Espionage in History

Espionage is the process of obtaining top-secret military or political intelligence from a foreign government. The cold war is known as the “era of espionage,” when the United States and the Soviet Union employed spies to gather and transmit extremely sensitive information.

The Office of Strategic Services was abolished and the Central Intelligence Agency was established in 1947. The Central Intelligence Agency carried out covert operations against adversarial foreign powers and gathered intelligence through decoding radio traffic and signals. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, established in 1908, looks into treason, espionage, and domestic criminal activity. Soviet Russia has a longer history of espionage from as early as 1800s.In the Roman Empire, spies practiced both domestic and foreign political espionage. During the civil war, spies were used to monitor troop size and movement. From 1861 to 1865, Allen Pinkerton and Lafayette were spy masters in the American union who specialized in counterespionage.

Development of Espionage before the Cold-War

Historical records of spies and espionage are found in some of the ancient world’s recorded histories. Rome is highly known for its development of espionage during the ancient time. The Rome Empire mostly spied on its neighbor’s and collected information on both resources and military forces. The worlds participated in both domestic and foreign politics. Alliances have been formed through convincing leaders and tribal organizations to join Roman Empire. Formation of the first counterintelligence force has occurred by the third century. The collapse of Roman Empire leads to restriction of espionage and any intelligence activities to wartime.

Espionage and intelligence agencies of the government have become stronger and more developed by the late 19th century. It has been mainly experienced due to the rivalry and conflict between the Russian and British Empires. The Russian Empire has been a threat to the British position in India. Therefore, the British have developed a system of counterintelligence, surveillance, and intelligence. The British spies would act like botanist or archaeologists, which has appeared to be amateurish. With time, better and more professional tricks have been used and it is where the modern intelligence has been discovered. The modern apparatus has had foreign and internal infiltration that has been of permanent bureaucracies. In early 1844, a cryptographic unit has been established in India. Through cryptographic unit, the British have achieved success in decrypting Russian communication. The military intelligence has played a role of transmitting openly received information and used to get confidential information and recruiting spies.

In 1850, Evidenzbureau has been founded by the Australian Empire, which has become the first permanent military intelligence service to be formed. The Bureau has collected intelligence of military relevance from different sources and reported to the chief of staff. The most important section of the Evidenzbureau has been aimed against Russia. On June 8, 1871, the French ministry of war has created Deuxieme Bureau. The bureau role has been to research on the plans and all operation of the enemies. In 1889, Field Marshal has established a military intelligence unit, which has expanded its operations into France and Russia. Russian military intelligence has reorganized after their defeat in the war between them and the Japanese in the years of 1904 and 1905.

Espionage in the 20th Century

The British felt it has been important to not only have a military intelligence but to also for a naval intelligence division. The division responsibility has been for foreign intelligence collection and fleet mobilization and war plans. Information collected by the naval intelligence division has been to be used during the war and during peace. Other navies of Russia, Italy, and Austria-Hungary have followed suit by forming naval intelligence. The British have formed the formation of the secret service Bureau in 1909 and it has been in control of all the government espionage activities. William Melville has been able to acquire German mobilization plans and proof about the financial support to the Boers. The information lead to the creation of new intelligence section in the war section, which has been headed by William Melville. He has run both counterintelligence and foreign intelligence activities. He has used the knowledge and foreign contacts he has collected during the years he was running special Branch. The secret service bureau has had 19 military intelligence and up to date it is the most recognized and is still active. The bureau has controlled secret intelligence activities in the UK and overseas. It has mostly concentrated on the activities of the imperial German government. Later in 1910, the Bureau has been split into an army and naval sections. The army section has specialized in counter-espionage activities while the naval section has specialized in foreign espionage activities.

Espionage has been widely used and it has been important to expand the duties of the internal security forces into the role of discovering and opposing foreign spies. The outbreak of the First World War has happened in 1914 and by that time, there has been the use of complex structure in both training and handling of spies. World War 1 from the year 1914 to 1918 has led to perfecting and refinement of espionage techniques. Spies would gather information about the battle through interrogating the prisoners of war. It has not been considered helpful as it has only given an insight of local enemy actions and just for a limited time. High-level information about the enemy’s intentions, military capabilities, and deployment have been needed. To acquire all this information, undercover spies have operated deep in the enemies territories. Most of the German army has occupied parts of northern France and Belgium. British and French intelligence services have recruited refugees from French and Belgium. They have gained access to the agents behind enemy lines through Netherlands. Allies over 250 networks have been formed and concentrated on gaining access to the German railway networks. Consequently, it has helped in the collection of strategic troops and ammunition locomotion, which they used as warnings.

Dame Blanche has been founded in 1916, which has worked as an underground intelligence group. It has later become the most efficient spy team in Belgium area occupied by Germans. Most of the intelligence that has been collected from Belgium and Northern France to the Allies has been the Dame Blanche spying ring. One thousand and three hundred agents have covered northern France and Belgium through collaborating with Louise de Bettignies’ network. The network has helped by proving warnings before the launch of the German 1918 spring offensive. More spies have been collected by the Germans and trained. The trained agents have been isolated, hence, not able to depend on support network for information. Margaratha Geertruida Zelle has been the most known German spy. After the declaration of the war, German spy group working in Britain has been interrupted by MI5.

Aerial reconnaissance, photography and interception, and decryption of radio signals have been the new methods used for intelligence collection. The new method has been termed to be code breaking. The British have been quick to come up with new expertise in the field of code breaking and signal intelligence. The German submarines cables have been destroyed during the war in the year of 1911. The act of destroying submarines cables has led to a high increase in sent messages through cables that have belonged to other countries. The German and Britain have not had any ways of decoding the messages that have been sent by the other countries. The Marconi Company has recorded messages from Germany. Later on in October 1914, the Room 40 has been identified with the British crypto analysis. Its operation has come from a codebook owned by the German naval. In 1915, the British and German interception services have started their experiments with direction finding radio equipment.

Modern Espionage and Intelligence

The Room 40 has played the role of detecting the main German sorties. The Russian revolution has led to the development of modern international espionage techniques. Standards that have been used in the modern international espionage have been set by Sidney Reilly to make it more professional and ruthless. In May 1918, Reilly and Robert Bruce met Boris Savinkov who has been the leader of the counter-revolutionary union. By 17 August, Reilly has carried out meetings with leaders and British agents operating in Russia. George Hill has been one of them and helped establishing ten secure houses and a professional courier network that have stretched across northern Russia and allowed him to get top-secret documents from Moscow to Stockholm London in days. After a few months, Dukes, Hill, and Reilley have worked and convinced the government to fund the secret intelligence services in peacetime.

The United States and Russia espionage has experienced changes due to the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. Russia has become more concerned with its economic status and internal situation than trying to spy on the U.S. and getting military secrets. The United States has been focused on its espionage in the Middle East, as they have been their enemies. The arrest of high-profile FBI agent Robert Hanssen a Russian spy has led to different techniques of espionage since 1991 from that used during the Cold War.


To sum up, the development of counterintelligence and espionage has involved many changes in terms of techniques used and the number of spies. During the Cold War, there have been changes in the nature of the U.S. espionage, since spies for the Soviet Union have been motivated ideology, while in 1980 and 1990 they have been motivated by a personal gain. Russian spies are for security purposes. From the year of 1945 to the year of 1991, espionage has involved the game of learning secrets of an enemy before the enemy gets to know yours. Espionage has not led to the end of the Cold War but the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991 has result in an abrupt end of the War.After the end of the Cold War, the United States and Western Europe have provided a financial help to economies of the former communist countries. Today espionage targets different agencies such as terrorists, state actors, and illegal drug trade.


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