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I’ve been watching a couple of things play out on Twitter and in the news that remind me I am no longer young. Or, perhaps, that many of those in the OSINT (Open Source INTelligence) world are younger, much younger, than I. That is not intended as a knock against them in any way, as some of them are displaying a mastery of Intelligence (or select portions thereof) equal to or exceeding some of the so-called professionals. Also something of a hallmark for good OSINT…
As for me, I started reading James Bond and other spy novels in the late 1960s and was fascinated with the work of John Barron and eagerly read his KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents when it came out in 1974. Then again, this also all tied into my fascination with the Soviet Union, the space race, and nuclear war and surviving same. Which led to some interesting times and places, but…
Right now, this story has portions of the OSINT and other communities tied up in knots. Welcome to the game.
Unlike The Game that is nuclear strategy and war, the game has played out pretty much throughout human history. Spying, spies, and gathering intelligence on friends, potential friends, and enemies has been around for as long as civilization itself. Is that person an agent, double-agent, triple-agent, or something else yet again? I’m going to skip the whole agent versus operative versus spy thing for now. The question has always been, can I trust that person.
Let’s face it, it’s a good question. In olden days, many of those who were spies or agents were not the most savory of people out there. Heck, the same holds true today in many respects. Spies were often found amongst the smugglers, thieves, drunken sailors, and other non-desirable types in many cases. Even when not from the riff-raff, those who would spy on or flat-out betray their country are not always tightly wrapped, to be polite. One of the greatest intelligence assets ever, Agent Farewell who provided the intel that helped bring down the Soviet Union, proves that point IMO.
Back in the Cold War, neither side trusted those who defected, no matter what public show may have been put on in regards them. Some were legitimate, some had defected in order to gather intel that they would then pass along/take back with them when the re-defected, and some were something else. In some cases on the latter, they are still trying to figure out what that person was. Some real defectors would eventually get some respect, but never full trust. Others, to be merely suspected of being a plant or double agent, meant horror. Never mind what the Soviets did (which truly was a horror), take a look at what James Jesus Angelton did to those he suspected — with or without evidence.
Over the years I’ve met people who emigrated; I’ve met a couple that were essentially kicked out of their country; I’ve met people who escaped their country; and I’ve met a couple of defectors. Of the latter, a Mig pilot impressed me and I very much enjoyed the chance to get to know him a small bit. Of the former, most were/are decent and hardworking. Those who escaped, and often paid a price for that escape, I tended to trust a bit more easily.
I also have come to share an attitude held by many who routinely work with defectors and related: if the person loudly and theatrically denounces the country they came from, it’s leaders, and even more loudly and theatrically praise the U.S. (or GB, or wherever they were), well, the less anyone trusted them. True defectors and immigrants tend to have mixed feelings, as no matter what they thought of what the country they had left had become, it was still their country, their homeland. They may have been relieved at being safe, and thrilled for the opportunities that awaited, but there was always a bit of sorrow at having to leave. For some, I’m told, it turned into something so profound that they eventually had to return, even knowing in some cases the horrible death that awaited.
For all things, and with all people, “Trust but verify” as Boss would say. As for the story that sparked this, I will simply note that what came before is nothing. It’s what is done now that counts, and one has to work — sometimes extremely hard — to earn respect and trust. In cases like this, even if respect is earned, it’s better to exercise appropriate judgement in regards how far one trusts.
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