Spy vs Spy vs Spy – WIF Did You Know?

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Powerful

Intelligence Agencies

Around the World

The human desire to stir things up and uncover secrets is so innate and part of our DNA that of course mankind decided to create entire organizations with that single purpose. Truth be told, it’s a good thing they exist; these agencies have derailed countless plots to do their home countries harm. But we’re also fascinated by the more sinister, clandestine activities they conduct. Here’s a history of spy outfits from around the globe… 

10. Mossad (Israel)

Formed just after the dust settled from World War II, Israel’s foreign intelligence gathering organization was initially called the Institute for Coordination. Things did not get off to a great start for the intelligence agency: it took a year just to get organized enough to be functional, and immediately after that, bungled operations led to several of its officers being arrested. It was when Isser Harel took over Mossad in 1952 that it really found its footing. In 1960, Mossad carried out the South American mission that captured notorious Nazi-on-the-run Adolf Eichmann.

But Mossad’s claim to history came after the tragic hostage situation that arose during the Munich Olympics in 1972. Israeli athletes at the Games were massacred, and the events were broadcast live on TV for the world to see. Mossad discovered the Arab terrorists responsible and carried out a brutal series of executions that were depicted in Steven Spielberg’s movie Munich. Oh, and if you doubt the brute power that Mossad wielded, the name of the mission to hunt down the terrorists was dubbed “Operation Wrath of God.”

9. CIA (United States)

You didn’t think you’d get very far into clandestine intelligence agencies without this one, did you? Officially founded in 1947, and with President Eisenhower’s building up in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency, run from Langley, Virginia, has been in most of the greatest hits of espionage history.

The Bay of Pigs event in Cuba was a landmark happening during the Cold War-era 1960s. The CIA supported Cuban exiles who were to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist regime. It failed miserably. Just after that botched coup, the CIA somewhat redeemed itself by using then-state-of-the-art technology to discover Russian nukes nearby.

The CIA did considerable work during the Vietnam War, as well. They undertook Project Tiger, which dropped South Vietnam fighters into the north to gather intelligence. Also during this time, however, were the operations known as the “Family Jewels.” These covert ops were usually illegal, ranging from illegal surveillance to straight up murder of foreign officials. Since then, things have been a little less rambunctious, though they did have some part in the Iran Contra debacle of the 1980s, as well as some responsibility for failure to take terrorist attacks in the US seriously, pre-9/11.

8. MI6 (Great Britain)

MI6 isn’t just an organization that constantly disavows super-agent Ethan Hunt. They are a very real British government entity with quite a history. The first British intelligence organization, which MI6 gets its roots from, was founded in 1569, but its present form came around 1912, just before World War I broke out.

The 1930s and ’40s gained MI6 a reputation for being one the top spy agencies in the world, and they surely had a major part in training US agents once America entered the Second World War. Post WWII, MI6 had to shake off numerous infiltrations by Russian double agents, and by the ’80s and ’90s, had become a much more open, re-prioritized agency. Not to say they had lost their teeth; indeed, they still tracked and took down all sorts of evil folks, from war crime perpetrators to participants in the Libyan Civil War. And if you have any doubts as to the debonair style of spy that inhabits MI6, check out their headquarters in the above photo.

7. BND (Germany)

Founded during the Cold War in 1956, the Federal Intelligence Service (known in German as Bundesnachrichtendienst) is the largest agency of its kind in the world. Boasting 300 locations in the country, and over 6,500 employees, the organization spent its formative years like many other similar agencies: spying on the Russians. They did specialize in Middle East affairs, and in 1967 predicted the outbreak of the Six-Day War almost to the hour.

When the aforementioned terrorist attacks occurred at the Munich Olympics in 1972, the BND took the matters to heart, and began to truly build up their counter-terrorism capabilities–they almost single-handedly stopped an attack in India a few years back. But they are still spies at heart, and not always the most virtuous kind. In 2005 it was revealed that the BND was surveilling many German journalists. They are even reported to be storing 220 million sets of metadata culled from phone surveillance worlwide, and WikiLeaks is often sharing tons of data that they discover the BND is holding/hiding.

6. KGB (Russia)

Ah, the granddaddy of them all. Mother Russia’s notoriously-clandestine secret spy agency has been depicted in all sorts of media, most recently in The Americans. From 1954 until the USSR dissolved in 1991, the KGB had probably the most legendary reputation on this list, and for good reason.

Being the super secret organization in the most super secret region of the Cold War, much of what the KGB conducted is still classified to this day. At first, they specialized in espionage, and getting into the US and delving deep into their secrets. Early in the Cold War, the Soviets even got a spy ring into the Los Alamos facility where Americans were developing the atomic bombs. They infiltrated elections in Bangladesh in the 1970s, then again in Afghanistan later that decade.

In 1991, the head of the KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov, and several others took the bold move to actually attempt to overthrow the government of the Soviet Union. The coup failed, and the country fell into chaos, dissolving and splintering, much like the KGB would.

5. ISI (Pakistan)

Speaking of the Afghan-Soviet Union relationship, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency of Pakistan had a huge role in that during the late ’70s and early ’80s. The ISI took the sides of the Afghan fighters clashing against the Soviets, and even worked closely with the CIA to train and fund them. That didn’t turn out to bite anyone in America eventually, right?

Once the Soviet Union fell in the early 1990s, the ISI provided all sorts of support to the emerging Taliban group, during Afghanistan’s Civil War. But the ISI doesn’t just meddle in Afghan wars. In contrast to some of the agencies here, the ISI recruits civilians as well as those in the armed forces. But the organization is not without its own far-reaching scandals. As mentioned before, the ISI worked with the Taliban, but it wasn’t until recently that we knew just how deeply they were connected. The ISI reportedly tampers with the elections of its own country, and were accused of taking money illegally from bank owners in Pakistan. Even Pakistani citizens that helped the CIA capture Osama bin Laden were detained by the ISI and imprisoned.

4. NSA (United States)

If the CIA is America’s big, hulking secret child, the National Security Agency is like its smaller, even sneakier brother. The NSA can be traced back to 1917, when the First World War showed just how badly good intelligence was needed. The agency (then called the Cipher Bureau) spent its infancy becoming incredibly adept at intercepting messages and telegrams going in and out of the United States.

The Cipher Bureau would soon morph into the Signal Intelligence Service. The expansion of the Japanese empire in the 1930s helped the agency expand itself, especially in its Pacific operations. And that was helpful after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. The SIS would crack all sorts of codes and keep Japan on their feet, but their intel wasn’t always perfect, even when they expanded into the NSA that we know today. Later in the 1960s, faulty information from the Gulf of Tonkin would lasso the United States into the Vietnam War. The NSA also came under scrutiny during the Watergate scandal. And they have a long history of surveilling famous civil rights leaders and political opponents like Jane Fonda and Martin Luther King, Jr.

3. MSS (China)

China has a long history of spy capers and espionage just like everyone else on this list, but their best-known and most powerful agency has only been around since 1983. The Ministry of State Security may also be the most secretive in the world.

Computer hacking is one of the more prevalent ways of spying that is being used in this age, and the MSS has a large hand in that. In 2018, the US Justice Department caught two hackers who were acting on behalf of the MSS, who had stolen state secrets from a dozen countries. Another recent event saw a senior official in the MSS arrested in Belgium for stealing trade secrets from US aviation and aerospace companies.

The MSS is akin to a cross between the FBI and the CIA, as it conducts operations both domestic and foreign in the name of national security. The MSS has no official website or any list of contacts, and it’s even thought that China’s rapid economic growth can be attributed in part to the MSS and their keen ability to steal intellectual property from other nations.

2. Direccion de Inteligencia (Cuba)

Formed shortly after the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960s, the Direccion de Inteligencia has also been closely linked to the KGB, and were basically trained by them. Not surprising, since the Soviet Union held nukes on the island for some time. But it was a rocky relationship at times, too. Though the Soviets had personnel and facilities based in Cuba, their desire to have more of a say in the operations of the native Cuban agency led to some push-back.

The Direccion de Inteligencia has a long history of aiding leftist movements in other countries like Nicaragua, Chile, and Venezuela. The scope of the DI’s operations is somewhat staggering, considering the economic base of Cuba isn’t very impressive. Recently, it was revealed that Cuba and the DI had been sending weapons to North Korea for refurbishment.

It turns out that Cuba is just good at espionage. Intelligence experts rank the DI’s officials as some of the best in the world, and with the agency’s close ties to other countries like Iran and North Korea, its investment in gleaning intelligence from the world’s superpowers is not just attractive to radical governments.

1. OSS (United States)

A precursor to America’s CIA, the OSS had a very short life as an agency, spanning three years from 1942-1945, but they packed some work into that time. The activities of Germany during World War II were a main focus, and something the Office of Strategic Services excelled at. At its height, the OSS employed 24,000 workers, and the war provided many locations for the Americans to gain intel on their foreign enemies.

Some of the names that worked for the OSS were celebrity chef Julia Child, film director John Ford, and Major League Baseball player Moe Berg, and eventually the OSS was so spread out into the world that over 7,500 agents operated overseas. Again, the outbreak of world war provides so much work potential. The identities of OSS personnel were kept secret upon the agency’s dissolution in 1945, after Harry Truman took office, and were not revealed until 2008. The CIA would begin its life two year later in 1947, but America had already taken its baby steps in the intelligence world, and so was quite prepared.


Spy vs Spy vs Spy –

WIF Did You Know?

Spy vs. Spy – WIF Espionage Handbook

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Fascinating Facts

about Spies

Spies have long captured the public imagination. Books and movies have been based around the imagined lives and exploits of secret agents. Sometimes, these tales stray far from reality. But sometimes, the truth can be stranger than fiction. Below are 10 facts that detail the real drama, and some surprising truths, about the world of spies.

10. Spies’ Families Often Don’t Know Their Real Identities

It’s pretty obvious why spies have to conceal their true identities from the general public, but often their subterfuge goes much further. Spies’ own family members, including parents and children, may have no idea about what their loved ones actually do for a living. One ex-CIA agent told his parents and girlfriend that he was a low-level salesman to cover his 8 years of undercover work. Covering up his double life involved thwarting attempts by his parents to visit him in Hawaii, where he supposedly worked (he was actually in Afghanistan) and fielding girlfriends’ accusations of infidelity and illicit behavior when they found gaps in his stories.

Even that degree of deception pales in comparison to keeping your true identity from your own children. This situation isn’t just a construct of The Americans, a TV spy drama where KGB agents pose as husband and wife, complete with two unknowing kids, to spy on the US government. In fact, the show’s premise is based on a real-life dilemma many spies who are parents face: when, or if, to tell their children who they really are.

 In one illustration of how this situation can play out, in 2010, 20-year old Tim Foley and his 16-year old brother Alex discovered, after their family home in Cambridge, MA was raided by the FBI, that their parents were part of a Russian spy operation. The Foley brothers claim they had no idea that their parents had any vocations outside of consultant and real estate agent. They knew their parents had been born outside the US, but thought they were from Canada (as both brothers were). They were shocked to discover that the parents they knew as Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley, were actually Russian nationals whose real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova.

9. Sex is a Tool of the Trade

matahari

We all know sex sells, but evidently, sex also spies. There are numerous examples of spies using their feminine (and masculine) wiles to dupe targets, create blackmail material, and occupy the enemy. One of the most well-known spies to have employed seduction is Margaretha Zelle Macleod, better known by her stage name,Mata Hari. Depending on which side of the contested story is believed, Mata Hari, a Dutch national, was either passing French secrets to the Germans, or passing false information to the Germans in hopes of abetting the French. Either way, in 1917, a French court declared Mata Hari, “one of the greatest spies of the century,” sentencing her to death. She retained her sexuality to the moment of her death, reportedly forsaking a blindfold and blowing a kiss to the firing squad that executed her.

More recent examples include the seduction of CIA clerk Sharon Scranage by Ghanian official Michael Agbotui Soussoudis, a relationship that allowed him to acquire a list of all CIA employees in Ghana. The information acquired through this “honey trap” is believed to have resulted in the death of at least one CIA informant in Ghana. While there are no facts and figures around the commonality of the use of sex in espionage, government spies in Russia, China, and the United States are reported to have employed hanky-panky in the service of their nations.

8. Not All Spies are Adults

Clearly, not all spies are going to fit the James Bond mold. It’s critical for a spy to blend into his or her environment seamlessly. A suave, handsome man in expensive suits and cars would surely stand out far too much to take on, say, the role of a clerk in a foreign tax office. But in some settings, any adult would stand out. And, at least on occasion, governments and insurgent groups around the world have relied on child spies to get the information that adults cannot reach.

Generally, when children are used as spies, the situation is pretty bleak. Recruiting and using children under 15 to support armed forces/groups in any capacity is against international law. Children from 15-18 are only allowed to serve voluntarily. Nonetheless, children have been employed as spies in numerous conflicts, recently serving as informants to the Somali government on the identities of insurgents and as messengers, spies, and suicide bombers for the Taliban in Afghanistan. In some cases, as in North Korean gulags or under the East German Stasi intelligence agency, children are encouraged to report to the government on friends and family members’ actions and ideologies.

7. Suicide is Sometimes Part of the Job

cyanide

Obviously, capture is a bad situation for both the spy and the government he or she represents. The spy faces the very real possibility of torture to gain intelligence details and the names of other operatives, and perhaps execution. The spy’s government faces the fallout from the loss of any sensitive information its agent gives up. But as bad as being caught spying is, is it really a fate worse than death? The existence and use of suicide pills by some spies suggests that at least some (and/or their sponsors) view death as preferable to capture.

In 1987, after planting bombs on a South Korean passenger plane, an attack that took the lives of all 115 passengers on board, the two North Korean agents behind the act of terror were taken in for questioning in Bahrain. Following the instructions of their regime, the pair promptly bit into cyanide capsules hidden in their cigarettes. Kim Hyun-hee, one of the agents, described her decision, saying, “I knew when an operation failed, an agent had to kill themselves. So I bit down on the cyanide ampoule.” Kim survived her suicide attempt. While the South Korean government initially sentenced her to death, she was later pardoned under the view that she had been brainwashed by the North Korean State.

6. There are Celebrities Among Their Ranks

juliachild

At first glance, a career in the spotlight would appear to appear to be the polar opposite of the covert work of espionage. However, there are some famous people who have worked as spies, both before and after they became famous.

Before her career in the kitchen, chef Julia Child worked as a typist, then research analyst for the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the US intelligence agency during WWII. She earned the “Emblem of Meritorious Civilian Service” for her work. Before becoming a US Supreme Court Justice, Arthur Goldberg also served in the OSS, where his work involved organizing European labor unions and dissident groups to resist the Nazis. Children’s author Roald Dahl earned a reputation as a ladies’ man during his undercover work with the British embassy in Washington D.C., as part of the British campaign to draw the US into WWII.

While, for obvious reasons, there are more spies who later became famous than celebrities who later became spies, there are still several famous people who also worked as secret agents. Jazz Age performer Josephine Baker used her travel schedule and position as a star to support the French Resistance during WWII. She reported on the identities of French Nazi supporters, conversations she overheard from German officers in her audiences, and even smuggled secret documents written in invisible ink on her music sheets.

US baseball catcher Moe Berg was known for being one of the smartest men to ever play the game. A Princeton graduate, Berg spoke 8 languages and had passed the bar before turning to baseball and joining the Washington Senators. Berg’s intelligence career began when he traveled to Japan as part of an all-star baseball exhibition tour. During his tour, he took home movies of Tokyo’s skyline and shipyards, which were reportedly used to help plan US bombing raids during WWII. After leaving baseball, Berg joined the OSS, where his work included parachuting into Yugoslavia to evaluate resistance groups and evaluating Nazi progress towards a nuclear weapon.

5. Not All Spies are Human

homing-pigeon

Spies often need to blend into the background and to be able to quickly get in and out of tight spaces to get the information they need without being detected. In some cases, the spy who best fits the parameters of the mission may have four legs, flippers, or even wings and a beak. Robert Wallace, who led the CIA’s office of Technical Services in the ’90s notes the appeal of turning to other species for espionage dirty work: “Animals can go places people can’t Animals are unalerting.”

Animal spies have been trained for a variety of roles, dependent on both the capabilities of their species and the intelligence needs of the country. Homing pigeons were used during WWI to dispatch messages between divisions, and in a pilot program, to take aerial photographs using automatic cameras. The US Navy, through the ongoing Navy Marine Mammal Program (NMMP) has trained dolphins to detect and report underwater mines. An outfit called Animal Behavior Enterprises(ABE) worked with the CIA and Army during the Cold War, employing animals including ravens and cats to retrieve documents and serve as living listening devices.

While ABE has ended its intelligence work and one of its former employees suggests that technology has rendered many applications of animal spies superfluous, the same employee continues to work training dogs to perform tasks for European security agencies. Their ranks may be diminished, as the NMMP shows, but there still continue to be some intelligence roles that are best filled by non-human agents.

4. Spy Agencies Can Employ Very Aggressive Hiring Practices

cia

It doesn’t come as a surprise that authoritarian regimes can have very heavy-handed methods of persuading their citizens to become spies. One former North Koreanagent says she was simply plucked from her school as a teenager to become a spy: “One day a black sedan showed up at my school. They were from the central party and told me I’d been chosen…I was just told to pack.”

However, even democratic countries can make potential spies offers they can’t refuse. When describing how the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, pressured his brother, Eli Cohen, to join their ranks and spy on Syria, Maurice Cohen noted, “Even as the Mossad was recruiting my brother, they secretly went to his employer and got him fired. He had a wife and kids to support.”

In 2002, the Russian Security Service accused the US of using drugged drinks and cookies to try to recruit a Russian defense worker who visited the US Embassy in an ex-Soviet Republic. Russia insisted that the ploy had backfired, with the defense worker subsequently working with Russian intelligence to feed misinformation to his US handlers.

3. Spies Sometimes Assume the Identities of the Dead

death-certificate

How does a spy come up with a believable cover identity? Some spies maintain their existing identities, just disguising their real professions. Most US spies overseas operate under “official cover,” which is to say they are given fake jobs in US agenciesor embassies that offer diplomatic immunity. “Non-official cover” is more dangerous, requiring the use of an assumed name and profession, without the protection of diplomatic immunity in the event of discovery.

 In cases where spies need to assume a realistic identity, assuming the identity of someone else, usually someone who died as a child, can be a useful shortcut to create a backstory and official documentation to support the cover identity. In Britain, undercover police seeking to infiltrate protest groups used the identities of 80 dead children between 1968 and 1994. The identities of these children served as cover identities for officers, allowing them to easily obtain drivers’ licenses and passports that would stand up to scrutiny if anyone checked.

A similar strategy, the theft of the identity of a dead Canadian infant, appears to be how a Russian spy (mentioned in #10) created his cover identity, Donald Heathfield. This practice is reportedly on the decline due to the digitization of death records.

2. Spies May Kill Their Own to Protect Their Cover

freddie

You’d think that spies working on the same side would try to help each other out, or at least not hurt each other. Usually, that’s what happens, but sometimes things go awry, and the life of one agent is deemed to be less important to the mission than the cover of another.

When British intelligence was attempting to infiltrate the IRA, their agent Freddie Scappaticci (pictured above) managed to work his way up to head the IRA’s internal security force. In that role, he was responsible for the death of a number of people. British press reports say as many as 40, and a former British handler says, “well into the tens.” Among those deaths were at least a few fellow British agents. The blood on his hands helped bolster Scappaticci’s credibility within the IRA, since it was believed that no one who had killed for the cause could be a British agent.

Kevin Fulton, another undercover British asset within the IRA, believes he almost became another casualty of Scappaticci’s cover story. As an an article in The Atlanticputs it, “his handlers decided he would make a good sacrifice: another mark of credibility for their prize agent.” Fulton escaped death at the hands of his fellow British spy by fleeing and going into hiding.

 1. Even When Spies Retire, They May Not Die of Natural Causes

assassin

Once their spying days are over, some agents enjoy a quiet retirement. Ex-CIA spy Jason Matthews recently described his decision to spend his retirement writing spy novels to counter the restlessness he felt when his intelligence career ended, saying that, “Being in the Agency is a very experiential career, like being a policemen or a fireman or a jet pilot, and when it stops, it really stops.”

However, some spies don’t share that experience. Remnants of their professional lives follow them into retirement, and perhaps, to their unnatural deaths. In 2002, 17 years after defecting to Russia, former CIA agent Edward Lee Howard met his end in Moscow, after reportedly breaking his neck in a fall down the steps in his house. The death that was ostensibly accidental, but certainly raises questions.

In the case of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvenenko, the evidence of murder is incontrovertible. Litvenenko published an expose of the misdeeds of the Russian intelligence service before fleeing to the UK in 2000, where he was granted asylum. However, in 2006 he died after being poisoned with radioactive polonium, allegedly while meeting two former agents for tea. For some spies, retirement isn’t a respite. It’s just another terrifying chapter in their danger-filled lives.


Spy vs. Spy

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– WIF Espionage Handbook