The act of securing information of a military or political nature that a competing nation holds secret. It can involve the analysis of diplomatic reports, publications, statistics, and broadcasts, as well as spying, a clandestine activity carried out by an individual or individuals working under secret identity to gather classified information on behalf of another entity or nation. In the United States, the organization that heads most activities dedicated to espionage is the CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY (CIA).
Espionage, commonly known as spying, is the practice of secretly gathering information about a foreign government or a competing industry, with the purpose of placing one's own government or corporation at some strategic or financial advantage. Federal law prohibits espionage when it jeopardizes the national defense or benefits a foreign nation (18 U.S.C.A. § 793). Criminal espionage involves betraying U.S. government secrets to other nations.
Despite its illegal status, espionage is commonplace. Through much of the twentieth century, international agreements implicitly accepted espionage as a natural political activity. This gathering of intelligence benefited competing nations that wished to stay one step ahead of each other. The general public never hears of espionage activities that are carried out correctly. However, espionage blunders can receive national attention, jeopardizing the security of the nation and the lives of individuals.
Espionage is unlikely to disappear. Since the late nineteenth century, nations have allowed each other to station so-called military attachés in their overseas embassies. These "attachés" collect intelligence secrets about the armed forces of their host country. Attachés have worked toward the subversion of governments, the destabilization of economies, and the assassination of declared enemies. Many of these activities remain secret in order to protect national interests and reputations.
The centerpiece of U.S. espionage is the CIA, created by the National Security Act of 1947 (50 U.S.C.A. § 402 et seq.) to conduct covert activity. The CIA protects national security interests by spying on foreign governments. The CIA also attempts to recruit foreign agents to work on behalf of U.S. interests. Other nations do the same, seeking to recruit CIA agents or others who will betray sensitive information. Sometimes a foreign power is successful in procuring U.S. government secrets.
One of the most damaging instances of criminal espionage in U.S. history was uncovered in the late 1980s with the exposure of the Walker spy ring, which operated from 1967 to 1985. John A. Walker Jr. and his son, Michael L. Walker, brother, Arthur J. Walker, and friend, Jerry A. Whitworth, supplied the Soviets with confidential U.S. data including codes from the U.S. Navy that allowed the Soviets to decipher over a million Navy messages. The Walker ring also sold the Soviets classified material concerning Yuri Andropov, secretary general of the...