Global Politics

Author David Wise explains how electronic surveillance has made all that's old new again in spycraft

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A surveillance camera is pictured in front of the headquarters of Vodafone Germany in Duesseldorf on Sept. 12, 2013.

Credit:

Ina Fassbender/Reuters

The NSA monitors almost everything we do in the digital world. Phone calls. Metadata. Websites. Email. All of it.

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We know that because of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked top secret government documents 

Spies already knew this, though. So to get around the NSA, they've been using tactics honed during the Cold War. And while it's laughable at times, renowned spy author David Wise says it still works.

He says if a spy wants to get in contact with his handlers, he'll still use a dead drop. This is a designated location, say underneath a jogging path bridge, to put documents. When those documents are ready for pick up, the spy will make put a mark somewhere, perhaps on a telephone post or by moving a flower pot.

The handler will then see the mark and know the documents are ready for pick-up. The handler will take the documents out and put money, for example, back in. It's that simple. That basic. And all the more difficult to track.

But what about fake mustaches, you might ask?

While we can't speak to the upper lip sweater, we can report that wigs are still in use. At least that's what Russia found on "US diplomat" Ryan C. Fogle earlier this year:

The paraphernalia — including two madcap wigs (one dark, one with blond streaks), two pairs of sunglasses, a pair of regular black-framed glasses, a cigarette lighter, a small knife with a serrated blade, a Moscow map and a compass — seemed anachronistic, experts said, and oddly reminiscent of a novelty store or “Get Smart,” the 1960s-era U.S. television series that spoofed secret agents.

Wise says Fogle may have been over-prepared for his assignment. But he says we shouldn't laugh. The spy trade remains old school. It always will.