Are the Accused Russian Spies the New Brand of Spy?

Post by Randall Ryder

The United States recently arrested a number of individuals they claim all work for the Russian Intelligence agency. Nearly all of the spies, however, were not engaged in cloak and dagger activities, but were apparently trying to gather information from non-traditional sources. Are we seeing a new breed of spy?

For the most part, the accused individuals all lived normal lives in suburbia. The plan seemed to be to infiltrate social networks and become friends with researchers, professors, and academics to gather information on US foreign policy. One of the suspects, for example, attended the Harvard Business School and was renowned for being a incessant networker and self-promoter. While that may seem harmless on the surface, a former classmate admitted that "that was a really good environment to make connections with people involved in government policy and security."

"Traditional" spies try and gather information in the here and now—breaking into government databases, stealing government secrets, and other acts of espionage. These spies, however, appear to have been sent with a longer-term mission, become a part of society, high-society, with perhaps the intent of using those resources down the road. Many of the defendants had become very successful networkers, and had established high social profiles.

At the same time, the details are sparse on what exactly these individuals did, or what exactly they were planning to do down the road. In fact, one of defendant’s attorneys summed up his view by saying "She doesn’t fit the profile of a spy that they make her out to be . . . ."

But is that just part of a clever defense? When you think of a spy, you think of James Bond, or someone running around in the dark, breaking into buildings. These accused spies, however, appear to have just been really good at social networking. Was the information they were gathering available to anyone? In other words, were they just using their skills as socialites to acquire knowledge from commonly-available sources?

As the case unfolds, more details will emerge. But is the beginning of a new brand of spy? Is the more going on here? Or is this just the first time this type of operation has been uncovered?

Spying as Networking | The Wall Street Journal


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