How Spies Identify And Assess Targets
The first thing James Bond does in any of his movies is to introduce himself in his true name to everybody in town and guarantee that all the bad guys know where to find him. I like Bond movies as much as the next guy, but this has nothing to do with the real business of espionage.
Real spies move in the shadows, pulling strings and manipulating the situation long before you even know they are interested in you.
Most of what a case officer does (CIA speak for a spook) is illegal on foreign soil. The case officer’s presence alone in another country is likely a crime. Spies, therefore, work undercover, pretending to be something else and carefully hunting for and approaching targets. Their goal is to avoid detection and recruit sources inside target nations or organizations without anyone even knowing who they are or having any idea what they are doing.
To do this, spies employ a whole range of techniques and capabilities. They access sensitive communications intercepts, and they review information coming in from operations that are already running. But, classically, and most importantly, they employ human sources to feed them information and identify and assess targets.
Think of a case officer as a spider sitting at the center of a giant web. Spiders sit motionless but they feel every tremor in the web. They know exactly what is happening around them. Before they ever spring on their prey they know everything about it.
A Chinese intelligence officer targeting Americans, for instance, will be fed information from a wide variety of human sources. Some of these will be long-term formally recruited sources who are paid for their services. Others will be cooperative contacts of some sort. In the case of China, pretty much any Chinese citizen who has contact with foreigners of interest either in China or abroad reports to Chinese intelligence. They have no choice.
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