As you will see from the news items below, a lot of the talk in the intelligence world this week has been about data – your data.
At Spying Today we fully support the need for operational security and any matter affecting that security. As former operational officers ourselves nothing is more precious to us than the identity of those people who have risked their lives to work for our agencies. But there is a problem that always need to be addressed and it is this: There is a tendency for intelligence services to draw the circle of “operational secrecy” as broadly as possible. We all know that feeling. When we were working in these posts (and some of us still work in the private industry) we would tend to support that approach. That is hardly surprising: you always tend to trust your own judgement.
But looking at it from the other side of the fence, the matter is different. If you allow the intelligence services to decide where to draw the line then there is a danger that the work of the services simply becomes a repository for every dirty deed that the government does not want to admit to. That is not espionage. If you say that the government has unchallenged power whenever a classified document is concerned then you create a black hole at the heart of democracy.
The debate around democracy is a constant battle somewhere between the twin poles of liberty and security. The developments listed below, especially those in Australia and the United States, tend to show that the debate is shifting steadily towards the more conservative of these two poles. In an age of populism and fake news that drift could be very bad news for liberal democracy. The intelligence and security services, perhaps unwillingly, appear to be at the cutting edge of the threat.