Over crushing candy? Then why not try a completely fun and free alternative? It’s available to anybody with a Foreign Embassy or Consulate nearby.
We call it Spot The Spy.
When most of us think of spies, Hollywood portrayals of gun toting clandestine paramilitaries, or the plutonium poisoning of sushi eating defectors, springs to mind. And though some spooks can indeed be found hunting dissidents or fighting alongside soldiers in the trenches, for the vast majority of Intelligence agents, the average day is far more mundane.
See, the spies of even ‘friendly’ nations are just as interested in collecting information on their allies, as they are on bomb-wielding fundamentalists and sworn-battlefield enemies. Our troops may stand alongside one another on the front lines, but if it turns out that both generally affable Nations are going to be competing for the same upcoming trade deal, then each countries’ respective Intelligence agencies will work overtime to try and gain the upper-hand over the other.
The gathering of such information, aside from that obtained by intercepted signals (phone, internet etc.), is left to the agents who generally operate out of diplomatic posts in rival countries.
‘Most major Nation states have Intelligence officers operating out of their diplomatic missions’, confirmed former Intelligence officer, turned ANU Professor, Clive Williams.
Occasionally, allegations of such spying amongst friends, goes public. In turn the target country will respond with feigned surprise and outrage. Consider how ‘furious’ German Chancellor Merkel was when it was made public that the United States had been listening in to her calls. The reality is that behind the public sabre rattling, the apparent ‘victim’ of the spying was not one bit surprised, after all, if Germany had been on their A game, they would have been have been doing it too.
At your local embassy, there will generally be at least one declared spy and perhaps more who are undeclared. The former are exactly that.
Their position serves as an Intelligence and Security contact between the two Nations. Naturally, these agents won’t be involved in any real serious Intelligence gathering, as they will be well under the watchful eyes of their hosts. Instead the covert work of identifying and cultivating local sources of interest will be left to those who go undeclared. Such agents may hold down cover roles ranging in anything from the Embassy cleaner through to head diplomat.
Australia’s foreign spy agency, ASIS is estimated to have at least 600 hundred of these undeclared officers stationed across the globe. And whilst America’s behemoth of all things spying, the CIA, won’t publish exact employee numbers, with a whopping annual budget estimated at just shy of 15 billion dollars, you can bet they enjoy a presence in every corner of the globe.
Of course, there exist the even deeper levels of operation, deniable agents. These are unlucky sods at the best of times, because if caught, their very existence will be denied by their own government. Leaving them all alone to face whatever their captors have in store for them. But for ease of playing this game, let’s not go there.
So with your new understanding that your local Foreign Embassy not only processes visa applications, but is indeed also a hotbed of Intelligence activity, how do you go about spotting these undeclared agents?
One easy way is to simply visit the webpage of your nearest diplomatic post. Not all of these sites will list the names of their various staff members, but alarmingly, many do. Pump some of those names into the usual social media platforms and see what comes back.
See, genuine diplomatic service roles are usually highly sought after in most Nations. It follows, then, that most of the authentic, non-spy, roles in such establishments are occupied by the professionally and academically accomplished. So when you find an embassy staffer who has no information publically available, aside from a broad generic sounding bio, you may be on to something.
With just a quick browse of our local Russian Consulate staff, we were left thinking that they may have made it a little too easy for us. What do you think, Amateur spooks?
Happy spy catching.