Rules for Spies

By Alan Caruba

Spy vs Spy
Rules for Spies
Alan Caruba
Column by Alan Caruba

New Jersey –-( With all the dramatics by Germany, Argentina, and the leaders of other nations protesting that the National Security Agency is spying on them, the experts on espionage have been patiently pointing out that all nations spy on one another and always have.

Two thousand years ago Sun Tzu, a Chinese general, wrote “The Art of War” and devoted a chapter to “The Use of Spies” in which he said, “Be subtle! Be subtle! And use your spies for every kind of business.”

I often visit “Stormbringer”, a blog by a former U.S. soldier with an extensive special operations background, and he recently published “Rules for Spies” by John Schindler, “a National Security Agency veteran and now a professor at the Naval War College.” Schindler spent ten years at the NSA as an analyst and counterintelligence officer.

Most of us will never know what really goes on in the NSA and that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but I will raise a personal objection to its use to spy on Americans. As I understand it, the NSA is authorized solely to spy on foreign subjects, as is the CIA. Domestic surveillance is the job of the FBI. Clearly the lines of legal authority have been breached. One can only hope that congressional oversight will correct this problem.

In the meantime, here is a selection from Rules for Spies that will provide some insight regarding the way espionage and counter-intelligence should be conducted:

“All important intelligence methods have already been perfected by the Russians. We need to figure out how to do them nicely.”

“It’s not what you know. It’s not who you know. It’s what you know about who you know. If you don’t understand that, in intelligence, your job is based on breaking other people’s laws, get out now.”

“U.S. intelligence is the world’s BIG DAWG, especially in SIGNINT (signals intelligence) and IMINT (image intelligence, i.e, that gathered by satellites and other means) but the bureaucracy is so vast as to undercut too much of that.”

“SIGNINT is the golden source, but if the enemy doesn’t understand his own system, neither will you. If you don’t understand the other side’s collection and what he’s doing to mess up your collection, you’re clueless too.”

“The bigger your bureaucracy, the less effective your intelligence system is. No exceptions.”

“You can learn tradecraft. You can’t learn common sense. Nor can you get ‘up to speed’ on a problem in a couple of weeks.”

“Intelligence services are accurate reflections of their societies. It’s not always a pretty picture.”

“The best way to protect your secrets is to steal the other side’s.”

“If you don’t own the street, the other side will. And soon they will steal your lunch.”

Schindler’s reflections on bureaucracy and the way it can undermine or misinterpret intelligence are of particular importance in the present time. The U.S. not only has the largest intelligence gathering operation on planet Earth, but its size can contribute to failures to analyze and act on it.

Examples of this would include, of course, the 9/11 attack that transformed America in major ways. Despite a huge Homeland Security Department, created in the wake of 9/11, and the existence of the FBI, NSA and the CIA, none of that vast structure deterred the Boston Marathon massacre last year, despite intelligence passed along by the Russians regarding the brothers who perpetrated it.

The most worrisome aspect of all the intelligence gathering is the capacity of a those in positions of leadership in America to use it against Americans who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights.

Recently, as reported in The Washington Times, “Maryland State Police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigated journalist”, Audrey Hudson, “who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department’s federal air marshal service.” The documents revealed her sources within the department. The Times is “preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.” The seizure is consistent with the Obama administration’s campaign to identify “leaks” to journalists.

Stop Watching Us is a collective of 100 public advocacy groups, among them the American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom Works, as well as individuals like Chinese artist/activist Ai Weiwei and Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who worked with Edward Snowden to expose many of the NSA’s surveillance procedures. Snowden, however, is in my opinion a traitor.

Philosophically, I am in agreement with Stop Watching Us, but I have no problem with spying on others, allies and enemies alike.

c Alan Caruba

Alan Caruba’s commentaries are posted daily at “Warning Signs” his popular blog and thereafter on dozens of other websites and blogs. If you love to read, visit his monthly report on new books at Bookviews.

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If you believe that the U.S. is the “Big DAWG” of SIGINT you must conclude that Obama is a big contributor to the U.S. SIGINT counter-measures being used against other countries. By the way, how many “Obama-Phones” are out there? LOL


If all the NSA was doing was spying on others, allies and enemies alike, he might be a traitor — although I don’t see how exposing the fact that spying is going on, without providing one iota of information on how to defeat it or destroy it, gives any aid and comfort to anyone. It appears the opposite has occurred; it has given them a bad case of nerves, But Snowden exposed the fact that our own government is spying on us, and that is why he is a hero of the century so far as I am concerned. Do… Read more »