 19, 2014
The US Justice Department announces the indictment of five Chinese soldiers, part of Unit 61398, for hacking into US companies’ networks to aid competing Chinese state-owned companies. The soldiers were accused of stealing intellectual property, business plans, and negotiation strategies from companies such as Westinghouse and US Steel.
June 28 2014
Su Bin, a Chinese national who ran an aerospace company in Canada, is arrested in Canada on behalf of the US government for helping two Chinese soldiers steal information on the C-17 cargo plane and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets. Su Bin eventually is extradited to the United States, pleads guilty to engaging in the hacking operations from 2008 to 2014, and is sentenced to 46 months in prison. The Chinese cargo plane Xian Y-20, unveiled in 2014, displays a remarkable resemblance to the C-17.
September 5, 2014
T-Mobile files a lawsuit against Huawei alleging that its employees stole software and hardware from a T-Mobile lab, including a piece of a robotic hand. In 2017 a jury finds Huawei guilty of “misappropriation” of trade secrets but says the theft wasn’t directed by Huawei. The company is ordered to pay $4.8 million for breach of contract. In 2019 the US Justice Department charges Huawei with purposefully stealing trade secrets from T-Mobile and produces emails showing that Huawei offered employees bonuses for stealing tech from other companies.
October 20, 2014
Sherry Chen, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service, is arrested for allegedly stealing secrets about US dams and hiding contacts with Chinese government officials. Five months later all charges are dropped against Chen, who was born in China but became an American citizen. Chen had met with a Chinese government official to help a friend in China with his business, and had sent a few emails to the same official answering a question about how dams were funded in the US.
Xi Xiaoxing and Sherry Chen at a press conference in Washington, DC, on September 16, 2015.
May 21 2015
FBI agents raid the house of Xi Xiaoxing, chair of Temple University’s physics department, for allegedly sending to China schematics of a pocket heater, a key piece of technology used in superconductor research. By September, the Justice Department drops all charges after it is revealed that the schematics were of an entirely different device that Xi had invented. Xi is now suing the lead FBI agent.
June 4, 2015
The Office of Personnel Management announces a massive security breach that eventually is shown to affect over 20 million people who had undergone background checks for federal jobs since 2000. These records included sensitive information like psychiatric history, as well as over 5 million sets of fingerprints. Chinese military unit 61938 is suspected of conducting the hack. The records are highly valuable to the Chinese as a database of government employees to target as informants, aided by the sensitive information on those employees.
Ex-CIA officer Kevin Mallory is arrested for passing classified materials to Chinese intelligence agents using a cell phone given to him during a trip to Shanghai. Mallory, who volunteered some information to FBI and CIA agents before being arrested, had claimed to be a double agent helping the US government, but after the FBI cracked his phone, he was shown to have hidden information. Behind on his mortgage and in debt, he had received $25,000 from the Chinese. In June 2018 a jury finds him guilty of espionage, and he is later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Ex-CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee is arrested at JFK Airport and charged with giving Chinese agents classified information from his days at the CIA, including the real names and locations of assets in China. In May 2019 Lee pleads guilty to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for information and is sentenced to 19 years in prison. According to prosecutors, Lee’s information helped dismantle the CIA’s China network in 2010.
Ron Rockwell Hansen, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, is arrested at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport carrying classified information about military readiness plans. In March 2019 Hansen pleads guilty and admits to agreeing to pass military secrets to Chinese agents in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is later sentenced to a reduced 10 years in prison because he cooperated with the FBI after his arrest.
October 10, 2018
Yanjun Xu, an intelligence officer for the Chinese Ministry of State Security, is arrested in Belgium and extradited to the United States for attempting to steal jet fan blade designs from GE. The FBI had lured him to Belgium to pick up the information.
February 14, 2019
You Xiaorong, a naturalized US citizen, is charged with stealing research on BPA-free coatings for bottles from her employer, Coca-Cola. The Justice Department alleges You was intending to set up a competing firm in China to replicate the materials. The case is ongoing.
MD Anderson Cancer Center fires three senior researchers after the National Institutes of Health flags them for failing to disclose foreign ties. All the researchers flagged are Asian, again raising concerns the FBI is targeting Asian-Americans.
May 15, 2019
President Trump issues an executive order effectively banning US companies from selling equipment to Huawei on grounds that it poses a risk to national security.
Harvard University professor Charles Lieber is surrounded by reporters as he leaves the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston.
January 28, 2020
Charles Lieber, head of Harvard University's chemistry department, is charged with lying about accepting money from the Chinese government while receiving $15 million in grants from US agencies. A pioneer in nanotechnology, Lieber is the highest-profile academic to be arrested in connection with Chinese-American technological rivalry .
July 24, 2020
The Trump administration orders the closure of China's consulate in Houston, “in order to protect American intellectual property and American's (sic) private information,” alleging that the consulate is being used to coordinate industrial espionage against the US. China closes the American consulate in Chengdu in retaliation.
One of the closest brushes with nuclear war was Russia vs China
Posted On October 09, 2020 19:11:52
As they’re now America’s two top rivals, it’s easy to forget that China and Russia aren’t allies and actually have decades of regional rivalry and have been at each other’s throats more than once. In fact, in 1970, the Soviet Union started asking around about whether or not anyone would really care if they launched a preemptive nuclear strike against China.
Ya know, for world security and all that.
China’s first nuclear test in 1964 set off a series of dominoes that almost convinced Russia to nuke it.
Russia and China try to smooth over their regional troubles in the common interest of trying to constrain America, even when Russia was the Soviet Union and the year was 1950. Russia and China sent pilots to North Korea to help fight American air power, downing and killing U.S. pilots. It was a real high-point for Soviet-Sino Relations.
But at the time, China was basically to the Soviet Union what North Korea is to China today. The Soviet Union was much larger and stronger, and it was embroiled in a battle of superpowers with the U.S. China was welcome on the playground as long as it was playing by the rules and backing up Soviet interests. But China wanted to become a nuclear power just like its big brother.
And so, in 1964, China detonated its first device, becoming the fifth country to become a nuclear power.
Russian boats try to knock a Chinese man off of his craft in the Wasuli River during the 1969 border clashes between the two countries.
(China Photo Service, CC BY-SA 3.0)
This combined with already simmering tensions over border conflicts and brought the two countries’ relations to a low boil. Their troops fought skirmishes against one another on their shared border while both sides greatly built up their troops and their stockpiles of less-than-nuclear weapons like biological and chemical threats.
In 1969, this grew into the Sino-Soviet border conflict, a seven-month undeclared war between the two sides from March to September of that year. Moscow seemed to hope that internal divisions in China would distract Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi, the top leaders of China’s Communist Party at the time.
Instead, China called international attention to the clashes and stared Russia down. And on Zhenbao Island, Chinese and Russian troops drew serious blood with 58 dead on the Russian side and 29 dead from China. So, that summer, highly placed Soviets, including the son-in-law of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, began telling their counterparts in other nations that it might become necessary to take out China’s growing atomic arsenal by force.
In April they said that, hey, maybe the best way to do that was with surgical nuclear strikes. It was the only way to restore the peace, after all.
China and Russia agreed to bilateral talks in 1970 that eventually restored peace, so it’s possible that this was a bluff from the Soviet leaders. Maybe they believed that the threat of nuclear war could end the border clashes with no need to actually send any missiles or bombers up.
But it’s also quite possible that the threat was real. While we in the West like to think of the Cold War as an all-consuming grapple between America and the Soviet Union, the Soviets were actually holding three times as many military exercises focused on their eastern border with China in the 1960s as they spent practicing for war with the U.S. and Europe.
So, yes, the world’s first nuclear war could’ve been a clash between the Soviet Union and China, but that was thankfully averted. Unfortunately, China watched for weaknesses in the Soviet Union and, as the bloc started to crumble in the late 1980s, China made its move. While the Soviets tried to hold themselves together and America was preoccupied with finishing the fight and planning the post-Soviet world, China began an arms buildup.
And, uh, they’ve gotten stronger now. Including the nukes.
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Spying in WW2: how wartime espionage was just as dramatic as fiction
Look 110 miles to the west of Oslo and you’ll find the Norwegian county of Telemark. At the heart of it is Rjukan, a town built into the natural cleft between two gigantic mountains. The landscape is inhospitable: the sides of the valley are so steep that for six months of the year the sun cannot be seen. In the depths of winter the temperature can drop to as low as -4°F. On the night of 27 February 1943, the wind was blowing, everything was covered in snow and all was silent. The Nazis had occupied Norway for almost three years and had wasted no time in taking control of the Norsk Hydro plant. Situated on one side of the valley on the outskirts of Rjukan, great pipes, fed by natural waterfalls, used the vast energy of descending water to power great turbine engines. The Nazis had been putting these to use to help produce heavy water, a vital component in their atomic bomb programme.
Some time earlier, Norwegian saboteurs, assisted by British intelligence, had been dropped into the countryside and had skied through treacherous snowy paths. Surviving on just moss for days on end, they were fearful of capture and certain execution. That evening, the team made its way to the plant. Unable to cross the single suspension bridge that led to the entrance, they were forced to clamber down a sheer rock face, cross an icy river, and then climb back up the other side. They broke into the plant and, evading capture, planted explosive charges. Desperate to ensure that they completed their mission, they reduced the timers from the original two minutes down to 30 seconds. Before they had got far, an explosion lit up the dark, impenetrable night sky.
The sounds of shouting in German and of gunfire spurred them on and all managed to escape, skilfully vanishing into the shadows. Despite the Germans flooding the area with thousands of extra soldiers in the ensuing days, the Norwegian saboteurs were able to escape. Their mission had been a success: the heavy water plant had been seriously damaged, though it would not be the last the Allies would hear of German atomic efforts.
A war of intelligence
The Second World War, unlike any other conflict before it, can be classed as an intelligence war. In every theatre, in every type of operation, and for each major country involved, intelligence became a central facet of war planning. From the breaking of codes, the recruiting of secret agents and the production of detailed assessments, through to the escape of prisoners of war, sabotage and destructive covert missions, the conduct of the war would have been dramatically different had intelligence not played such a vital role.
Each of the major powers at the outbreak of war – bar one – had significant intelligence structures in place. Each had a history of espionage and a tradition of cunning in the secret world. Britain’s intelligence history stretched back to 1909, albeit with earlier roots the Soviet Union had a hugely sophisticated internal and external system the French had an established process while the Germans, Italians and Japanese had all spent years focusing on producing an efficient intelligence machine. The exception was the United States, which had little in the way of an intelligence tradition and certainly had no effective intelligence community. By the end of the war, convinced of the value of intelligence, the US would proceed with the creation of the most costly and effective intelligence structure the world has ever seen.
In 1939, there can be little doubt that each of the major powers saw the value of intelligence in the war effort, yet none could have anticipated just how central it would become. One of the first intelligence triumphs occurred before the first shot was fired. It was secured by the Poles, who managed to supply British intelligence with a means of breaking the coding used by the Germans. The Enigma machine, and the Ultra intelligence derived from it, would be the greatest coup of the war. At Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, British intelligence was able to develop a means of intercepting, deciphering, translating and assessing the contents of messages within hours of their transmission. The frequency with which the Enigma machine was used meant that the Germans relied upon it as a fast, secure and important means of communication. That its codes were broken therefore gave Allied military commanders an undoubtable advantage but, like any source of intelligence, it was not perfect.
Ultra intelligence was a secret almost unsurpassed in the war: its existence was very tightly controlled among those with a ‘need to know’. In practice, this ensured a number of difficulties: military commanders fighting in Europe, the Atlantic, Africa and elsewhere could not be told how the intelligence had been obtained, so its provenance was usually concealed. Furthermore, the top levels of the German military and Nazi hierarchy were more reluctant to use it, so although tactical war-related plans could be revealed, little was known about the strategic aspects of what the Germans were up to. There were other difficulties too: having such a fantastic intelligence source was great, but often Allied commanders became over-reliant on it – and it still needed a good military brain to work out how to react. In short, it still required other means of intelligence to complement it.
Much like the military, British intelligence had to fight on all fronts during the war. Back at home, the security service MI5 was responsible for locating and identifying all German agents. Operating out of Wormwood Scrubs, a prewar prison in west London, MI5 officers were able to locate all German spies in the UK. The fact that Ultra could reveal much about them – and that there were around only 120 of them – meant that the task was considerably easier than first feared. Yet the real genius in this was in its application. The German spies were given a simple choice: work for British intelligence or face execution. Unsurprisingly, the majority opted for the first option, but not all did. Josef Jakobs chose not to become a British spy. Instead he was put on trial for committing an “act of treachery” in Huntingdonshire when he “descended by parachute with [an] intent to help the enemy”. Although he pleaded not guilty, the charge was upheld and he was executed by military firing squad, becoming the last person to ever be executed at the Tower of London. Those who did become British spies were used by the mysterious sounding ‘XX Committee’, known as Double Cross, to deceive the Germans. At a tactical level, this involved feeding back inaccurate reports on a variety of issues at a strategic level, it was used to great effect to confuse the Germans about the location of the D-Day landings and the performance of the V-weapon campaign against London.
From its headquarters in central London, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, or MI6 as it is frequently known) also operated a number of operations abroad. It ran a series of successful intelligence networks and individual agents, including a collection of train spotters in Belgium (codenamed ‘Clarence’) and the network masterminded by dashing officers like ‘Biffy’ Dunderdale in occupied Europe. Further aiding the human intelligence operations was the fact that the work at Bletchley Park, undertaken by the Government Code and Cipher School, was part of SIS itself.
On the continent, the most illustrative example of intelligence work in action was the Special Operations Executive, or SOE. Famously created by Winston Churchill to “set Europe ablaze”, SOE had been hived off from SIS at the start of the war and its primary role was sabotage, reconnaissance and planned destruction. Although based in London, its main task was working with local resistance groups to foment opposition to Nazi and Fascist rule, while also hindering enemy activities. SOE worked closely with SIS and, though relations were tense in some parts of Europe, the abilities of both organisations and the expertise of their personnel created an effective force. In Denmark alone, more than 1,000 operations were conducted, ranging from detonating bombs underneath bridges to hinder German transport efforts, to rescuing Jews from certain death.
In addition to these organisations, a number of other elements within the British war effort focused on intelligence. The Joint Intelligence Committee was the pre-eminent assessment body, producing a range of papers on political and military subjects. Its assessments would be crucial to the actual timing for the D-Day landings. The Political Warfare Executive focused on propaganda efforts, while smaller organisations concentrated on specific aspects: for instance, MI9 worked on helping prisoners of war escape, while MI10 had a military-scientific focus. The experience and knowledge employed by British intelligence was used to great effect, not only in supporting the war effort, but also in educating other countries in the finer art of intelligence.
One country that undoubtedly benefited was the United States. Until the devastating attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, which brought the US into the war, there was little in the way of effective intelligence. Specific parts of the US military had intelligence staffs, but there was neither a centralized function nor a specific organization for espionage. The bolt out of the blue that marked the Japanese attack not only signalled the start of the wholesale US military effort, but also its introduction to intelligence.
The result was twofold: an increased effort in the decipherment of the Japanese codes, and the creation of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The US had been reading Japanese diplomatic messages since the late 1930s but, with the outbreak of war, this took on an increased purpose, not least because none of the intercepted messages had hinted at the Pearl Harbor attack. This programme, codenamed Magic, was on a par with British successes against the German Enigma. The OSS had a broader remit than any of its British equivalents, encompassing espionage, sabotage and propaganda. Like SIS, it operated in Europe and Asia, but it employed significantly more personnel.
The other major powers also saw an expansion of their intelligence efforts as the war progressed. The Soviet Union was able to employ its vast machinery to great effect, utilising human and technical intelligence sources. Ironically, perhaps, it probably spent as much time spying on its wartime allies as it did the Axis powers. Germany’s intelligence structures were efficient, but were characterized by internal competition, a typical sign of Hitler’s rule. Meanwhile the French – under occupied rule for much of the war – attempted to employ a limited organisation from London.
In every theatre and conflict of the war, intelligence played a role. Sometimes it was significant at other times, it was readily available but could make little difference to the military outcome. In other instances, it was conspicuously absent. Taken in isolation, there are clear examples of where intelligence did and did not play a role. Taken together, it is far harder to offer a broad conclusion on the importance of espionage to the conflict as a whole. Military historians are often quick to emphasise that one factor helped shorten the war by a certain number of years, but these are attention-grabbing headlines that often bear little resemblance to reality.
Intelligence in the postwar world
Perhaps the clearest sign that the intelligence services had played a truly important part in the war is the fact that the majority of organisations continued into the postwar world. The value of intelligence had certainly been recognised and powerful arguments were made to ensure its preservation. In the UK, in January 1945, the chairman of the influential Joint Intelligence Committee produced a blueprint for the postwar intelligence world. He persuasively argued that, as economic austerity set in, military budgets would be slashed and, accordingly, the value and importance of intelligence would grow. His arguments were met receptively and the postwar British intelligence community became central to military and diplomatic planning.
Other victorious powers took similar views. French intelligence was effectively recreated, while in the Soviet Union state security expanded out of all proportion. In the United States, the reaction was far slower to take hold. Initial postwar arguments about the US’s place in the world were possibly to blame but, by 1947, the future course had been set on its path with the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Modern intelligence structures certainly have their roots in the Second World War and that can only be testament to their value in that conflict. Once the war in Europe was over, Winston Churchill – by now deposed as prime minister – wrote to the chief of the SIS, recording how “the Services rendered, the incredible difficulties surmounted, and the advantages gained in the whole course and conduct of the war, cannot be overestimated … Will you, within the secret circle, convey to all possible my compliments and gratitude.” Intelligence was, Churchill concluded, “a rock of safety”.
This article first appeared in BBC History Magazine’s ‘Spies & Espionage’ bookazine in 2015.
Michael Goodman is Professor of Intelligence and International Affairs, Head of the Department of War Studies and Dean of Research Impact, King’s College London
What it Means to Commit Espionage
The U.S. Code specifies the following acts as violations of the Espionage Act:
- To enter or obtain information about any place connected with national defense for the purpose of obtaining information respecting national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation
- For one who has lawful possession of certain documents, photographs, models, and similar material to transmit such material to one not authorized to receive it
- To make or copy, or attempt to make or copy, any sketch, photograph, plan, and the like of anything connected with national defense for such purpose or
- To receive or agree or attempt to receive from any person such materials when the recipient has reason to believe that they were taken in violation of the Espionage Act.
Additionally, the law also prohibits several activities that are related, even though the commission of the following acts doesn't necessarily indicate intent to endanger the United States or help its enemies:
- Harboring or concealing any individual, whether domestic or foreign in origin, whom the concealing party has reason to believe has committed or is about to commit an offense under federal espionage laws.
- Photographing or representing defense installations without prior permission of and censorship by the commanding officer
- The use of aircraft to accomplish the same proscribed purpose
- The publication and sale of photographs or representations of defense installations without prior permission of and censorship by the commanding officer
- The knowing and willful disclosure of classified information to an unauthorized person, or its use in any manner prejudicial to the United States or beneficial to any foreign government to the detriment of the United States or
- The willful violation, attempted violation, or conspiracy to violate regulations of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration pertaining to the security of its facilities or equipment.
Espionage in the Defense Industry
During a social gathering held in 1970 at a commercial establishment in the New York City vicinity, one Sergey Viktorovich Petrov (fictitious name), a Russian citizen, happened to strike up a casual conversation with an individual employed as an engineer with the Grumman Aerospace Corporation.
In the course of the ensuing verbal exchange, Petrov explained that he was Russian and was employed at the United Nations (UN) where he translated papers relating to various scientific affairs. He added that he lived in New York City with his wife and daughter, and that he was trained in aeronautical engineering. He also related that he had a five-year contract.
The engineer revealed his employment and noted that he was engaged in design planning relating to the F-14 fighter aircraft that was being developed by Grumman for the United States Navy. He explained that his company had been dismissing a large number of engineers, and therefore, his future employment prospects at Grumman were rather bleak. The American illustrated his points by commenting on certain economy measures he had undertaken in his personal spending habits due to his uncertain future.
Before the chance meeting was over, Petrov bought his new-found friend a drink. He told the engineer he would enjoy seeing him again in the near future at which time he could perhaps treat the American to a steak dinner. The engineer accepted Petrov's invitation at 7 p.m., one week later.
Petrov and the engineer met as planned the following week. At Petrov's suggestion, the engineer followed the Russian's car to a restaurant in Amityville, Long Island. During the two-hour-long dinner, they discussed a number of general topics. At one point, Petrov said he was seriously considering starting a business in the New York City area. He added that he would enjoy having the engineer as an employee should the latter lose his job at Grumman. Petrov went on, explaining that in the meantime he was preparing his doctoral thesis. In this regard he wished to obtain some engineering data about the F-14 aircraft. Petrov said he would pay the engineer for any information he could provide, but quickly added that he did not need any classified data. Petrov said he especially desired some information about the F-14's wing sweep mechanism since this concept greatly intrigued him. He remarked that in case the engineer was unable to provide him with details of the wing sweep mechanism, he would, nevertheless, appreciate any information whatsoever concerning the work performed at the Grumman plant.
Petrov then told the engineer that if he could provide anything of value, he would be paid approximately $300 per month. The engineer promised Petrov he would consider his request and would inform the Russian of his decision at an engineering conference which was to be held soon. The engineer added that Petrov would, no doubt, wish to attend this meeting since the subject matter would be of interest to him. To the engineer's surprise, however, the Russian replied that he did not think it would be wise for him to attend his forthcoming conference. He also cautioned the engineer to give no sign of recognition should their paths cross at any future scientific meeting.
Before concluding their meeting, Petrov obtained the engineer's home telephone number but declined to provide his own in return. They then agreed to meet again in front of their present location at 7 p.m. on a date about three weeks later. Petrov told the engineer that if for some reason he could not make it on that day, then they would meet on the following Monday at the same time and place.
At the conclusion of this second meeting, the engineer, suspicious of Petrov's intentions, reported his suspicions to the Grumman security office which immediately notified the New York Field Office of the FBI. Special agents of the FBI interviewed the engineer who agreed to cooperate by meeting again with Petrov in order to ascertain the Russian's intentions. The engineer explained that his remarks concerning his somewhat precarious financial situation seemed to impress Petrov. The agents then instructed the engineer to continue to express a need for money at future meetings.
At their next meeting, Petrov asked the engineer to be alert for any reports or publications relating to the F-14. He added that he was also interested in any other material to which the engineer had daily access. In reply, the American inquired as to what he could expect in the way of monetary compensation. The Russian promised to pay him from $100 to $300, the exact amount depending solely on the material's value.
Petrov asked the engineer if he would have any problems in removing material from the plant. Petrov then commented that if the engineer could borrow the requested data overnight, he would return it the next day. Although Petrov previously had said he did not require any confidential material, at this point he mentioned that any confidential information the engineer could provide would be "worth more."
Future meetings between Petrov and the engineer continued on a almost monthly basis. They were invariably held at different restaurants on Long Island on Monday evenings at 7 p.m. FBI agents, conducting a surveillance of the meetings, observed that most of them were held within close proximity of Long Island railroad stations. Future meetings between the American and the Russian were always arranged at the conclusion of each previous meeting. The date, time, and place of the next meeting were agreed upon together with an alternate meeting date in case either party was unable to attend on the original date.
As their relationship progressed, Petrov provided the engineer with small sums of money—usually about $250—for each report the American gave the Russian. Petrov never ceased to pressure the engineer for F-14 technical reports, especially confidential ones. The engineer, however, continued to bring routine reports to the meetings, explaining that confidential reports were very difficult to obtain. Petrov then suggested that the engineer should request a transfer to another area of the Grumman plant where he would be in a position to have access to a much larger variety of engineering data. He promised to compensate the engineer for any decrease in salary that might occur as a result of any such transfer.
Several months later, in response to Petrov's urgings, the engineer offered him some drawings relating to the F-14's wing design. He warned the Russian that he had to have the drawings back before he returned to work the next day. At this point, Petrov told the engineer he would furnish him with a copying machine, thereby eliminating the necessity of bringing the actual reports and drawings to future meetings.
At a subsequent meeting on March 1, 1971, Petrov gave the engineer an inexpensive, portable copying machine. He then suggested that the American use the machine in a motel room and promised to reimburse the engineer for all expenses incurred in this regard. Such an arrangement would enable the engineer to return the original reports to his office the next day while having a copy available for Petrov at their next meeting.
During their March meeting, Petrov remarked that he would probably be returning to the Soviet Union in May for a vacation. He made it clear, however, that in the meantime he expected the engineer to "keep busy" obtaining and copying F-14 reports.
Shortly before returning to Russia on May 19, 1971, Petrov set up a schedule of future meetings. On odd months the meetings would be held on the first Monday of the month, while the even month meeting dates would be on the second Monday. Alternate meeting dates, in case one of them missed the regular day, would be on the following Monday of each month. Petrov then told the engineer he would return to the United States in August. They agreed to meet again on August 9th at a restaurant in the vicinity of Islip, Long Island.
Following Petrov's return from the Soviet Union, their dinner meetings continued on a regular basis. They met at previously designated restaurants and, during dinner, discussed the engineer's employment prospects at Grumman and what material the engineer had managed to bring with him. After dinner they normally left the restaurant and entered the engineer's car where the F-14 reports and money were exchanged. Petrov would then get out of the car and depart the area on foot. During their earlier meetings, Petrov drove his own automobile to the meeting location. Later, however, the Russian started driving to a railroad station located several stops short of the meeting site and then rode a train to his final destination. Petrov explained to the engineer that no one would recognize him so far from New York City, but he was afraid the police might begin to notice his car after a while.
During their November 1, 1971 meeting, Petrov furnished the engineer with a specially altered 35-mm camera. This camera was capable of taking 72 photographs from each 36-exposure roll of film. Included with the camera were a couple of rolls of film and a high-intensity lamp. Petrov instructed the engineer in the camera's operation and told him to use both the camera and the copying machine until he was certain he could operate the camera correctly. The Russian explained that it would be much easier to pass the engineering reports if they were on film. The engineer could place the film in a cigarette package and give it to Petrov who would in return hand the American a similar package containing cigarettes.
During their January 3, 1972 meeting, Petrov told the engineer that his contract at the UN would probably terminate in October or November of that year. He stated that, should he have to return to Russia, he would introduce the engineer to a colleague with whom the American could continue to do business. Petrov added that if he failed to appear at their designated meeting site on both of the first two Mondays of that month, then the engineer was to go to a movie theater in Freeport, Long Island the following Monday. The engineer was to walk up the right side of the theater entrance at precise intervals of 7:00 to 7:07 p.m. and 7:30 to 7:35 p.m. A man, standing in this area, would say to the engineer: "Hello. Are you interested in buying an antique Ford of 1930?" The engineer was to reply: "Yes. I am. After all, I was born in 1930." As an extra precautionary measure, the new man would have one half of a dollar bill. The engineer would have the other half of the dollar bill.
Their fifteenth and final meeting took place at a restaurant near Patchogue, Long Island on February 14, 1972. Petrov seemed pleased when the engineer told him he had brought along some confidential pages from a report on the F-14 project. Petrov then said that since their business arrangement was working out so well, he wanted to minimize the possibility of anyone recognizing them together. He mentioned a plan to use walkie-talkies to eliminate all unnecessary personal contact. Petrov, unaware of his impeding arrest that evening, promised to give the engineer his walkie-talkie unit at their next meeting. He instructed the engineer to place the rolls of film, containing the Grumman reports, in small, metal containers which would then be cast in plaster of Paris bricks. The engineer was to place the bricks in predesignated locations and then transmit a radio signal to Petrov who would be stationed about one-half mile away. Upon receipt of this signal, Petrov would wait approximately one-half hour before retrieving the brick.
Petrov told the engineer that during the first three months of this new system, the drop-off points for the plaster bricks would be somewhere on Long Island. Subsequent drop-off points would be on the west side of the Tappan Zee Bridge in Rockland County, north of New York City.
When asked about payment for the confidential report that the engineer had brought along that evening, Petrov replied that he would have to look at it to determine its value. Upon finishing dinner, they left the restaurant and entered the engineer's car. At this point, Petrov asked if the engineer had the confidential material ready. In response, the engineer removed a large grey envelope stashed in the back of the car which contained a copy of an F-14 engineering report, a roll of film containing a copy of the same report, and several pages that were classified "confidential" from another report. The engineer then handed the envelope to Petrov who placed it into his attache case. Petrov, after giving the engineer a small, white envelope in return, got out of the car and started to walk toward the parking lot's exit. At this moment, based upon a prearranged signal, FBI agents immediately intercepted and arrested Petrov before he could escape. The Russian, seeing that capture was imminent, attempted to dispose of the evidence by throwing his attache case high into the air. However, it was immediately retrieved by one of the FBI agents.
Petrov was taken to the Federal Detention Center in New York City. The following morning, he was brought before the U.S. magistrate for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. The U.S. magistrate set bail at $500,000 and remanded Petrov into the U.S. marshal's custody until a Russian translator could be obtained the next day.
Ironically, Petrov, who worked as a Russian-English translator at the UN, remained silent during his court appearance, indicating that he did not understand the English language!
A search of Petrov's person turned up three index cards. Each contained hand-drawn diagrams of various locations within the New York area. These were obviously the drop-off sites that Petrov had had in mind when he discussed the use of plaster bricks with the engineer.
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