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Spying is much harder, says the CIA director, because of smartphones and other 9to5Macs


Traditional spying is much harder in the world of smartphones, ubiquitous CCTV and other “digital dust,” according to CIA Director William Burns, an attitude supported by many current and former intelligence officials.

In particular, it is much harder for a spy to establish a convincing false identity in another country …

The WSJ reports.

A trained CIA officer could one day cross borders with a wallet full of pseudonyms or confidently travel through foreign cities undetected to meet with agents. Now he or she faces the digital barriers that characterize modern life: ubiquitous surveillance cameras and biometric border controls, not to mention smartphones, watches and cars constantly discovering their location. Then there is the “digital dust”, a personal record that almost everyone leaves on the Internet […]

“The basic elements of espionage, I argue, have been broken – they have already been broken,” said Duyane Norman, a former CIA station chief who spearheaded the agency’s early attempt to adapt spying to the digital age, called the “Station of the Future.” . ”

As an example, he asks, how can a CIA officer be considered to work for another government agency or private enterprise if his cell phone is not regularly present at the entity’s location, there is no record of him withdrawing money from an ATM or paying lunch with credit card nearby, and there’s no sign of him on video cameras?

The lack of an electronic “signature” – such as not carrying a mobile phone and not having an online presence – is just a tip-off for the spy services of the opponent, said Mr. Norman et al […]

In the new environment, “it’s much more complicated to run a traditional trade,” CIA Director William Burns admitted during a February confirmation hearing.

Then CIA Deputy Director of Science and Technology Dawn Meyerriecks gave one example in 2018 of how traditional spying has changed.

In about 30 countries, foreign intelligence services are no longer trying to physically monitor agency officials “when we leave our jobs,” which apparently applies to U.S. embassies. “The coverage is good enough that they don’t need it. Between CCTV and wireless infrastructure. ”

If CIA spies want to imitate someone else, they will essentially have to live that person’s life, said one former spy.

“It’s harder for officers to disguise themselves under a pseudonym,” said a retired Western intelligence officer who estimated that he had nine false identities and credit cards for each during his career.

More spying will be done in the “real name”, which means that the spy will not present himself as someone else, but will “live his mask” as a businessman, academic or other professional without an obvious connection with the US government.

But Burns and other experts say the CIA will adjust.

“Most of the technological challenges are surmountable,” a senior CIA official said. “We play great in attack and we don’t sit in defensive squats” […]

For example, it is possible to “cheat” the location of a mobile phone, leading foreign spies to think that their quarry is in one place, while it is safe in another, current and former CIA officials said.

Photo: Craig Whitehead / Unsplash

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