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Intelligence cooperation in the modern world: Challenges and problems

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In their effort to ensure their national interests, countries have traditionally used “intelligence diplomacy” with the foreign intelligence services of different countries officially working together on a bilateral or multilateral basis.

The world has accumulated considerable experience in pulling together the intelligence efforts of countries, not necessary allied ones, on various tracks of their shared interest. The results of this mutually-beneficial interaction convincingly testifies to the fact that such a partnership makes it possible to solve many tasks of an intelligence nature as well as those going far beyond the realm of “classical” activities by special services.

The experience of Russian foreign intelligence, which is now celebrating its 100th anniversary, is as interesting as it is instructive. Created on December 20, 1920, the Foreign Department of the Cheka, the first independent organizational structure from which all of this country’s foreign intelligence services come from, quickly established official contacts with a number of foreign intelligence services…

Back then, it was the foreign intelligence agencies that proposed signing “fair partnership” agreements with their Soviet colleagues, which is the best evidence of their acknowledgement of Russian intelligence as a strong, “useful” and reliable partner.

The US proposal made to the Soviet Union to join the two countries’ intelligence efforts during WW2 was another proof of the high status of the Soviet intelligence, and Washington’s realization of the importance of joining efforts against a common enemy. In less than a year and a half (1944 – the first half of 1945), the Soviet Union and the United States exchanged a slew of secret information of a proactive nature, which saved hundreds of thousands of human lives.

This wartime interaction was all the more significant because despite the political differences between the two countries, their intelligence services managed to work hand in hand in the face of mortal danger, implementing common plans, constructively and in good faith. The assessment of that cooperation by the head of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS – American intelligence) William Donovan is very indicative here, although it sounds a bit unusual today, given the present state of Russian-American relations.

In his letter to the head of the 1st Directorate of the NKGB of the USSR (the official name of Soviet intelligence during the war), Pavel Fitin, Donovan wrote that the successful intelligence cooperation between the two countries proved the allies’ ability to work together, at least when it came to intelligence.

Although the above facts are now history, mentioning them in the context of the current problems of intelligence cooperation is both appropriate and important. It is always useful to remember the lessons of the past, and it is imperative for us to take them into account now that destructive tendencies are intensifying in the world and global instability is growing.

The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) regards the existing and potential threats to peace as a strategic challenge for the intelligence services. Russian intelligence is ready to adequately respond to this challenge with all the analytical and operational potential at its disposal, as well as the appropriate “infrastructure” for maintaining contacts with foreign partners.

These days, the SVR maintains various degrees of interaction with virtually all leading intelligence and counterintelligence services of the CIS countries, as well as those in the West, in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Asia-Pacific region and the Far East, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. The forms and methods of interaction with each partner vary depending on the foreign policy priorities of the Russian Federation, the international situation and the current state of relations with this or that country.

It must be admitted that the current tensions in relations between Russia and the West is reflecting negatively on the Service’s ties with foreign intelligence agencies, above all American, Western European and some others. We are well aware of the strong US and British pressure on some countries regarding their cooperation with the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia. Despite this “ungentlemanly” behavior, in recent years we have achieved unprecedented progress in relations with most foreign intelligence services, including some in the West.

Increasingly annoyed by their Anglo-Saxon allies’ nagging attention, many of our partners now try to be more objective, realizing that today the SVR is more than just a leading participant in the process of interaction between intelligence services of different countries, but largely determines its directions, content and forms. Notably, the basic principles of partnership proposed by the SVR in the early 1990s, such as equality, mutual benefit, non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs, and confidentiality, have proved universal and are being actively used today.

The international intelligence community is fully aware of the planetary nature of the threat of international terrorism and its enormous destructive potential. Terrorism has entangled in its net virtually every region of the world, with its elements able to quickly change their tactics, adapting to the environment, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This is why we still consider terrorism as one of the main threats to civilization, and, therefore, we see interaction in the war on terror is an overarching priority for national intelligence services today.

In this context, it is worth recalling the fact that after the large-scale terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001, cooperation between intelligence services of different countries literally went through the roof. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service was, on the whole, well prepared for such a development and, using the experience it had already obtained in conducting counterterrorism operations, it was able to contribute heavily to the cooperation of intelligence services of different countries.

The SVR has been working very closely and productively with the intelligence agencies of the CIS and SCO countries, and our joint intelligence activities are always high on the agenda of the annual meetings by the heads of the security agencies and intelligence services of the CIS member states. And with very good reason too, because in the wake of the military defeats suffered by ISIS and other terrorist groups in the Middle East, jihadist groups started fanning out throughout the planet, thus putting the CIS countries in a high-risk zone. Therefore, ensuring their security is perceived by us as a top-priority issue.

The permanent format of cooperation between the intelligence services of Russia, China and India, including regular trilateral meetings by their intelligence chiefs is particularly valuable for strengthening regional security and countering terrorist threats.

The efficiency of the interaction between Russian intelligence and its foreign partners against international terrorism was particularly evident during the events in Syria. The SVR regularly receives a wealth of important information from its partners, which contributes to the successful operation of Russia’s Aerospace Forces in that Arab country. Much of this information comes almost in real time during our joint activities with our partners.

The SVR maintains equally effective anti-terrorist cooperation in other Middle Eastern countries, and also in Southeast Asia.

In spite of our differences on the main international problems, the SVR has still been able to maintain cooperation with the intelligence agencies of the United States and European countries.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this interaction is being undermined by the unconstructive and sometimes even adventurous position of our Western, primarily American, partners. While paying lip service to the cross-border nature of the terrorist threat and the importance of joining forces in the fight against it, they often provide the radical groups with money, weapons and political cover, using “moderate” jihadist terrorists in operations to unseat regimes which are not to Washington’s liking.

The SVR believes that the continuing spread of well-trained and war-hardened militants to various parts of the world, the “awakening” of “sleeper” cells that has noticeably accelerated recently in a number of countries, their wider use of hard-to-detect methods of terrorist activity, as well as their increased activity on the Internet means that international terrorism remains a long-term threat and, therefore, necessitates increased cooperation against this evil.

Time itself calls not only for new forms and methods of cooperation, but also for an end to efforts to politicize the problem and use double standards in working out ways of its solution. We hope that our partners who still stick to old dogmas will be wise enough to start interacting honestly and constructively.

The list of the most dangerous challenges also includes illegal migration, arms and drug smuggling, which are all the more important due to their clear link to terrorism.

The uncontrolled influx refugees and huge amounts of “drug money” had until very recently allowed the ISIS jihadists to talk about creating a “World Caliphate.” These problems have a cross-border nature and require consolidated efforts by the intelligence services of various countries.

In recent years, the issue of cybersecurity has emerged as a new problem, with illegal online activity now seen as one of the five most serious global risks, according to the World Economic Forum. The intelligence services’ increased attention to this problem is particularly due to the fact that information and communications technologies are often used to interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign countries. The coronavirus pandemic has added a new dimension to this problem, stimulating the growth of terrorist activity on the Internet.

Discussion of this problem with our partners shows that practical interaction here is constrained by the lack of pertinent legislating at both national and international levels. Russia’s efforts to speed up the adoption of legal provisions that would help avoid conflicts in the information space are being blocked by countries seeking to use their technological edge to ensure their dominance in this area and enforce their own “rules.”

The SVR of Russia, like many other intelligence services, is firmly convinced that the only way to radically improve the current state of world affairs is to find a political solution to the crises in various parts of the globe, primarily in the Middle East and North Africa. We all know that flare points, no matter where they are, invariably become a source of challenges and threats.

Back in the early 1990s, when the SVR was outlining its vision of interaction between intelligence services of different countries, the problem of joint crisis management was identified as a key one. Since then, the Service has been making every effort to find solutions to the most complex and long-standing conflicts together with its partners.

Involvement in this process of professionals from the intelligence services, most of whom are sober-minded pragmatists with a deep knowledge of all the ins and outs of the problem at hand, has repeatedly ensured success. In this context, we have every reason to say that interaction by intelligence services in this day and age is becoming an increasingly important element of interstate relations. Suffice it to mention the fact that some formats of interaction to resolve conflicts, developed with the most active participation of the SVR, have been around for many years and proved to be highly efficient.

The activities of Russian intelligence on the partner channel for the release of our compatriots and citizens of other countries who have become hostages or taken prisoner deserve a special mention. The ugly phenomena of sea piracy and human trafficking that still exist in the 21st century underscore the need to increase joint intelligence efforts also in this area.

The time we live in is known as the era of global changes. And with good reason too, because the modern world order is going through a serious crisis. The old centers of power are fading away, making way for new centers of power and bringing about previously unknown challenges and threats that put the whole mankind at risk. This presents a truly strategic challenge to all intelligence services called upon to ensure the security of their countries.

Despite the efforts by the United States and its closest allies to preserve the monocentric world order, more and more people in the intelligence community now realize the need for multi-polarity. This process is long, complex and often contradictory. Firmly convinced that there is no alternative to this, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service is ready to help make our world a safer and fairer place to live in.

From our partner International Affairs

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High-Altitude Espionage (Spy Balloon) and India’s National Security

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Throughout the nineteenth century, balloons were a vital tool for obtaining intelligence. Since then, their value has drastically decreased. In order to spy on the Soviet Union in the 1950s, the United States utilised high-altitude balloons (that the Soviets complained about and subsequently shot them down). The U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance plane, (which was also shot down) and the Corona reconnaissance satellites, (the first of many generations of spy satellites) that many nations utilise today, succeeded in replacing balloons. Now that a Chinese balloon has flown above the United States, serious worries are being expressed.

During the first two weeks of February, the Chinese spy balloon saga that concerned the United States, Canada, and rest of the world seemed to have come to an end. The four balloons, or “high-altitude objects,” as they were officially referred to, were shot down by American fighter aircraft.

Similar to airships, surveillance balloons are equipped with sensors, cameras, or communication equipment to track and gather information. The spy balloons can either be anchored to the ground or can float at a great height, giving them the ability to take extensive pictures of their surroundings. Safety and monitoring, process sensing, climatology, and disaster response are all possible uses for the collected data.

Among the many uses of balloon surveillance equipment by spies are the following: ‍

SIGINT: The intelligence community can use communication signals, such as voice and data transmissions, to intercept and analyse signals intelligence (SIGINT), which enables the collection of information on foreign governments, military forces, and other organisations. SIGINT is typically collected using balloons fitted with specialised sensors and equipment.

GEOINT: Spy Balloons collect geospatial information (GEOINT) in order to create detailed maps and photographs of the ground and track changes over time.

HUMINT: Balloons can be used to acquire human intelligence (HUMINT) to keep an eye on people, groups, and activities on the ground.

ELINT: Balloons enable the intelligence community to intercept and analyse signals from foreign military and other electronic equipment to learn more about their capabilities and intentions. This is known as electronic intelligence (ELINT).

Balloons were employed during the Cold War for psychological operations, or PSYOP, to drop pamphlets or books. In the 1950s, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) deployed millions of hot air balloons off West Germany’s coast to drift through the Iron Wall with their prized cargo, George Orwell’s book Animal Farm (1945).

The usage of balloons for espionage operations and surveillance is not hidden from the world. Today, China adopted the earlier existing technology of balloons in its advanced version to fulfil its own intelligence needs. According to sources, US intelligence authorities think the recently discovered Chinese spy balloon is part of a vast surveillance operation managed by the Chinese military.

Such practices of China and the balloon system leaves an important question on India’s national security. A similar balloon like the one in America was sighted in January 2022 over the Andaman Nicobar tri-service command by the Indian forces last year. “But soon it flew off. These advances sparked conversations about some rethinking of the tactics to counter emerging dangers like spy balloons, ” said by former DG of DRDO. Even if such a balloon isn’t armed, it can gather private information about vital infrastructure, such as the activities of the armed troops near the border, in the islands, or anywhere else on the mainland, and test India’s capacity to recognise aerial surveillance gadgets.

China’s stance on the balloons were that it was a weather balloons, however the high resolution cameras could serve for the purpose of stationary Surveillance. Spy balloons, however, are difficult to shoot down. Elevated targets are inaccessible to anti-aircraft guns that are mounted on the ground. The fired bullets from the ground may cause casualties or injuries. Only a small number of fighter jets have the ability to launch an air-to-air missile from a height of 20 km which could quite expensive. Spy Balloons might make it easier for China’s military to collect electromagnetic emissions that reveal a weapon system’s capabilities when compared to using sophisticated satellite systems positioned at higher altitudes.

India has to improve its intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities in light of the latest incident. Sino-Indian ties are already fraught with uncertainty, so failing to recognise and address new dangers, especially those in the grey area, would have serious consequences. New Delhi needs to improve its technological proficiency and work with nations that share its interests.

Data collection today has become a very important part of a state’s strategies. Being unaware of such actions in its own backyard would have negative effects on India, given the tensions between the two countries. Although, advancement of the technology has led to blurring of the geographical border lines India needs to be rigorously vigilant to such espionage attempts especially near its borders and critical infrastructure.

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Maritime Cybersecurity: A Potential Threat to India’s National Security

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India has a huge coastline of 7516.6km comprising 13 major ports (including one private port) and more than 200 minor ports across the coastline. It is a very known fact that the maritime sector is very crucial for India’s security, stability, economy, and sustainable development. India conducts around 70 percent of its total trade by value through the sea. India is strategically placed in the Indian Ocean, which gives it greater access to trade with the world’s major shipping routes. India’s seaborne trade has grown at a rate that is twice the 3.3% rate experienced globally. India is now focusing on strengthening its maritime sector through the upgradation of safety and security standards at the ports, enhancing port capacity and operations, and automation. It is placing emphasis on automation and technology upgradation through projects like SAGAR and Sagarmala. With digitalization in place in almost all the port operations and in the surveillance of the maritime waters, as shown in figure 1, the maritime domain is vulnerable to cyber threats ashore and afloat. 

Figure.1 Technology in the Maritime Sector 

With Information and Communication Technology (ICT) coming into use, increasing reliance on seaways, and the growing importance of the data as a weapon in the hands of the state, all these pave the need for better cybersecurity management systems in the maritime sector. 

The maritime business, its ships, and its cyber environment are all protected by a variety of tools, policies, security concepts, safeguards, guidelines, risk management techniques, actions, training, best practices, assurance, and technologies. 

Maritime cyber risk can be referred to as the extent to which the technology in use could be attacked, that could result in the loss or compromise of information.

Pirates and opposing nations have been a menace to the maritime transportation business for thousands of years, but as the sector has developed and technology has been more thoroughly integrated for enhanced efficiency, so too has the magnitude of possible cyber threats. Now, even using something as simple as a USB flash drive, or even an unsecured Wi-Fi, the hacker can get access to the critical systems of the vessel, thereby obstructing the entire port operations. For example, a suspected ransomware attack on the Management Information System (MIS) crippled the operations of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai, in 2017 and again in 2022. 

Though the primary motive behind cyber threats is profiteering, there are several aspects that motivate a cybercriminal to conduct a cyberattack on the port or vessel operations. This includes espionage, activism, terrorism, warfare, and others. 

The various kinds of cyberattacks on the maritime sector involves malware, trojans, botnets, advanced persistent threats, ghost shipping attack, cryptocurrency hijacking, and other. In addition to these cyber threats, the maritime domain is vulnerable to cyber terrorism as well. The awareness in the maritime sector over cyber terrorism is very minimal or negligible, with very little emphasis given to it. Chinese cyber activity is a major security threat to India. China is also using cyber technology in its South China Sea AntiAccess/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy. The A2/AD strategy denies freedom of movement and navigation to rival powers by increasing defense systems that threaten their ships/submarines. 

The technologies like the Automatic Identification System (AIS), ECDIS, GPS, information systems, Industrial Control Systems, and other operational technologies have played a crucial role in enhancing the efficiency of port and vessel operations. Nevertheless, these technologies are of no exemption to cyberattacks as every technology comes up with its own loopholes. For example, the adoption of AIS is compulsory for any vessel to ensure its safe navigation, but as it is unencrypted and unauthenticated, the maritime sector is vulnerable to spoofing, water holing, social engineering, and other cyberattacks. It is also important to identify the human role in operating such technologies, as it is noted that human error and equipment flaws are primary reasons behind the success of these cyberattacks. 

Maintaining the integrity of supporting systems, protecting ship systems from physical assault, and making the maritime sector resilient to both internal and external threats are all critical. Protection from various cyberattacks is necessary to prevent a breach of the network and its systems. Proper countermeasures and in-depth defense strategies must be deployed for each attack to prevent an attack from taking advantage of a flaw or vulnerability in the technology. 

Primarily, it is important to promote awareness among the staff or the crew to identify cyber threats and on responding to such threats and, for example, alerting the officials if any malicious or unusual mail or notification is identified in the system. 

Block chain technology can be an efficient solution as it allows for a continuous monitoring system and provides real-time status on the ship’s security. It also enables secure communication and storage of data in the control centers. It helps in avoiding loss of data and data modifications by unauthorized users. 

The AIS and GNSS systems must adopt encryption and authentication measures which are given zero attention to this date.

With the vast coastline, it is not possible for India to secure the coastline through manpower. Israel based startups, in order to effortlessly secure the maritime IoT ecosystem, Cydome Security offers a cyber solution to handle this precise problem. The company’s solution is intended for systems with links to coastal infrastructure as well as guidance, sensors, control, and command. 

Fighting fire with fire is one way that organizations can aid in stopping such intrusions: AI-driven security systems can successfully foresee and thwart AI-driven threats in real-time with appropriate data.

It is crucial to note right away that there is no magic solution for marine cybersecurity. An interconnected era has been retrofitted with a history of outdated shipboard equipment, leading to a shattered and vulnerable maritime environment. 

It is in India’s interest to take a leading role in negotiations and developments with global countries, given its crucial position in the Indian Ocean Region and the need to protect itself against China’s growing threat in that region. In order to take shipping on to the next level of connectedness, strong cybersecurity is imperative. 

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CIA’s Supremacy in Global Spy Ring and Hammering Russian Intelligence Since Cold War



I Doubt Therefore I Survive”- Michael Richard Daniell Foot, British Intelligence Historian.

Since world war US always had upper hand in conducting sub/ unconventional warfare especially Covert Psyops, Americans have always heavily invested in sinister designs- the famous MKultra progaramme of using high psychotic drugs- LSD to psychologically weaken Human’s mental state and force confessions out of them. Also, Its aim was to develop mind-controlling drugs for use against the Soviet bloc. The project attempted to produce a perfect truth drug for interrogating suspected Soviet spies during the Cold War, and to explore other possibilities of mind control. CIA’s Subversion techniques and plans into the Soviet’s camp and other communist camps are also one of the greatest security headache for Soviets. The problem was that Soviets espionage/ Intelligence temperament was not that ruthless, hard and developed as CIA’s. Eventually, this became a reason of how and why US’s psychological operations substantially harmed Russian/Soviets’ influence too much. If we leave Vietnam, the scores of US in espionage circles, activities of de-installing regimes and squeezing Soviets sphere of influence and even now squeezing Russia’s sphere of influence are much higher than of Russia. Further, this also becomes a strong reason why Russians were not able to swiftly retort to these activities in a fashion in which US does or the tit for tat temperament was not proactively seen from the Russian or Soviet’s side. In other words, they struggled to match and register covert successes in countering US’s influence in substantial sense.  A story of one of the greatest female speies and phenomenal covert operations led by US and west which set the stage rolling for “espionage” in global politics.

We mostly idealize male as spies, because of their endurance and the tradition or culture of talking only about male spies, the amount of glorification/popularization  which a male spy gets is somewhere reduced to less when the story of female spy comes in. Though the mindset is now changing and people are now equally focusing on both the cases, However, it has been observed that stories of female spies are still struggling to get glorified or talked about in some parts of the world. The tides changed their directions when a female spy- Virginia Hall, regarded as one of the greatest female spy whose contribution led to Allied Forces Victory in World War-II. In America she is regarded as one of America’s greatest heroes.

The Past

She was born on 6th April 1906  in Maryland,  attended Roland Park country school, later for her higher studies she went to Barnard College(Columbia University)  where she learned French, Italian and German and later moved to Geroge Washington University to peruse Economics.  Virginia Hall’s life was filled with roller coaster rides with dramatic twists and turns. She had a dream to become the first female Ambassador of the United States. She even started to work towards her dream by taking up the job of a clerk at the consular office in Warsaw Poland and later in Turkey. She didn’t know that a major setback is still waiting for her. In an accident she lost her left leg, However, this accident didn’t slow down Hall’s dream, She was firm and determined to achieve her dreams and serve for her country.

 Making of A Spy

Later, She applied for Foreign Services and her application in the foreign services was turned down because of disability and her gender(Females were rarely hired at that time). Repeatedly her applications were turned down over and over. However as usual her determination and refusal to comprise with her dreams were fueling/ not letting her dreams die. Later she moved to France for employment, where During World War-II in February 1940 (the early period of war) she become an ambulance driver for France Army, after the defeat of French she again moved to Spain for employment where she accidentally met British Intelligence Official name Geroge Bellows. Bellows got amazed by her communication and thinking skills and gave her the number of a “friend” who was working in Special Operations Executive(SOE), United Kingdom secret operations unit in World War-II. After getting in touch with “friend” she joined the SOE in April 1941.

The First Job

She gets the training in SOE and sent to France by France Section of SOE. She was given a cover of a reporter/ journalist for New York Post which enabled her to interview people, gather information from surroundings which can be useful for intelligence/ military officials of Allied Forces. Gradually she became an expert and learned how to arrange contacts, logistics, and who to bribe to get information and get the required work done. She also learned how to distribute and supervise wireless sets among agents and the network of SOE.   Despite the French occupation by the Germans, she managed a long tenure as a spy-transmitting information to London about German which highlights her operational brilliance and. She also sensed danger and refused to attend a meeting of SOE Agents and later French Police raided the meeting place and SOE agents got arrested.

The Journey with Americas

After successfully planning an escape of the SOE agents from jail, when Hall returned, she was declined  to serve in France because she and SOE networks were almost compromised, and sending her again would be too much risk. After this, Hall got in the contact with OSS(predecessor of CIA) and joined American Intelligence at the low rank. She was sent to France again by OSS. This time she was given a cover of poor peasant women, she used to roam around the various places and often changed her disguise to a milkmaid and prepared Cheese and sold cheese to German Soldiers. Hall was tasked to prepare resistance force known as Maquis and set up Anti- Nazi The environment in France, which would help Allied Forces during Invasion. Hall continued to gather information about German Soldier’ locations and finance Maquis and help to set up resistance force which later helped Allied Forces in planning effective Invasions- Operation Jedburgh. No doubt with an artificial leg, she ruled the helm of Spy Networks, and in those times when females were rarely hired for jobs. German described her as “Most Dangerous Allied Spy” She successfully established Anti Nazi resistance which eventually led to the collapse of the Nazi and victory of Allied Forces, It was Hall with whom help Allied Forces were victories over the Axis Powers effectively. Hall broke all the stereotypes in the spying network who believe that Females are not that smart witted to survive in the Intelligence Word. She was awarded Distinguished Service Cross in 1945 and earlier she was also awarded prestigious British Medal. Later She becomes the first female to work in CIA, she was given desk jobs in CIA and due to her age she couldn’t perform well in the tests which were mandatory in CIA and after a brief period of time she resigned and took retirement at the age of 60. She lived with her husband Paul  Barnesville, Maryland, until her death in 1982. She always refused to talk/write about her World War-II or in-field experience which led to the curiosity of many. The way she believed in her instincts, intuition, and with the brilliant skill set despite one leg has made her one of the greatest spies of all time.

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