It really sounds like an exercise in futility when you think about it – writing an article about intelligence agencies. These are agencies run by people who thrive and survive on secrets. The fact that we know so little about them is probably for the best. However, considering the things that most Hollywood movies have to say we sure know a few things. Coups to uproot dictators and install puppet regimes, illegal operations in other countries, assassinations, kidnappings, intelligence gathering and of course, the multitude of things that we cannot even imagine – your country’s intelligence agencies have probably have done all of them.
So, do we need them? Do we not need them? I am, unfortunately, unequipped to answer that question. This is because my knowledge of espionage is limited to the James Bond books and films. However, what I can do is introduce you to the outer layer of the world’s secret intelligence agencies. Their existence is not a secret, of course. It is what they do that is. That is a point I fear might be beleaguered by the end of this article.
All right then, here goes. A list of some of the world’s most secretive intelligence agencies.
1. Ministry of State Security (MSS)
Wait, what? Where is ISI or CIA or even the KGB? I have never heard of this one — oh…
Yes, you have probably never heard of this one. But it is the intelligence agency serving the government of the most populous country on this Earth. That is right. With its headquarters in Beijing, the MSS is China’s only (I think) intelligence agency. So, when you hear news about the Internet being censored or rebellious sentiments being squashed under an iron heel, this agency is probably at work. I wonder if these are the same guys who banned Christopher Robin because the teddy bear looked like *ahem* a top government official.
One possible avenue through which you may have heard the MSS mentioned is the much talked about controversy regarding Huawei. The US Government leveled allegations against the telecom company saying that they had built backdoors into their system. These backdoors provided ways for Chinese intelligence to perform some very illegal surveillance. My favourite story, though, is one that took place in the year 2003. A woman named Katrina Leung was arrested and accused of being a double agent by the FBI. She was a source for them and was also a Republican party fund raiser.
The accusations were mostly true, since she had been recruited by the FBI to be an informant. And a part of the plan was her getting recruited by the MSS. They, in turn, thought she was a low-level informant and decided to use her as well. However, some time later the FBI discovered that while she was giving accurate information to them, she was giving it to the Chinese as well. They even alleged that she was having an affair with her Chinese handler. I know, right? Anyway, the spying related charges did not really pan out but she was convicted on tax related crimes and of course – lying to the FBI.
2. The Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI)
Yeah, I would probably lose no money over a bet that you have heard of the ISI, Pakistan’s lead intelligence agency. The only question is why it says ISI on our jewelry as well?
Unlike other countries’ intelligence agencies, however, the ISI is behind much of the country’s running and even backs its government in the least of subtle manners. One of its primary functions has been to create a problem for our own country, something we are all painfully familiar with. Its efforts in creating anti-Indian sentiment in political hotbeds like Kashmir have not gone unnoticed. The results of these efforts are for all to see, as every few days there is another piece of news out of Kashmir, with no resolution in sight.
The ISI has come into the limelight on multiple occasions and has engaged in a lot of questionable acts. Sometimes within its own country. The detention of Raymond Allen Davis is one such example. But a more recent one is that of Doctor Abdul Hameed. The doctor was treated roughly while treating one of his patients, by a couple of men in civilian clothing. These men then assaulted him and literally dragged him to a separate location, where he was held for hours. This caused massive protests in the Bajaur region by doctors. They accused the ISI outright of ‘state hooliganism.’ The ISI has also been known to aid terror attacks in India, among other places, but we do not need a reminder of that, do we?
3. Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR)
Unlike all the other intelligence agencies on this list, the SVR is the only one that has gone through what would basically be referred to as ‘re-branding.’
What used to be the KGB in the old times was then broken up into several small little components during the fall of the Soviet Union. It is no secret how err…prolific the agency was in its methods and in its various ‘achievements’. But once the whole break-up happened, a new agency was called the SVR. The full form of that acronym is Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedk i.e. Foreign Intelligence Service.
One would assume that since the KGB is no more, the reputation of SVR has taken a hit. But the agency still thrives and wreaks havoc around the world. Think towards the incident that incited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or the very recent elections in the United States that many allege were tampered with by Russian intelligence. These are just allegations, of course, but you would have to be born yesterday to believe the lack of evidence means that it did not happen. Also, many experts believe that tensions between Russia and USA are now at Cold War levels, so yayyyy for SVR?
Russian intelligence has been in the news a lot off late, and for good reason. There was the attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury. It was carried by two Russian military intelligence officers using nerve agents as a weapon of choice. However, their operations within their own country are some of the most blatant and frankly, quite terror inducing. What comes to mind is the apparent suicide of Oleg Zhukovsky, an executive in bank named VTB, which was to be taken over by the Kremlin (read Putin). He was so against this that he decided to end his own life by sitting in a chair, tying himself up, sticking a suicide note to himself and then throwing himself into the swimming pool. Yup.
4. The Mossad
When it comes to Israel and its intelligence agencies, few have the reputation or strike fear like the Mossad does. Everyone’s heard the name, but the lack of information is alarming and yes, impressive, to say the least. It even has its own unit that consists of elite assassins, the Kidon. And if that is not badass then I do not know what is.
Along with the Aman and Shin Bet, Mossad completes the trio of intelligence agencies for Israel. It deals with mostly intelligence and counter-intelligence and answers directly to the leader of the country. According to Wikipedia, its goals, structures and powers are exempt from the constitutional laws of the country of Israel. Yeah, you read that right. They have had links multiple agencies such as our very own RAW or CIA. Not much about them is known apart from what has been revealed by their own selves. But one of the biggest operations they have been part of is the retaliation against the murders of athletes in Munich.
But hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because here is one of the many badass stories about the Mossad. A plane that had a lot of Israeli citizens was hijacked and it ended up landing in a place called Entebbe in Uganda. To get them out, Israeli Special Forces and Mossad sneaked into the country via those routes which are known only to badass spies. Then, they dressed up as Ugandan soldiers and one of them disguised himself as the actual President of Uganda, if you can believe that. They faked an exact lookalike of the President’s motorcade and just…approached the plane. The hijackers, of course, thought that it was the President, so they let the motorcade through. And so, the soldiers and the Mossad operatives killed each and every hijacker, 45 Ugandan soldiers and blew up the actual Ugandan President’s jets. That is right. They did that.
5. Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)
Even if you do nothing but watch John Abraham films, you would have heard of the Research and Analysis Wing or RAW, India’s intelligence agency. It really is Indian to take a badass agency and give it the most boring name ever. *Like there was something wrong with Rapid Action Wing.*
Which is why it is such an intriguing fact that almost nothing is known about RAW’s past operations or activities, apart from the ones that were really obvious, like its intervention in the Sri-Lankan civil war or in Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. India’s intelligence agency does its due diligence in protecting the country from any threats that it sees or even foresees. It is considered one of the most capable intelligence agencies in the world.
However, there have been many controversies surrounding RAW, especially considering their links with other agencies such as the Mossad or the CIA. There have even been mentions of infiltration, which no matter what agency you are in, does not sound like a good thing. Despite that, RAW is badass. While it has been involved in many intelligence skirmishes, one of the things it is most proficient at is snatch operations, which is exactly what it sounds like – kidnapping targets from foreign countries sneakily and bringing them back to India for interrogation.
RAW has conducted around 400 snatch operations, that we know of. Thus, it has brought back a number of really bad dudes. Lashkar members Tariq Mehmood and Abdul Karim Tunda, Yasin Bhatkal, founder of Indian Mujahideen and yes, Sheikh Abdul Khwaja, one of the handlers of the Mumbai attacks. Really feels good reading that, not going to lie to you, guys.
6. The National Security Agency (NSA)
I hope that the NSA agent who is reading this right now likes what I have written. Maybe add a few lines here and there, agent. It would help a lot.
There is no need to give you a little anecdote or a snippet of some obscure news story to provide an example of what the NSA does. We have all heard it. They spy on us and everything we do and even as you are reading this, the camera of the device you have is probably recording everything that you do and feeding it back to the National Security Agency. The joke is on them though, because they have access to my camera as well and the shit they have probably seen by now, boy oh boy! Makes me laugh, it does, those poor little souls.
But before Snowden broke the biggest news story of the century, virtually nobody had heard of the NSA. It was actually dubbed by many as ‘No Such Agency,’ which is much scarier than it sounds. It is not one of the premier intelligence agencies in the USA. But one could argue that it has the most power, given the amount of information it collects and analyses on a daily basis. No agency knows as much as the NSA does. And as Littlefinger puts it – Knowledge is power.
Like Porky the Pig says at the end of the Loony Toons, “that’s all folks!”. These are some of the most capable and dangerous agencies in all the world. All of them employ controversial methods in their operations, such as torture, humiliation, illegal surveillance and straight up murder in some cases. But they are also the gatekeepers of their countries, the line of defense that isn’t seen by anyone else but the ones who fight on either side. It may make for good movies and books, but I shudder to think of the millions of times that agencies like these have saved our lives and none of us ever know.
Something to think about.
Also, NSA agent, thanks in advance for your feedback.