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Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 16:00 GMT
Who's being spied on?

It is more than a decade since the end of the Cold War, but the spymasters have not been forced to look for new employment.

The business of spying is still very active

Paul Wilkinson, professor of international relations
Russia and the West still need to build a complete intelligence picture of what the other is doing.

While the leaderships of both nations are far closer in outlook than they were for most of the last century, concerns remain.

From an American perspective, it needs to know how stable the leadership of Russia is, and whether there is any likelihood of it being usurped by more extreme elements.

Paul Wilkinson, a professor of international relations at St Andrews University in Scotland, says spying is alive and well.

Industrial dimension

"The business of spying is still very active. It's still a very important aspect of the security of every large and most middle-sized powers, as well as smaller countries that are in a threatening situation."

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein - a target of US counter-proliferation work
Industrial and economic espionage has witnessed huge growth as technology has become more powerful and accessible. It is the job of security operatives to keep track of equipment which might fall into the "wrong hands".

Another aspect is that seemingly benign technologies may have a dual use and so be used for military purposes.

This spills over into the fight by Western governments to stop the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons - counter-proliferation.

Often, apparent friends are spying on each other.

European countries have expressed concern about the US-led Echelon programme - a comprehensive system of intercepting electronic and telephone messages that many fear is being used by the US to gain commercial advantage.

But some of the most high-profile targets of modern intelligence services are anti-Western militant organisations.

Missile strikes

The bombings of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1999 raised the stakes in the war against international terrorism.

Blame for the attacks was pinned on the Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden and America's subsequent missile strikes on targets in Sudan and Afghanistan were, it is claimed, the result of its international intelligence operations.

The whole intelligence business is also facing the potential for a new democratisation as well.

Civilian satellites can now provide images of extraordinary clarity of the most sensitive spots on the Earth's surface.

And you can buy them too. All you need is a credit card and a good idea of where you want the satellite to look.

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See also:

20 Feb 01 | Americas
Fifty years of spies
20 Feb 01 | Americas
Catching a spy
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