Technology isn’t to blame for espionage

Espionage is in the news a lot at the moment and technology is facing a lot of the blame. History proves, however, that it’s spies who spy, not technology.

Espionage at a computer

I spotted a rather odd news story a couple of months back. In an effort to reduce the risk of leaks and the dangers of rogue spies, The Kremlin (it seems) has decided to turn back time on technology and order some electric typewriters. Because of course, people could only spy and intercept information once all our data went digital right?

Wrong. (Obviously). There has been plenty of controversy lately around how private our data is, who gets to bypass the passwords and what constitutes a good reason to do so and sadly, in a lot of it, technology and the digital age is getting a pretty bad rap.

While email hacking and WikiLeaks might spread information a little faster or a little further in this modern age, it’s important to remember that technology is simply a tool used by the people doing the spying. And espionage itself goes back much further than Twitter and Prism

  • Sun Tzu. (2nd century BC). Not a spy himself, this author wrote what has become known as ‘The Art of War‘. An ancient Chinese military treatise, its thirteenth chapter focuses specifically on intelligence and espionage, and discusses the five types of intelligence sources and how to use them.
  • Francis Walsingham. (1532-1590) This guy was Elizabeth I’s ‘spy master’. With so much religious dissent and dastardly plotting going on during her reign, it was considered necessary to keep an ear to the ground on what the Catholics were doing here and abroad, and Walsingham, with his international network of spies, did just that.
  • Ann Bates. (American Revolution). Since women were thought incapable of understanding the complexities of war, men would often openly discuss secrets in their presence. Ann Bates worked to provide the British military with intelligence and even gained access to George Washington’s camp.
  • Mata Hari, or Margaretha Geertruida “M’greet” Zelle MacLeod.(1867-1917) A dutch exotic dancer who was ultimately convicted and executed for spying on behalf of the Germans in World War I. There was some controversy surrounding her guilty verdict, but papers unearthed in the 1970s prove that she was in fact working for the Germans as suspected.
  • The Cambridge spies. (World War II). This infamous group of highly-educated and extremely well-connected young men worked for years on behalf of the Russian secret service, the KGB. Their tale was was double-edged, however, as the KGB became convinced the men were playing a treble game and still loyal to the British, meaning they distrusted the information they passed on.

These fascinating examples of espionage through history simply serve to prove that no matter how you store your information – whether you write by hand, type away on old-fashioned typewriters or document your every move on Twitter – if someone wants to know what you’re doing, they’ll find a way.

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