The newsletter to fuel — and thrill — your mind. Read for deep dives into the unmissable ideas and topics shaping our world.
Nov 16, 2021
Ever wonder whether your neighbor is living a double life? A friend’s father used to tell us about being headhunted by the CIA. He said he declined the offer, but that didn’t stop us from speculating he was an international man of mystery, working undercover as a suburban dad. If you fancy yourself a spy enthusiast, join us for this not-so-clandestine peek at modern-day spycraft. You’ve all heard of the Mossad, but here are some other terror-inducing agencies you should know about, plus a roundup of women leading from the shadows and a look at the new frontiers for 21st century spooks. With the new James Bond movie out now, if you’re anything like me, your curiosity has been piqued by the life of a spy. Today’s Daily Dose answers all your questions about the world of espionage.
--Based on Reporting by Isabelle Lee
Behind the World's Deadliest Spy Agencies
1 - Secrets Abound in Cuba
Also known as G2, Cuba’s Intelligence Directorate punches far above its weight, its spies earning the respect and awe of American counterparts. It has successfully recruited and planted spies, including Ana Montes, deep in U.S. spy agencies for years, and was possibly involved in the mysterious sonic illnesses that hit American and Canadian diplomats in Havana in 2016. In 2019, operatives allegedly infiltrated the Miami Airport, gaining access to security codes and other information.
2 - Pakistan's Covert Tendrils
Pakistan’s military intelligence arm, described as a “state within a state,” has long worked covertly in Afghanistan, financing and sheltering extremist groups such as the Taliban. ISI, which stands for Inter-Services Intelligence, was also linked to the horrific 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people, and has been accused by New Delhi of fueling the separatist movement in Kashmir. The agency is Pakistan’s central weapon in a sophisticated game of asymmetrical warfare against its bigger and more powerful neighbor, India. As America pulls out of Afghanistan, the ISI could also hold the key to peace — or renewed conflict — in that war-scarred nation.
3 - Don't Mess with Rwanda
Rwandan opposition politician Abdallah Bamporiki was driving his car in Cape Town, where he lived in exile, when he was yanked out in late February this year and shot dead with a single bullet. South African authorities blamed an attempted robbery, but the killing was eerily similar to a spate of assassinations of Rwandan dissidents abroad. From Belgium and Australia to South Africa and Uganda, governments are waking up to an unlikely new espionage threat: Rwanda’s intelligence agency, which has built one of Africa’s most sophisticated global spy networks to track down overseas critics of President Paul Kagame.
The organization, which emerged from the ashes of the notorious KGB from Soviet times, arranges for Turkmen students at home and abroad to spy on one another, with the promise of a government job. The idea? To track any real or perceived contacts with movements seen as threats to the regime in Central Asia’s most repressive and closed nation. And once the energy-rich country’s spies identify you as a target, you’re trapped in a constant game of hide-and-seek, moving from one country to the next in search of safety.
Women in the Industry
1 - Avril Haines
America’s latest top spy likes getting her hands dirty. President Joe Biden’s director of national intelligence is the first woman to hold the position in the country’s history. In Haines, who previously served as deputy director of the CIA under President Barack Obama, America’s enemies have an adversary full of surprises. A Japanese-trained judoka who studied theoretical physics in college, Haines once flew and crash-landed a rejigged Cessna — she survived and even married her flight instructor. Together, they opened a bookstore and cafe in Baltimore. Now 51, the most intriguing part of Haines’ Hollywood-like story has only just begun.
2 - Gina Haspel
Haines followed the path set by Haspel. The Trump appointee was the first woman to run the Central Intelligence Agency, where she had worked for 36 years and was involved in controversial torture programs during the George W. Bush administration. Haspel has defended CIA waterboarding as a means to extract information but has also expressed regret over the use of the technique.
3 - Rachel Noble
Australia’s first female top spy got her start as a code breaker in the 1980s with the Australian Signals Directorate, which she now leads. She’s been a staunch advocate for collecting information on Australian criminals using cybertechnology. The agency is permitted by law to use cybertech to track Australians in other countries, but not domestically, which is something she hopes to change. But her biggest challenge will come from China, amid deteriorating relations between Beijing and Canberra. Australia has already blamed China for major cyberattacks in recent months. Can she prevent Beijing’s next strike?
4 - Lynder Nkuranga
Appointed last year by President Paul Kagame to lead external intelligence at Rwanda’s spy agency, the former assistant police commissioner’s alleged specialty is using girls to collect information on foreign dignitaries and high-profile Rwandan citizens. Her primary role will likely be ensuring that Rwanda retains an intelligence edge in its tense relations with neighbors Uganda and Burundi.
5 - Feng Yan
Very little is known about Feng, the highest-ranking female officer ever in the Gonganbu, China’s Ministry of Public Security. And that’s by design. She was appointed political director of China’s top spy agency last year at a time when the Gonganbu is taking an increasingly proactive role in crushing democracy in Hong Kong. You might never see her face in public. But you’ll almost certainly see her handiwork.
WATCH Christine Chui
Watch Christine Chui sit down with Carlos Watson
Surveillance for the 21st Century
1 - Diversifying the CIA
We spy confusion. The CIA changed its logo at the start of the year, ostensibly in a bid to appeal to a more diverse pool of applicants beyond the white men who’ve dominated the agency throughout its history. That’s a great aim. But on the internet, critics have compared the new black-and-gray emblem to the branding of a techno music festival. Meanwhile, the agency just released a “Humans of CIA” recruitment video on YouTube, featuring a “daughter of immigrants.” But is trying to humanize a clandestine institution going to wash away the criticisms of coup-plotting, torture and murder that taint it? Should a spy agency even care?
2 - MI5 Goes Online
The British spy agency’s answer to its recruitment problem was to join Instagram. It’s a move geared toward educating people about what the agency actually does. (Hint: a lot less MI6-style swilling of martinis than you’d think.) The goal is for the agency to become more connected but not less secretive. The first posts reminded the world of British innovation in the form of World War II spy pigeons.
3 - Canada's Clunky Ploy
The cloak-and-dagger agency operated by our neighbors to the north started tweeting earlier this year. One post, meant to encourage people to apply to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, included a quote from John le Carré’s novel A Perfect Spy. “You could be the perfect spy. All you need is a cause.” The only problem? That book is about a double agent.
4 - Demystifying Mossad
Israel’s ultra-secretive spy force began recruiting online in 2014 via a website featuring a recruitment video designed to attract a broader group of applicants. In 2018, there was even a documentary made about the agency, with former spies discussing their experiences. In the film, former deputy director of the Mossad Ram Ben-Barak acknowledged that the agency “plays by a different set of rules.” Slowly but surely, the agency is shedding some of its invisibility cloak.
You're Spying Where?!
1 - Spies in Space
Countries have long used reconnaissance satellites to spy on Earth. Now they’re using spacecraft to spy on other satellites. Last year, two Russian satellites trailed a U.S. spy satellite. It was the first known instance of spying among orbital vehicles. It almost certainly won’t be the last.
2 - Deep Sea Spying
Drones aren’t just for the air anymore. The market for unmanned ocean-monitoring drones is exploding. Liquid Robotics led the way with the Wave Glider, a surfboard-esque craft that runs on solar energy. Could these be used to monitor the activity of oceangoing ships or submarines?
3 - Covert in the Cold
New Zealand’s spy agency already tracks the activities of other nations with a presence on Antarctica. Now, as the last continent opens up and the human footprint grows there, expect other major nations to send over watchful eyes. In April, Russia flew a spy drone named Zala over the landmass, testing its ability to function in frigid conditions. Could the same tools that help researchers track penguins be used next as weapons of espionage against humans?
4 - The Deep Web
When Russian intelligence operatives hacked into Democratic Party email servers in 2016, they used Bitcoin to cover their tracks. The anonymity offered by cryptocurrencies when transferring money means transactions are harder to trail. Now, U.S. agencies are trying to adapt. The Pentagon is looking for a way to get ahead of Bitcoin criminals and figure out how to detect crypto crook networks.
Quote of the Day
“Grown ups are complicated creatures, full of quirks and secrets.”
— Roald Dahl
Share your thoughts, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
OZY is a diverse, global and forward-looking media and entertainment company focused on “the New and the Next.” OZY creates space for fresh perspectives and offers new takes on everything from news and culture to technology, business, learning and entertainment.