Widespread television coverage was recently given to Vladimir Putin’s celebration of “Russian Navy Day”. There were all the speeches, parades and razzamatazz that Putin loves. But, behind the scenes, the GUR, the Ukrainian military intelligence service, had been busy. Russian marines were pleased to find messages of support on their Viber, Telegram and WhatsApp accounts. However, when they clicked on these messages two things happened: 1) a video was displayed showing successful Ukrainian attacks on Russian ships and 2) a Trojan programme was uploaded which immediately directed any information on the device to Ukrainian servers including location data, photographs and personal data. At the same time, the servers of three Russian government departments were hacked, the same video was displayed and data was downloaded. It may not have been much but the Ukranians are determined not to let Russian hackers have it all their own way.
The attack illustrated two key tasks for an intelligence service in time of war: 1) Propaganda and morale. Intelligence services are rarely involved in this in peacetime but in war it becomes vital and most services will have a department dedicated to it. 2) Collection of low level data aka “grey intelligence”. It may not be exactly secret but all of this intelligence when collated and analysed can often give great dividends. Possibly British intelligence’s most fruitful sources during the First World War were “trainwatchers”. These were people in occupied territory, often elderly, who did nothing more than watch at railway stations or near railway lines (if their houses were nearby) quietly noting the details of the unit badges, weapons, number of carriages, etc. These allowed British Military Intelligence in London to track German troop movements with great accuracy and sometimes – although not always – to anticipate attacks.