clandestine acquisition of confidential information
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Espionage is the practice of surreptitiously obtaining information about an organization or a society that is considered secret or confidential.


Alphabetized by author or source
  • Because something is not what it is said to be, Ma'am, does not mean it is a fake. It may just have been wrongly attributed.

  • Satellite reconnaissance and other intelligence breakthroughs also contributed to the obsolescence of major wars by diminishing the possibility of surprise in starting them, and by eliminating opportunities for concealment in waging them. Surprises could still happen, like Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August, 1990, but only because the interpretation of intelligence failed, not its collection. Once the liberation of that country began early in 1991, Saddam Hussein found his military deployments so visible, and therefore so exposed to attack, that he had no choice but to withdraw. Transparency—a by-product of the Cold War strategic arms race—created a wholly new environment that rewarded those who sought to prevent wars and discouraged those who tried to begin them.
  • Mrs O'Grady has been sentenced to death. Personally I doubt whether she is guilty of anything more than collecting information. She probably pictured herself as a master spy, and cannot bring herself to say that there was really nothing behind it all.
    • Guy Liddell, Director of Counter-Espionage for MI5, the British Security Service, in a diary entry (17 December 1940); this refers to Dorothy Pamela O'Grady, an Isle of Wight landlady; on appeal her sentence was reduced to fourteen years' imprisonment.
  • His spies are seated round about.
    • Rigveda, m. 1, hymn XXV (trans Griffith)
  • No spy, however astute, is proof against relentless interrogation. Some unforseen circumstance, some trivial lapse, is pounced upon, exploited by the interrogator, until a break is complete.
    • Lt-Col Robin Stephens, Commandant of Camp 020 which was the secret British centre for interrogating suspected Nazi spies during World War II. Stephens aimed to get "a break" in which the spy would make a full confession, and almost always succeeded. "Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi spies" (2000) by the Public Record Office, p. 105
  • The spies of the underworld are legion. Craven crooks, for the most part, they are prey to blackmail.
    • Lt-Col Robin Stephens, who divided spies into three broad categories: patriots, of the underworld, and just mercenary, "Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi spies" (2000) by the Public Record Office, p. 106
  • Indeed, there may well be many who will agree that death by hanging is almost too good for a sailor who will encompass the death of thousands of his shipmates without qualm.
    • Lt-Col Robin Stephens, Commandant of Camp 020, in a report recommending no reprieve from sentence of death for Duncan Scott-Ford who had admitted communicating information about Allied ships to German agents. Scott-Ford was hanged. "Camp 020: MI5 and the Nazi spies" (2000) by the Public Record Office, p. 198
  • An awful symbiosis emerged between the main actors of the Cold War, a rhythm of escalation between the Pentagon and the Soviet strategic rocket forces, and along secret war between the KGB and the CIA which helped make the spy thriller into the distinctive cultural genre of the period. The two sides became locked into the roles of hero and villain in one another's morality play, as two distinct theories of social and political organisation believed they were grappling for nothing less than the inheritance of the planet.
  • And we did have fun. For five years we bugged and burgled our way across London at the State's behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way.
  • To MI5, if you steam this open you are dirty buggers.
    • Letter sent to a prominent member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and opened by MI5. According to Wright, Major Denman (MI5 officer in charge of post interception) classified it as 'obscene post' (so that he was not required to send it on), framed the letter and put it on his office wall. Quoted in "Spycatcher" (1987) by Peter Wright, p. 46
  • What would be the real damage if Washington stopped spying on Moscow and Moscow stopped spying on Washington, and both on Beijing? The result would be a draw. Immense sums of money would be saved, since a large part of the efforts of every spy agency is devoted to obstructing the intrigues of the competition. How many diseases could be overcome? How many hungry people fed, how many illiterates taught to read and write?




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