Spying is over. But why, exactly?

And what could come next?

Spying is over. But why, exactly? /img/my-name-is-bond.jpg

If you use social media in the “wrong” way, you may be deported. If you don’t use them because you are a spy, it may be even worst.

Head they win, tail the spy loses

Even in the age of “Big Data”, human intelligence and field work remain critical to make espionage work. But a Yahoo News article gives plenty of detailed examples of how “The ability to send undercover intelligence officers overseas to recruit or meet sources face to face is disappearing”. Here is why:

  • Personal data are a weapon. Whether you share them or not:

  • “you show up at the border of Russia, they’ve got your high school yearbook out there where you wrote about your lifelong ambitions to work for the CIA. All that stuff is digitized.”

  • “Very few people, maybe shepherds in rural Afghanistan, don’t leave some form of digital trace today”. And it looks even worst if you have no such trace.

  • Facial recognition at border crossings and airports and surveillance cameras in major cities are already making false passports and interchangeable identities much less useful than they were.

  • Biometrics and artificial intelligence will only make things worse. US military personnel has been told to avoid using consumer DNA kits, because the data they collect may end in the hand of foreign intelligence agencies. Then again, all those agencies may need to identify an US spy may be the DNA of any of her non-military close relatives.

Basically, the protection of undercover spies' identities is becoming next to impossible. And quite quickly too. Recruiting new spies and specifically train them to work in the worldwide digital panopticon isn’t easy either: “Recruitment to the CIA of younger people, particularly those born in the age of social media, has become more difficult”.

All this, and much more, leads to the core question of that article: “Is spying as we know it over?… Some people believe that [this may happen] within 10 years”.

Maybe. And it’s quite interesting

Summarizing, the same digital machinery and social pressure that works wonders to spy on people makes also impossible to be a spy, and many young people can’t apparently be even bothered to try that “career” path.

The real hidden news here is that spying may be over not by digital technology in and by itself, but by sociopolitical and generational changes, that technology only enabled, or intensified.

The reason I say this is in my posts about the CIA director complaining about millennials (2017) and the limits of security clearances for a Snowden generation (2018).

Compare those two posts with the summary above, and maybe you too will agree that the real reason why “spying may be over” is this:

the current “system” has created both technology and people unable to sustain it.

And the final outcome maybe as simple and utopian as a world that works without spies, because it unknowingly made impossible to recruit and use them.