Hipster counter-espionage?

By Philip Smedegaard

It is now three years ago that the Russian Federal Protection Service (FSO) (in charge of protecting high-ranking officials), ordered large quantities of typewriters and fax machines after the surfacing of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. Whilst it is improbable that this is due to the Kremlin joining the hipster nostalgia of an analogue world, it did signify the growing mistrust of storing sensitive data on digital platforms. Similar measures have been considered in Germany, after it was also revealed that the NSA had been monitoring Chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls. The nature of espionage has morphed away from the game defectors revealing secrets about the operations of their intelligence agencies, rather to one of intrusion of domestic citizens. This can partly be attributed to the post 9/11 counter-terrorism wake, which some agencies have perceived as a carte blanche for their intelligence operations. The difficulty for the intelligence agencies as Sir David Omand, (former British intelligence chief) states is, “intelligence services must be able to employ secret sources and methods that inevitably involve intrusion. Yet to command that public trust, they must also be transparent and prepared to live by rules that protect individual privacy”. Whilst most people do not have anything to hide, this shift closer towards Orwell’s 1984, society creates a sort of discomfort that ordinary citizens are starting to feel. It is perhaps a good idea then to follow the Russian example, albeit, the local bearded millennial in your town will probably overcharge you for your typewriter.

Where does that leave society today?

The changing effect of modern-terrorism and technology, has made surveillance an even more intrinsic aspect of society. Perhaps, greater transparency in the revealing of successful operations would justify their existence e.g. the capture of dark-net paedophiles. However, this is a difficult request as the intelligence community naturally seeks to retain the cloak of secrecy and independence to operate.