An outside the box strategic discussion by Ted S Galpin
The Difference Between Intelligence and Espionage.
Is a matter of life and death.
(2016 Bonus answer – because this article gets a ton of traffic – here’s the direct answer:
Intelligence is information gathering.
Espionage is illegal. When you break the law to obtain information (secrets).
Or grey area illegal involving lying, cheating, stealing, misrepresenting. Unethical or Immoral behaviour that risks lawsuits and making enemies is espionage or borderline espionage. The Society for Competitive intelligence has guidelines and a code of conduct for this sort of thing. People protect secrets for reasons. Stealing secrets is espionage.
The classic SCIP example is if an anonymous source sends you an unmarked package full of your competitor’s secrets – it’s unethical espionage, and potentially illegal if you keep and use the package once you understand what it is – it makes you an accessory to espionage. SCIP at least used to recommend you return the secrets to their owners, and act in a honest and trustworthy fashion. Which is good advice in a context where you can’t kill your enemies, also know as the civilized world.
A kid that steals their older sister’s diary is a simple example of basic espionage, because if trivial, it is an act of stealing protected secrets and their are consequences if you get caught. The remaining old article illustrates the real world consequences of intelligence and espionage.)
I actually had some fun stuff planned for this week’s article, but catching up on the news changed my mind. As a cute comedy song pointed out in 2004, America is so spoiled now that obesity is an epidemic.
Really? Just think about that. We have it so good that one of our most difficult challenges as a society is eating too much.
About 1.7 Billion people live in Poverty. That basically means about a third of the earth isn’t sure where their next meal is coming from. And Americans are dying from overeating.
So what does that have to do with intelligence and espionage?
Well, consider American are so spoiled we are dying from overeating. How else are we spoiled? One could say most Americans view the world through Disney colored glasses; War is an abstract idea we see in movies; crime is rare and the police handle it. Eating, heat, and electricity are a certainty, even air conditioning and internet access are a certainty these days. The worst thing most people can imagine is losing their job.
The rest of the world isn’t so fortunate. War, Plague, Famine, and Death are common. Life is cheap, guns cost less than food. Children fight wars started by parents that died before they could know them.
I’ll spare the statistics and numbers because this is depressing enough already. The point is people need to remember how dangerous a place the world is when they start interacting with it, or their mistakes will get somebody killed.
And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like having a death on my conscience. Not if I could have easily prevented it, or worse yet contributed to it.
The Reason Why
Did it make a difference?
Walking The Line
Crossing The Line
Who Pays the Price?
The Ethics and Morals of Information
Intelligence is about gathering information and analyzing it so you can make informed decisions to accomplish your goals. Sounds simple eh? The trick is some problems are complicated, and some information is hard to find or understand. That is why we have business intelligence, competitive intelligence, defense intelligence, national intelligence, etc. People figured out that news and opinions make great entertainment, but you need intelligence analysis to really make a good decision and anticipate the consequences of your actions.
Espionage is about dangerous intelligence; i.e. secrets. These are things that people are willing to fight to protect and protected by laws. Most business secrets really aren’t that big a deal, and domestic industrial espionage is a hard to quantify activity often resulting in legal action and people losing jobs.
You get out into the world; espionage is considered a matter of national security, is often a military matter, and people kill to protect their secrets. Often because those secrets keep them alive. Osama bin Laden doesn’t want his location to be known, because if it is, a bomb will land on it. That’s a simple example of the information people are willing to kill or die for.
Obviously most Americans don’t do those sort of things or think in those terms. If they do, they often wind up in jail or worse.
The last technical term is “redaction;” basically a fancy word for censorship of secrets. That old TV show where “names are changed to protect the innocent” is a great example of redaction.
So what started all this?
Wikileaks is an international organization based in Sweden that calls itself ” a multi-jurisdictional public service designed to protect whistleblowers, journalists and activists who have sensitive materials to communicate to the public.”
Earlier this week Wikileaks released 90,000 secret US military Afghan war intelligence documents it obtained to news sources, and made about 75,000 publicly available online. To their credit Wikileaks did make an effort to try and redact the documents to reduce any negative impact. The media reaction has been significant, talking through the details and reaction.
The Reason Why
Wikileaks, much like the modern media and journalists is all about freedom of information, transparency in government, and fighting corruption; all while protecting the sources that provide them with information.
So basically they don’t like secrets, and honestly do provide an important governance function to help keep the powers that be a little more honest.
But the question is did they accomplish that this time?
Did it make a difference?
Well, according to both the Washington post and former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, no. All the media outlets are reporting that the wikileaks information only confirms what we already know:
– War is worse when described by people on the ground than by politicians.
– There are civilian casualties in war.
– Pakistani Intelligence is hard to work with.
– The Taliban are getting stronger.
– The American backed Afghan government has problems with corruption.
All things we’ve known for a long time, and most of them mentioned in my previous article on Afghanistan.
Despite their mission statement; Wikileaks didn’t give us anything new to work with. The “whistleblowers” are being investigated by the military. All they provided were some historical records that don’t change the American Politics at all, but will probably get the people Wikileaks is trying to protect arrested. Not exactly good for the reputation is it?
Here’s the whole point of what I’m writing. The difference between intelligence and espionage is witness protection. When people are willing to kill to protect their secrets, what do they do to the people that tell you the secrets?
When you use a person as a primary intelligence asset — that is you ask them to spy and conduct espionage on your behalf; there’s usually an implicit social contract that you will not endanger the life of your source or their family; otherwise why would they risk themselves to share the information with you?
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US Military has easily thousands of civilian intelligence contacts hiding in plain sight, covertly providing us with information on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Most are likely civilians who live in areas frequented by our enemies, or who conduct business with our enemies.
Wikileaks redacted the names. But reportedly the dates and places and details are there, free for download on the Wikileaks web site. You want to know how the US learned about the meeting where your brother got killed in Kandahar? Now you can read the Pentagon file on it. It’s like trying to remember the name of the guy who puked in your sink at that party in college. If you were there and you know all the people involved, it’s not to hard to connect the dots and start figuring out the names of who’s talking to the Americans.
Wikileaks just compromised the lives every contact we have in the region, and the lives
Walking The Line
The Hacker community is the original “Set the information free” culture. In the same week as this Wikileaks controversy is going on, Adrian Lamo, a well known hacker, had a similar opportunity this week, and handled it very differently. He took the hard drive filled with 90,000 secret documents provided by an Army intelligence analyst, and returned it to the military. He said “I went to the right authorities, because it seemed incomprehensible that someone could leak that massive amount of data and not have it endanger human life,” as quoted by CNN.com.
But the hacker understood the consequences of publicly releasing that information — people would probably die.
He understood the difference between intelligence and espionage.
Crossing The Line
Funny that the hacker with a criminal record was worried about the witness protection issue. And Wikileaks only did enough to protect the identities of American soldiers.
And what did they get out of it? There has been no change in our view of Afghanistan or American politics due to the leak. All they did was get credit for the largest leak of military secrets ever, and consequently endangered the lives of thousands of Afghan and Pakistani contacts and their families.
Who Pays the Price?
In an article on CNN.com former 4 star general and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden called wikileak’s release both stupid, and a tragedy.
Most of the sources mentioned in the 75,000 released documents now have to wonder, how good are their enemies at connecting the dots? How do they protect themselves and their families?
The American military and intelligence community has lost it reputation for protecting it’s partners in the region. Remember the next time you work with the US government, your interaction will be documented, and who will be looking for pay back when your deeds come to light?
So the US will probably lose most of it’s spies in the region, and has lost credibility for recruiting new ones. Doesn’t exactly help us fight terrorism.
The Ethics and Morals of Information
Ironically this is probably something best understood by hackers and intelligence professionals. The Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals even have a careful Code of Ethics that addresses the consequences of controlling information.
Anybody who trades in information, be they a journalist, an intelligence professional, or an idealist like wikileaks really needs to understand the responsibilities and consequences of that trade. And part of that is deciding how and when to responsibly report the information you have without jeopardizing the lives of innocent people.
I would argue that “The people have a right to know,” does not take priority over the obligation to do no harm. We might all benefit from journalists and groups like wikileaks developing an ethical standard like the hippocratic oath.
But real point is, if you traffic in information — in intelligence, journalism, or otherwise you need to understand the difference between intelligence and espionage, or you will get people killed.
If I were a Taliban or Al-Qaeda strategist — I now have 75,000 classified US Military reports that tell me what my enemies know and don’t know. What they are good at and what they are not good at. And best of all, it gives me more than enough information to purge (kill) every source of primary intelligence the Americans have in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and probably the surrounding parts of central asia.
The Wikileaks download is actually an amazing resource for making a strategic assessment of the US Military in Afghanistan.
The American military now enjoys a reputation as not being able to protect it’s allies.
And Wikileaks has proven at least in this case, that to take credit for a good scoop, they will release information that does no good whatsoever, but does plenty of potential harm.
Wikileaks has proven they don’t care if their leaks get people killed.
Makes you wonder, are they stupid or just selfish? Does it make a difference?
The only thing I can say — is with “friends” like these, who needs enemies?
The take away here is in intelligence, the danger is your typical business risk. But espionage connotates laws being broken, and life threatening danger. Those who work in espionage often risk not only their lives, but for the compromised contacts in Afghanistan, likely their innocent families are in danger as well.
The difference between intelligence and espionage is simply the level of risk you take to get the information you want. You chase secrets and start breaking laws, you crossed the line.
And the corollary to that is likely the higher the risk, the greater the potential to inflict harm.
And information professionals have a moral and ethical obligation to not compromise the safety of innocent people. That’s a message Wikileaks needs to hear.
And to the point, Wikileaks needs to take off their Disney colored glasses, recognize how dangerous the world is and learn the difference between intelligence and espionage, so maybe they will think twice before they endanger thousands of lives by releasing sensitive information that has no productive effect on the world.
Thanks for reading,
Your humble strategist,
Ted S Galpin
The above theory of intelligence, and difference between espionage from the former is interesting, I need more of that to be a very good security officer and consultant please.
Sorry this post comes six years late. I have just discovered it. If you are interested, I have a few comments about your comments about the difference between intelligence and espionage. I shall paraphrase your words in an attempt to help clarify the definitions.
You wrote: Intelligence is about gathering information and analyzing it so you can make informed decisions to accomplish your goals.
I write: Intelligence is the knowledge gained from gathering information and analyzing it so you can make informed decisions to accomplish your goals.
You wrote: Espionage is about dangerous intelligence; i.e. secrets.
I write: Espionage is the process of gathering intelligence. Of course, it is done in a secretive way.
The reason people are willing to fight to protect espionage is because this is the source of the intelligence — the people, systems, etc. that gather it. It is much more valuable than the intelligence itself.
To simplify: Intelligence is the data or knowledge that is gained and espionage is the process used to gather the intelligence.
I agree that espionage is a matter of national security and is often a military matter. I prefer to consider espionage as a matter of military and the civilian government. The are many of what I call overt covert organizations: such as, NSA, CIA, FBI, etc. There are also many of what I call cover covert organizations that are not common to the citizenry.
Example 1: Osama doesn’t want his location to be known, because if it is, a bomb will land on it. If I was an enemy of Osama and wanted to drop a bomb on him, I would need some intelligence identifying his location. In order to do this, I would need to do some espionage; such as, interviewing local citizens, analyzing satellite images, monitoring radio communications, etc. Once the information had been collected, processed, and analyzed, I would need to determine the probability of a kill (and the cost of doing such) if I were to drop a bomb.
Example 2: During WWII the Germans would send coded military messages. The Allies wanted to cipher the messages to aid in their war effort. The process of espionage included obtaining an Enigma machine, intercepting communication messages, sharing knowledge between allies, etc. The intelligence then became taking the intercepted messages and decoding them. The ciphered messages were the intelligence gained.
I hope this is useful and does not add confusion.
Awesome point. The trick is there are many kinds of professional intelligence gathering done in the civilian sphere, especially competitive intelligence as performed in the business and non profit spheres. Even here the difference between intelligence and espionage is important and touched on by organizations such as the Society for Competitive Intelligence Professionals…
They engage in ethical and legal intelligence gathering. Espionage is illegal intelligence gathering, that breaks the laws of a government. Which is why many oppressive governments with arrest journalists for espionage. Because many journalists engage in what is essentially commercial intelligence gathering.
Intelligence is the analyzed information packaged for decision making support. Espionage is illegal intelligence gathering.
Your comment focuses on the military and geopolitical sphere of intelligence.
I agree given the hits I’m getting on this article, it needs an update
Everything is very open with a clear clarification of the issues.
It was really informative. Your site is useful.
Many thanks for sharing!
While I agree that Intelligence is a matter of national security, I also believe that espionage is important in strenghtening national security defence system against any possible terrorist threat or attack. For eexample, a secret information gathering on the activities of Boko Haram group in Nigeria will provide the military insights and real-time intelligence to counter terrorist attack or lay ambush that prevent planned terrorist strike. Such could said to be Espionage .Nations uses professional Spies to obtain sensitivity and valuable information from the enemy within the limit of law. Here I mean state-sponsored espionage such like ethical spying for military advantage.