James Bonds Are Out; Cyber Super-Techs Are In for Today’s Spy Agencies
The modes of operation, missions and practices of the world’s spy agencies have undergone a radical reset since the Islamic State sprang up on the global scene and the Middle East succumbed to upheaval.
Three events in as many weeks show some hallowed practices being set aside:
Days after the Islamist terror assault on Paris on Nov. 13, French President Francois Hollande ordered the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) to seek the cooperation of Maghreb intelligence agencies, namely Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and make use of their leads into France’s Muslim communities.
This was tantamount to a presidential failed mark for the DGSE, after it failed to track down the terrorists’ identities and motives.
Three weeks later, in the first week of December, Germany's BND spy agency took the unheard of step of releasing an assessment warning that Saudi Arabia is "destabilizing the Arab world” – a stunningly undiplomatic affront by a clandestine agency for one of Germany’s closest friends.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources have learned that Chancellor Angela Merkel approved the extraordinary public warning, after learning that the BND’s assessment was shared by many senior American, British and French intelligence officers, who are constrained by their governments from making their views known.
Finally, on Monday, December 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced the appointment of his National Security Adviser, Yossi Cohen, 54, as the next director of the Mossad foreign intelligence service.
In the two years of his current job, Cohen gained extensive experience in back-channel diplomacy – both with Western allies – notably with Washington on the nuclear controversy – and with moderate Arab governments, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates in pursuit of allies.
The three events illustrate how important undercover agencies are shifting away from espionage as their main focus to confidential diplomacy for testing and promoting their governments’ foreign policy agendas.
The following pivotal developments have edged them into this new terrain:
1. The intelligence “value chain” has changed beyond recognition over the past decade: Western intelligence bodies are being pushed “out of the game” by their inability to grapple with radical Islamic terror organizations, like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
2. Western intelligence consumers, i.e. armies and governments, are hungrier than ever for high-class secret data as an essential aid to defeating the current threats. But the spy services are too short of the human intelligence factor to supply this need. Instead, they are turning to cutting edge tools, such as technology and cyber security
3. Contemporary agencies are downsizing their spy departments – James Bonds need no longer apply for jobs – while expanding their high-tech departments for developing cyber tools. They are also in the market for agents with a knack for foreign relations.
However, young engineers and techs are in short supply, DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report. While government service is highly demanding, its financial rewards can’t compete with the private sector. Talented young people may also be put off by the invasive security screening they must undergo and the limitations on the movements and lifestyle suffered by members of a no-longer glamorous security service.