How to Leakily Lose the SpyWar
Telling the other side that you know their secrets is a fast way to lose your ability to spy on them
We live in an age when the fact that countries spy on each other is openly admitted, sometimes even bragged about. This is a very recent development, despite espionage being as old as civilization itself. For as long as people have been living in anything resembling societies, they have been spying on each other, while seldom talking openly about it.
Until quite recently, the U.S. Government was anything but transparent about its vast intelligence apparatus. Our sprawling 17-agency Intelligence Community now shares an impressive amount of information with the public about what it does, while generally remaining tight-lipped about how it does it. It wasn’t that long ago that the National Security Agency joked that NSA stood for No Such Agency (alternately: Never Say Anything), and that was literally true for decades. NSA only began appearing in unclassified Federal government listings after the Cold War, while my first NSA identification card, issued some three decades ago, listed my employer as the mysterious “Department of Defense Special Unit One.”
Such obsessive secrecy is a distant memory, which overall is a good thing. It’s not like the Kremlin didn’t know what NSA was and what it was doing. However, such openness can be taken too far, and the Biden administration has been making a habit of this, principally to shame Russian President Vladimir Putin over his aggression against Ukraine. Repeatedly over the last year, the White House has leaked highly classified intelligence to the press to embarrass the Kremlin. While some of this information has been formally declassified and released, as is the correct process for sharing secrets with the public, some has simply been told to journalists per the venerable Beltway-insider leakage habits.
Most recently, the Biden administration embarrassed Beijing by revealing that the Intelligence Community became aware that the People’s Republic of China was considering providing drones and ammunition to Russia, which is running short of all kinds of military gear in its war against Ukraine. As CNN reported on February 24, citing three anonymous sources who were familiar with IC classified intelligence:
Since invading Ukraine, Russia has repeatedly requested drones and ammunition from China, the sources familiar with the intelligence said, and Chinese leadership has been actively debating over the last several months whether or not to send the lethal aid, the sources added.
U.S. intelligence officials have collected information in recent weeks, however, that suggests China is now leaning towards providing the equipment. The U.S. and its allies last week began publicly warning about China’s potential military support to Russia in an effort to deter Beijing from moving ahead with it and crossing a point of no return in terms of being seen as a pariah on the world stage, U.S. officials said.