Espionage and Counterintelligence

Espionage involves the clandestine gathering of information from a rival economic power. This includes spying on competitors for formulas and technology. This type of espionage has been around for millennia.


The 1917 Espionage Act outlawed obtaining or communicating defense-related information, code books, blueprints, photographs or other material to America’s enemies. It also prohibited obstructing enlistment or inciting disloyalty.

International espionage

International espionage is the practice of obtaining secret information from another country or company. It is considered a crime in most countries. It is also known as industrial espionage, which involves the theft of a company’s confidential business information. Those caught are punished by law, but the practice continues to be common. It is not uncommon for large corporations to lose $12 billion to $30 billion to industrial spies every year.

Despite being widely condemned, espionage is a legitimate method of gathering intelligence. In a global society, it is vital for countries to have the most up-to-date information about their rivals’ policies and capabilities. Moreover, this information helps to prevent them from being blindsided by their adversaries. This is why most states continue to employ a variety of espionage tactics.

Nevertheless, some argue that the legality of espionage depends on how it is used. For example, if it is used to gain military advantage, it may be justified by the need to protect a nation’s national security. However, if it is used to interfere with the internal affairs of another state, it may breach the non-interference principle. As a result, it is important to distinguish between different types of espionage in order to assess their legality. This is possible by relying on the principle of proportionality. It is also essential to consider the risks and costs associated with espionage.

Industrial espionage

Industrial espionage is the theft of proprietary information like trade secrets from an organization by an individual or entity. This is often done for financial gain or to provide a foreign power with sensitive economic information or critical technologies at a fraction of the cost. This is distinct from corporate espionage, which involves spying between businesses.

There are many ways to conduct industrial espionage, from the high-tech methods used in cyberattacks and data breaches to some of the more low-tech methods such as dumpster diving, crashing investor meetings, or getting employees drunk at a bar. It’s important to remember that these attacks can come from anywhere, not just foreign governments or disgruntled former employees.

Many times, the perpetrators are internal to the company. A disgruntled employee, a newly hired competitor, or even the family of a former employee can steal trade secrets from a company and sell them to competitors. These actions are not only illegal but can result in significant losses for the organization.

While the concept of industrial espionage might sound like something out of a John Grisham novel, it is quite common. As technology evolves, it’s become easier for people to steal and transmit information. This can make it more difficult to determine if, when and how a breach or leak occurred. This has led to an increased demand for digital forensics and IP attribution services.


Spies often attempt to steal classified information, which might threaten national security or jeopardize international relations. This classified information is considered sensitive because it might cause harm to a country’s economic well-being or compromise its military capacity. The FBI counteracts espionage by identifying and prosecuting spies who commit such crimes. This is done in addition to educating the public about espionage threats.

The most common form of espionage is state spying, which involves a government trying to gather secret information from its enemies for military purposes. The FBI also monitors companies to prevent the illegal theft of their secrets, a practice known as industrial espionage. This is especially important in high-tech industries, such as computer companies and pharmaceutical firms. However, any industry that has proprietary information can be targeted.

While spies have been around for millennia, the modern world of technology has opened new avenues for them. Hackers have made it possible for spies to steal information silently and quickly from computers without risk of being caught. Moreover, the emergence of cyber-espionage has prompted intelligence agencies to develop new countermeasures.

Many spies are foreign-born, and the top 10 countries of origin account for 93.1 percent of commercial espionage when the Arms Export Control Act (AECA) is excluded. They are most likely to spy for China, Mexico, Russia, and Iran.


The practice of counterintelligence is the act of thwarting enemy espionage and intelligence-gathering. It is an important part of national security, and almost all sovereign nations have established dedicated intelligence agencies to perform this task. These are usually part of the police or internal security forces, although integrated counterintelligence agencies run directly by governments have also been established in some countries.

Counterintelligence focuses on three overlapping phases: detection, investigation, and research and analysis. Detection techniques include surveillance; publicity (making citizens aware of the danger of subversive activities); and liaison, which allows counterintelligence agencies to work with other law enforcement and private security agencies.

In addition to detecting espionage and preventing information loss, counterintelligence also works actively to undermine hostile intelligence services. This is called offensive counterintelligence and can involve recruiting double agents, discrediting personnel actually loyal to the foreign service, or even destroying equipment that might be useful to the enemy.

Sharing intelligence can be difficult when face-to-face meetings are impractical, which is why spies typically use covert communication methods such as secret writing and special technology that allows messages to be transmitted and received without being intercepted. These methods are often referred to as “tradecraft,” and they have been used by famous spies such as Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. Moreover, it is not uncommon for spies to leave laptops unattended at hotels or in airport baggage carousels in order to steal information from them.