The World of Spies and Counterintelligence

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

In a report titled “US hires Nigerians as spies,” the Nigerian Tribune (07/29/07) assert that in an effort to “shore-up its intelligence gathering potentials and also to conduct a successful war on terrorism, the government has started hiring US-based translators of Nigeria’s three major languages.” In spite of its sensational and eye-catching title, the report itself is much ado about nothing. There is nothing significant, strategic, or new about such a move. Nigeria has always been a beehive of intelligence activities — more so in recent years, because of the fear of Al Qaeda germination in the North, and militant activities in the Niger Delta.

Espionage is variously referred to as spying or the “cloak and dagger world” — a mysterious world that fascinates virtually everybody. This mystery and fascination is made more pronounced by the works of people like Frederick Forsyth, John le Carré, Ian Fleming, Thom Clancy, Leonard Deighton, Ken Follett, and Robert Ludlum. And then there were TV series like I Spy, The Sandbaggers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E, and the recent ALIAS. On the big screen are the James Bond movie strings, Mission: Impossible and the recent trilogy, The Bourne Identity. Events surrounding War I, World War II and the Cold War also goaded our lure with espionage and the intelligence community.

According to Shulsky and Schmitt (2002), there are four components to intelligence: (1) information collection: gathering of raw data through photography, interception of electronic communications, and other methods involving technology; (2) information analysis: analysis of information is necessary if it is to be useful to policy makers and military commanders (3) covert operations: covert actions can range from persuasion or propaganda to paramilitary actions, an “activity midway between diplomacy and war” and (4) counterintelligence: seeks to protect a society (and especially its intelligence capabilities) against harm that might be inflicted by hostile intelligence services.

In the estimation of Mark Lowenthal (2003), there are quite a few reasons why nation states have intelligence agencies. The first is to avoid strategic surprise, that is, to keep track of threats, forces, events, and developments that are capable of threatening the nation’s existence; second, to provide long-term expertise to short-term policy makers within the bureaucracy since a great deal of knowledge and expertise on national security issues resides in a relatively stable intelligence community. Third, to support the policy process as policy makers have a constant need for tailored, timely intelligence that will provide background, context, information, warning, and assessment of risks, benefits, and likely outcomes.” Moreover, there is the need to maintain the secrecy of information, needs, and methods.

Every nation in the world has some form of intelligence gathering body, notable amongst them are the Germans, French, Syrians, Czechs, Egyptians, Bulgarians, Chinese and the Australians. However, the better known are the MOSSAD; the Soviet-era KGB and their successor, the FSB (Federal Security Service); the British M15 and MI6; and America’s CIA. The Israeli Mossad “has responsibility for human intelligence collection, covert action, and counterterrorism. Its focus is on Arab nations and organizations throughout the world. Mossad also is responsible for the clandestine movement of Jewish refugees out of Syria, Iran, and Ethiopia. Mossad agents are active in the former communist countries, in the West, and at the UN.”

Soviet era KGB was “created in 1954, when the reorganization of the police apparatus was carried out. In the late 1980s, the KGB remained a highly centralized institution, with controls implemented by the Politburo through the KGB headquarters in Moscow.” The British has the “Secret Intelligence Service, sometimes known as the MI6.” In the United Sates of America, “The Director of National Intelligence (DNI) serves as the head of the Intelligence Community (IC). The DNI also acts as the principal advisor to the President; the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council.”

The Central Intelligence Agency is the better known body amongst the two dozen or so intelligence organizations in the US. The agency is responsible for “providing accurate, evidence-based, comprehensive, and timely foreign intelligence related to national security; conducting counterintelligence activities, special activities, and other functions related to foreign intelligence and national security as directed by the President.” “To accomplish its mission, the CIA engages in research, development, and deployment of high-leverage technology for intelligence purposes” — the use of satellites for instance.

Some easily recognizable words within the intelligence community are: (1) Asset, a foreigner recruited by a case officer to work for the recruiting agency; (2) Defector: Someone of interest to, say, the CIA who has left his or her country of citizenship; (3) Double Agent: someone who is actually working for another government, normally feeding misinformation to a particular intelligence organization, say the CIA. “In the late 1980s, it was discovered that nearly all Cuban agents were working for Fidel Castro and passing on misinformation to the CIA;” and (4) Walk-ins: Agents who are not recruited but instead willingly offer their services. For instance, CIA agent Aldrich Ames spying for thee Soviet Union was a walk-in to the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC

No one knows how Nigerians have been walk-ins for the American, the British and other intelligence organizations. And indeed, no one knows how many Nigerians are at the service of such intelligence organizations. It is assumed that acquiring information from open and secret sources in Nigeria is a very easy task. And not a few have commented that listening and recording devices are awash in Nigeria — planted in our airports and seaports, ministries, official government residences, computer and electronic gargets of targeted personnel, and within various other installations. Conversely, it would be nice to know the types and number of foreigners who spy for Nigeria, and whether the Nigerian intelligence organization is also actively spying on other countries around the world.


Selected Sources:

  1. Central Intelligence Agency accessed 06/08/2007
  2. “Espionage” accessed 08/06/2007
  3. Lowenthal, Mark M. Intelligence: From Secrets to Policy. CQ Press Washington DC, 2003
  4. Shulsky, Abraham and Schmitt, Gary. Silent Warfare: Understanding the World of Intelligence. Brassey’s Inc., Washington DC, 2002

World Intelligence and Security Agencies accessed 08/06/07

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1 comment

Rosie August 9, 2007 - 2:07 pm

Sabella, do you think it is ethical for a Nigerian to spy on Nigerians for the US? I am torn on the issue.


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