Espionage or spying, is the act of obtaining secret or confidential information without the permission of the holder of the information. Spies help agencies uncover secret information. Any individual or spy ring (a cooperating group of spies), in the service of a government, company or independent operation, can commit espionage. The practice is clandestine, as it is by definition unwelcome and in many cases illegal and punishable by law. Espionage is a method of "intelligence" gathering which includes information gathering from public sources.
Espionage is often part of an institutional effort by a government or commercial concern. However, the term tends to be associated with state spying on potential or actual enemies for military purposes. Spying involving corporations is known as industrial espionage.
One of the most effective ways to gather data and information about the enemy (or potential enemy) is by infiltrating the enemy's ranks. This is the job of the spy (espionage agent). Spies can return information concerning the size and strength of enemy forces. They can also find dissidents within the enemy's forces and influence them to defect. In times of crisis, spies steal technology and sabotage the enemy in various ways. Counterintelligence is the practice of thwarting enemy espionage and intelligence-gathering. Almost all nations have strict laws concerning espionage and the penalty for being caught is often severe. However, the benefits gained through espionage are often so great that most governments and many large corporations make use of it.
Information collection techniques used in the conduct of clandestine human intelligence include operational techniques, asset recruiting, and tradecraft.
Targets of Espionage
Espionage agents are usually trained experts in a targeted field so they can differentiate mundane information from targets of value to their own organisational development. Correct identification of the target at its execution is the sole purpose of the espionage operation.
Broad areas of espionage targeting expertise include:
Natural resources: strategic production identification and assessment (food, energy, materials). Agents are usually found among bureaucrats who administer these resources in their own countries
Popular sentiment towards domestic and foreign policies (popular, middle class, elites). Agents often recruited from field journalistic crews, exchange postgraduate students and sociology researchers
Strategic economic strengths (production, research, manufacture, infrastructure). Agents recruited from science and technology academia, commercial enterprises, and more rarely from among military technologists
Military capability intelligence (offensive, defensive, naval, air, space). Agents are trained by military espionage education facilities, and posted to an area of operation with covert identities to minimise prosecution
Counterintelligence operations targeting opponents' intelligence services themselves, such as breaching confidentiality of communications, and recruiting defectors or moles.
Commonly used Methods
Although the news media may speak of "spy satellites" and the like, espionage is not a synonym for all intelligence-gathering disciplines. It is a specific form of human source intelligence (HUMINT).
Codebreaking (cryptanalysis or COMINT), aircraft or satellite photography, (IMINT) and research in open publications (OSINT) are all intelligence gathering disciplines, but none of them is considered espionage. Many HUMINT activities, such as prisoner interrogation, reports from military reconnaissance patrols and from diplomats, etc., are not considered espionage. Espionage is the disclosure of sensitive information (classified) to people who are not cleared for that information or access to that sensitive information.
Unlike other forms of intelligence collection disciplines, espionage usually involves accessing the place where the desired information is stored or accessing the people who know the information and will divulge it through some kind of subterfuge. There are exceptions to physical meetings, such as the Oslo Report, or the insistence of Robert Hanssen in never meeting the people who bought his information.
The US defines espionage towards itself as "The act of obtaining, delivering, transmitting, communicating, or receiving information about the national defence with an intent, or reason to believe, that the information may be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation".