Newspaper Article - Harvard Gazette

It's Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy

  • Christina Pazzanese
| Feb. 20, 2019

Harvard fellow will co-edit three-volume series tracing espionage from ancient times to today

Spying is a secret world that strives mightily to stay out of the public eye. But in an age of almost limitless electronic surveillance, that's become much harder to do.

Just in the past year, three men identified as Russian military intelligence officers were accused of poisoning a former spy, his daughter, and two others, using a deadly nerve agent. A Russian woman acting as a graduate student admitted to U.S. prosecutors that she was an agent for Russia while cozying up to officials in the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party. And this week, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said that he opened a counterintelligence investigation into whether the president might have been acting on behalf of Russia after Trump fired McCabe's boss while the FBI probed that country's meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Suddenly, the topic of spies and spying dominates newsfeeds. Yet much of what the public and even policymakers know about this complicated subject is shaped by old James Bond films or John le Carré novels — and that needs to end, according to Calder Walton, Ernest May Fellow in History and Policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

Walton studies intelligence history and international relations, and co-runs the Applied History Project at HKS. He was recently named general editor of "The Cambridge History of Espionage and Intelligence," to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2022. The three-volume work will document for the first time the vast and largely opaque record of how undercover information-gathering has been used and misused in conflicts from the ancient world through the cyberwarfare of the present.

The Gazette asked Walton to help contextualize the FBI's Russia investigation and the role other intelligence agencies may be playing in it, and to explain how intelligence and espionage have changed — and remained unchanged — since their earliest days.


Calder Walton

GAZETTE: First, what is the difference between espionage and intelligence?

WALTON: Espionage traditionally refers to human spies and spying. Intelligence is much broader. It can mean human intelligence, but it also can mean technical intelligence operations, like signals intelligence, or code-breaking, or imagery intelligence. Intelligence is not mysterious: It is secret information, which, by definition, requires secret means to obtain. Sometimes there's not that much difference between publicly available information in The New York Times, for example, or in the Harvard Gazette, and in intelligence briefings — and when that happens, policymakers rightly ask what's the point of intelligence briefings if they can read the same or similar information in the press? The purpose of intelligence is to provide policymakers, decision-makers, with something extra — something they can't obtain, read, or see on the news or some other way. So, at its most basic, the purpose of intelligence is to help policymakers make their decisions. It's to be able to know about enemies' intentions and capabilities, and it is to be able to know about threats on the horizon. It doesn't always work, as we've seen recently, but that's the aim....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Pazzanese, Christina. "It's Spy vs. Spy vs. Spy." Harvard Gazette, February 20, 2019.

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