The Berlin espionage case reminds us that real espionage is mediocre and human


Political espionage update

The author is the director of the consulting company Mayak Intelligence and an emeritus professor at University College London

What’s so interesting about the security news British Embassy Is it too mediocre to be caught in Berlin and hand over classified documents to Russian handlers? Therefore, it reminds us that modern espionage is far from the world portrayed by John le Carré and Len Deighton during the Cold War.

We are constrained by the desire of cyber espionage and intelligence agencies for the latest tools and technologies and the early adoption of high-tech antics. However, assuming the allegations are confirmed, the Berlin case is an important reminder that human intelligence—humint—is still the most important of all so-called “collection disciplines.”

Hackers can access files stored on computers, telephone interception can eavesdrop on conversations, and satellites can photograph devices. But they all have solutions. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard sent key orders on paper via motorcycle express to avoid eavesdropping by the United States and Israel, and Russia used inflatable tanks to fool satellites. Humans are imaginative, self-driven, able to notice the context and tell you what you don’t know you need to know. This is why everyone, from MI6 and the CIA to the Russians, still spends a lot of energy recruiting them.

Just like in the case of Berlin, most people in this world are not Kim Philbis or even Sergey Scripars, but small people: clerks and consular officials, drivers and drinkers, girlfriends and Guard. They usually cannot obtain top secrets, but they do not go through the highest level of scrutiny. Nevertheless, they will know something, and a motivated source can always get more.

Today, perhaps they will only provide low-level intelligence, but they will also provide their processors with rich human-level insights. What is the Wi-Fi password (so that they can be hacked)? Who has alcohol problems or is neglected for promotion again (they may accept hiring)? Which cultural commissioner seems to do nothing about culture (they may be spies under diplomatic cover)? The source of the news may be promoted, and their handlers have been attracted to them, or they may be valuable as “visiting agents” through which case officials can be exposed to more attractive prospects.

All this is quite monotonous, but it is also often tragic. When things go wrong, they face jail or worse, punks, depending on what kind of regime they live in. Their handlers may have diplomatic immunity, and face nothing more than a trip home in the next annual review, perhaps with medium grades.

Like any major capital, Berlin is a hotbed of intelligence activity, although it has been different from the situation when it was separated by the wall.The agents later mixed up in Prague, but this was based on the Czechs’ Nearest internal organs The huge Russian embassy and its Residency, Or intelligence station. Instead, Vienna and Brussels are new espionage sites, where the intelligence is good, the local counterintelligence service is unremarkable, and the restaurants are great.

Berlin is important because Germany is important-now that Brexit has eliminated a pole of power on the European continent, so even more so. Shortly after the 2016 referendum in the UK, a former official of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service SVR told me that “Moscow now sees Europe as a confrontation between Berlin and Paris” and they expected “more people to learn German”. Regardless of whether this is true or not, the United States, Britain and even China are paying more attention to this city. As this incident shows, Russian spies are equally keen to understand what their competitors are doing.

The only unusual aspect of this case is how public it has become. Counterintelligence personnel usually try to turn agents into double agents. They also tend to hide how they became suspicious. Sources may simply find themselves “frequently” transferred to a new position away from confidential materials, or their contract has been terminated.

However, in this case, the German government seems particularly optimistic about promoting public trials.When a Russian contract killer used forged documents provided by the Federal Security Service (Moscow Political Police) (shamefully) it caused some fuss Shot and killed a Georgian Chechen In the middle of Berlin at the end of 2019, and then doing everything possible to ensure the completion of the Beixi 2 natural gas pipeline, perhaps its ministers finally feel that they must make a stand.

However, this will not stop anyone. In today’s world, everyone is monitoring other people, and considering that every technological breakthrough will produce a technical or procedural response, humint will continue to be the core of the intelligence game.


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