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Spies In Business

The title cover story from the August print magazine.

Diplomats and politicians are not the only targets for foreign intelligence services, according to The Security Service (MI5). Scientists, academics, business people and expatriates might attract the attention of a foreign intelligence service, MI5 says. Hence it has given some guidance.  

A security or intelligence service may use a variety of techniques to target a foreign national travelling to or posted to their country, MI5 say. These include intercepting telephone calls (land line and mobile), computer equipment, (laptops, palmtops, personal digital assistants), e-mails, fax, telex and post; planting eavesdropping devices; direct surveillance; or covert searching of hotel rooms (including safes) and offices. Lavish hospitality, flattery and the ‘red carpet’ treatment are used by some intelligence services to soften up a target, who may then feel obliged to co-operate rather than offend the hosts.


In general, be aware that in some countries hotel staff and taxi drivers may be required to report the activity of foreign visitors to the local security service. Those you come into contact with professionally or personally could later be interviewed by the local security service. Anything you tell those contacts could be compromised. Do not leave sensitive material unattended in your hotel room or at conference venues. Do not throw any sensitive information in the waste bin, where it could be retrieved. Bring it back to the UK, if it can’t be shredded. If you have computer equipment, lock it away. It should be properly protected by passwords which should not be written down. Virus protection and firewalls should be kept up-to-date. In other words, some precautions apply to guard against plain theft. However, be alert, MI5 warns, to the warning signs that you are being ‘cultivated’ for recruitment by a foreign intelligence service. These include unexpected emails from the contacts in the foreign country, or their colleagues or ‘friends’ seeking to establish contact. Are you cold-called by foreign official or business contacts who arrive unannounced, saying that they were ‘in the area’. Does someone request, over time, more sensitive information? MI5 advice on the ‘operating techniques’ of agents you may face. Suspected activity by foreign security and intelligence services should also be reported to the MI5, it adds.

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