“Espionage is as old as history, with individuals sent on missions to obtain information or secrets, political and military, or to sabotage the activity of opponents.” Michael Curtis
“The U.S. and UK have been penetrated by spies.” Ibid
Espionage is as old as history, with individuals sent on missions to obtain information or secrets, political and military, or to sabotage the activity of opponents. This was done through personal relations, and usually by physical presence at the site of information gathering or interaction with informants. Now the new art form is cyberespionage, obtaining secrets and classified information from individuals, companies or governments using the internet. It is largely impersonal, being performed by electronic or digital means from remote offices, far from the site of information retrieval.
Cyberspying and computer hacking have been active at least since 2008 when China was suspected of trying to affect the U.S. presidential elections, and different actors, Islamists and Latin American operators, for economic, political, and financial reasons, have engaged in attacks on political organizations, government institutions, and political personnel.
However, it is mainly the dramatic activity of Russian nationals in committing murders in Western Europe and espionage in the U.S. in recent years that has indicated the magnitude of the problem. Other countries are involved in nefarious activity. In September 2018, the Swiss government summoned the Russian ambassador and demanded a stop to espionage. On September 14, 2018 it had arrested two Russian agents of the GRU who were trying to hack into the Swiss laboratory in Spiez that provides protection against nuclear, biological, and chemical threats, and was testing traces of the nerve agent Novichok used in Salisbury.
A North Korean cyberespionage unit was guilty of major cybercrimes including hacking thousands of emails from Sony Pictures in 2014, $81 million from the Bangladesh Bank in 2016, the Wanna Cry ransomware attack in 2017 that affected 300,000 computers in 150 countries, and the attack on Lockheed Martin, a U.S. military contractor.
In July 2018, the U.S. special counsel charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers associated with the GRU, with computer attacks intended to undermine the 2016 presidential election. For attempts to murder the Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on March 4, 2018, the UK charged two Russian agents, also part of GRU intelligence.
Distinction between old-fashioned spying, often amusing and entertaining, and less enjoyable impersonal acts like election sabotage and cyberwar is significant. Everybody loves the absurd James Bond, code name 007, the creature invented by Ian Fleming, the flamboyant and irresistible pride of MI6 with his sports cars, electronic gadgets, special drinks, impeccable clothes, and Bond girls, if also hedonistic and amoral. Almost equally admired are two other characters. One is George Smiley, the deliberate anti-Bond figure, short, bald, overweight, seemingly bland, career intelligence officer in the Circus overseas intelligence agency, created by John Le Carre. The other is Harry Palmer, the character in films made from novels by Len Deighton. Palmer is working class, dull, bespectacled, insubordinate, lacking glamor. Continue reading