This week a former Dutch foreign ministry worker was sentenced to 12 years in jail for spying. Raymond Poeteray, aged 51 passed Dutch and NATO military secrets to Russia. It emerged during his trial that the only motive Poeteray had for his actions was financial.
However money is not the only reason for why people engage in espionage. A trawl through this week’s newspapers gives us an insight into just some of the other motivations that might also be at work.
Religion: For some, religious affiliation is a motive that can turn them to spying. 18 people were arrested this week for spying in Saudi Arabia. Shia and Sunni communities are in conflict here, and it seems that on this occasion a motivating factor was assisting people from the particular branch of Islam the individuals belong to.
Self Interest: This week the UK Government dismissed another set of proposals for the future of press regulation. The whole News of the World affair that sparked the current round of lawmaking included accusations of spying for profit (hacking answer-phones in search of a scoop) as well as spying out of self interest. Once the hacking scandal emerged, the News of the World hired specialist private investigators to carry out covert surveillance on lawyers representing victims of phone hacking. Discrediting the victims or at least knowing in advance what the lawyers strategy would be could be seen as the News of the World’s attempt to help ensure its own survival. Of course as we know, the strategy failed, the spying was uncovered and the newspaper was closed.
Ideology: for some people ideology is a motivation for engaging in espionage. This week Marta Rita Velazquez a former US government employee has been accused of spying for the Cuban government. The case is at an early stage, but it is alleged that support for Cuba’s political system was her motivation.
These days there are fewer and fewer ideological spies, but perhaps we can include in this group the state agents who spy on their own people in the belief that the ‘agent within’ is a real and present danger. In the United States earlier this month the Department for Homeland Security was shown to be spying daily on peaceful anti-capitalist activists. The activists claimed that the department’s own documents showed that they were not perceived by the agency to be terrorists but were nonetheless targeted because they represented a threat to the ideological status quo.
So, as we can see from this week’s news alone, the motivations for engaging in espionage are wide ranging. We haven’t even looked at other motivations such as revenge, ego, national interest and sexual favours which have all been cited in recent spying cases. The point of all this is that organisations and individuals who wish to keep secrets safe should try to understand the breadth of possible motivations of potentially hostile operatives.