Espionage: the world of secret agencies, foreign countries and James Bond Gadgets? No. The modern spy is very different from the image we see in movies, but how different? Are there ladies in foreign embassies, wearing red dresses, waiting to climb onto the getaway boat, only to be tied up and thrown to sharks? How far does the CIA and CSIS actually go to get the information they need? Who makes the real-life James Bond gadgets? And how does Canada protect its secrets?
When you think of a spy, you probably think of James Bond, Maxwell Smart or Ethan Hunt. These characters are not spies, rather, they are ‘intelligence officers.’ A spy is someone who is recruited by an intelligence officer because of their access to secret information. Real spies are often foreign nationals. An intelligence officer’s job is to spot, assess, develop and recruit the spies, think Al Pacino in The Recruit.
The most difficult part of espionage is not getting the information, as one may think, but instead, the communication between spies (the handover). In the United States, the FBI is the counterintelligence; agents intercept the communication between spies. Many countries tell their spies to dress inconspicuously; quite different from what James Bond movies tell us. One CIA Intelligence Officer, Aldrich Ames stood out too much. He and his wife Rosario, were living way out of their means, when, in 1994, the FBI caught on to Rick’s ties to the SVR (Russian Intelligence). During the Cold War, the Russians were cautious, they told their agents not to wear sunglasses or trench coats, items associated with espionage in Western culture.
When someone says “James Bond,” the first thing that comes to mind, are his infamous gadgets. Contrary to popular belief, there is some fact in James Bond Gadgets. For example, fake fingerprints (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971) have actually been developed by Japanese researchers by using a gelatine mould. Also, Q’s Pet (A View To A Kill, 1985), a robotic sidekick, is used by the military today. On September Eleventh, mini-robots patrolled the Trade Towers, looking for signs of survivors. Perhaps one the world’s of the most favourite gadgets, is Mr. Bond’s jetpack (Thunderball, 1965). Of all of the out of the world things James has, this seems to be the least factual, however, a jetpack really was developed for the US Army, by Bell Textron Laboratories. The vehicle could reach a height of nine metres and a top speed of 16km/h. It was showcased at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the project was scrapped due to the maximum thirty seconds of flight time. Two gadgets; the X-ray glasses (The World Is Not Enough, 1999) and the Pocket-sized Underwater Breather (Thunderball, 1965) are complete fiction. In The World Is Not Enough (1999) James Bond uses X-ray glasses to see women’s underwear. In real-life, x-ray machines are the size of fridges and can only see metal. Q also gives James Bond a breathing device the size of a pen. The Smallest mini-breather available in the real world is only the size of a pop can. Even the pop can is only able to last two minutes, whereas James Bond’s breather lasts four minutes.
The CIA has come a long way, from 1852 when they made microdots, documents shrunken to fit inside a period, to today with photocopiers that send data back home. Some of the best exploits cannot be found in books or movies. For example, during the Cold War, the US invented an ingenious listening device. They gave a gift to the American Embassy in Moscow; a wooden presidential seal. On reflex, the Russians checked, scanned and picked apart every part of it, but they could not find a microphone. Content with their search, they hung the seal in the office of the Ambassador. It wasn’t until seven years later, when a double agent warned them about the seal, that it was removed. OTS (Office of Technical Service) had put a metal rod inside the seal. When someone was talking inside the office, the rod would vibrate, sending the signals back to Washington. The signals would be decoded and Americans could hear what was being said in the office. Fortunately, Americans weren’t the only ones up to dirty tricks. In 1978, Bulgarian president Georgi Markov was assassinated by a man with an umbrella. This however was no ordinary umbrella. Inside the handle of the umbrella was a gun. The gun was loaded with grey-marble-shaped pellets, but before being loaded, the pellets were dipped in Ricin, a deadly poison. One would think that movies would be uninteresting, being so far from reality, yet somehow a good spy flick still seems to captivate the ignorant human.
The United States have the CIA, Russia has the KGB, as Canadians, we have CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service). Started by John A Macdonald just before Confederation, the first team patrolled the border of Upper Canada. They got information on the raiding Fenians and the effect of the American civil war on Canada. They later infiltrated mining groups in the US to find out about the rumoured Annex on the Yukon. Warm Canadian hospitality has caused the number of foreign liaison offices to more than quadruple since the 1980’s. In Canada, the investigation of security threats is carried out in five steps. In order to do anything, a government decision must be made. CSIS has a very strong tie to the government. Unlike a law-enforcement agency, CSIS has constant government feedback. The next step is planning. CSIS officials gather the resources they need and get approval from a federal judge. Collection is the stage that we see in TV and movies the most often. This is when agents intercept open and closed communication sources. Unfortunately, real life is not the movies, so all that collection means, is reading foreign newspapers and listing to foreign radio. The collection stage includes working with foreign police and intelligence to investigate global trends that may effect Canadians. Canadian liaisons also conduct security screenings on prospective immigrants. Back home, information is processed and sent to Ottawa in the Analysis stage. Later, once processed, the information is Disseminated, given to government agencies like the RCMP, Department of Foreign Affairs and Transport Canada.
Next time somebody watches a movie, they should look closely. They will notice many things that they didn’t notice before. They will see just how unrealistic their favourite flicks really are. They should appreciate their government and its spies for what they really do and not what the media hypes it up to be. Take a look behind the scenes and you will see something better than the big screen.