Intelligence-gathering: Spying

Intelligence-gathering can expose weaknesses in an enemy’s defences and detect threats; it can also be used to gain technical information.

Companies or governments can gain economic advantages cheaply by stealing commercial intellectual property.  A CNBC CFO survey, 1 in 5 corporations say China has stolen their IP within the last year, shows the extent of the problem.

Stealing military secrets is partly defensive: ensuring that an enemy doesn’t gain a competitive advantage.  Russia famously obtained atomic secrets to avoid being left behind, as reported by the BBC: Klaus Fuchs, the scientist and spy at Harwell.

If governments find out about security problems soon enough, they can avert some incidents and respond to others more effectively.  If a local terrorist threat is uncovered at the start of its activities, it should be possible to use the law to imprison troublemakers and prevent the threat from growing.

People place a high value on their security so they might willingly accept some government surveillance – though they might resent the invasion of their privacy if there are no specific reasons for suspecting them.  The extent of intelligence-gathering has become a subject of popular debate recently – as revealed in a BBC article, Edward Snowden: Leaks that exposed US spy programme.

A target country has no recourse in law against foreign spying, unless a spy is captured.  And some spying is now done remotely, either using the Internet or drones.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7341.htm.