Chinese Balloons And The Fascinating World Of Espionage

Chinese Balloons And The Fascinating World Of Espionage
Although China has claimed that the air balloon was merely a research air ship used for meteorological purposes and had been blown astray, meanwhile the United States has declared that it has retrieved certain key sensors from the debris of the balloon clearly indicating that it was used for eavesdropping on electronic signals. According to the US Northern command, the search crew was able to find, “significant debris from the site, including all of the priority sensor and electronic pieces identified.” This is not the first time such surveillance air balloons have been detected in the US airspace, at least three surveillance air balloons were detected during the Trump administration as well. Biden’s aggressive foreign policy of cancelling Secretary of state Antony Blinken’s visit in the aftermath of the Chinese spy balloon row, has been criticized as it has further deepened the diplomatic rift between the US and China. Meanwhile Biden administration maintains its stance on the issue by stating that the balloon was “part of larger Chinese surveillance balloon program.”

The ancient craft of espionage, which is also considered as the second oldest profession, is a non-ending source of fascination and the use of espionage for power politics and military advantage is well documented throughout history. The subject of espionage has appeared in numerous places in both old and new Testaments. Spies were frequently used by the Israelites against their enemies and even the early Christian church also used spies to protect itself. The history of ancient diplomacy clearly demonstrates that great nations like the Romans and Greeks heavily relied on possessing reasonable intelligence skills and enjoyed unparalleled supremacy in the art of espionage.

Obtaining military information about a place by sending soldiers was the main duty of a medieval spy.  Naval espionage along with obtaining intelligence at the major port cities was fairly common in the Byzantine and Abbasid empires and the Byzantine empire also established one of the earliest intelligence agencies. Professional cryptographers not only deciphered letters but were also skilled at breaking and repairing seals, thus misleading many Kings into thinking that their letters were secure. Diplomacy and intelligence were so intertwined that one could hardly differentiate between an ambassador and a spy. The early modern age witnessed an increase in the capacity to collect information and reports of faraway and unapproachable regions of the European and Asian monarchies. This information was then organized and analyzed eventually transforming it into a useful knowledge which was indispensable for the defense and security of the state. Spy craft during these times evolved into a complicated system of coded letters and hidden networks.

The first World war saw intelligence services expanding and spreading into various fields and at the same time adoption of high technology tools for espionage were becoming a common practice amongst great powers across the globe. The principle aim of wartime surveillance was to gain best possible collection of intelligence about potential enemies and for this purpose intelligence disciplines such as aerial photography and cryptanalysis evolved into crucial strategic tools. Women also rose to play pivotal role in wartime spying which had been traditionally considered a man’s domain. The extraordinary and bizarre lives of these female spies are a chilling reminder of the ghastliness of the horrors of the war. Although these women came from different backgrounds but were joined in their idealistic and highly elevated love for their respective countries. Cold war spies were hardly as flamboyant as James Bond, portrayed in Hollywood movies rather they were undercover agents living double lives, gathering information about the military capabilities of the enemy. During the cold war era, spies were used to infiltrate the highest levels of government by both US and USSR. Where one hand the congress passed the security act, thereby creating the CIA, the Russian side formed KGB as the main security agency.

The modern-day spy craft is a combination of a hard-fought victories and harrowing disappointments. The art of espionage is evolving along with changes in politics and technology. The technical expertise, cyber espionage, snipers, and ciphers have outmaneuvered the classic spy craft methods and today’s world is also confronting a new form of industrial espionage which benefits multinational companies across the globe. The balance of power in the spy world is also shifting more towards countries like China and Russia. Lately Chinese industrial espionage has been targeting wide range of sectors including aerospace, pharmaceuticals, textiles etc. Chinese intelligence agencies have been successful in gaining access to sensitive US military secrets including future policymaking. At the same time Russia is also aggressively spying on European countries and its espionage attempts are growing by the day. Meanwhile European countries have updated their domestic intelligence operations to expose and counter these Russian threats. Russian attempts to interfere in the US elections were also confirmed, where Russian military intelligence executed cyber attacks on a US voting software. Besides Russia the Americans have also accused China and Iran for meddling in 2020 US elections.

Hence an exceptional topical tale of espionage coupled with a gripping cat and mouse game involving diligent secret agents and high-tech surveillance gives us a glimpse into the mysterious world of political intrigue and power. At the same time the concept of counterintelligence strategy is also gaining ground as threats by foreign intelligence entities are becoming much more complex and diverse with time. In order to deter these upcoming threats which, include cyber operations, theft of technology and sensitive information, states need to acquire a wide range of sophisticated capabilities. Development of early warning systems and necessary offensive and defensive operations can eventually address and strengthen the capabilities of countries to develop effective counter measures. But at the end of the day, as rightly said by John le Carre, “It’s the oldest question of all, George. Who can spy on the spies.”