Are there more spies than you think?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

We tend to focus on the cloak and dagger side of the KGB and successor institutions, but they’re also just government agencies trying to boost their budgets and achieve higher status in their home country. In other words, spy agencies play the typical bureaucratic games.

To maintain their status and privileged perch, spy agencies may try to take credit for as many activities as possible. This emphasis of quantity over quality is a typical bureaucratic response to a political system based on imperfect information. It is hard for national leaders to judge how effective their spy agencies are, so the spy agencies want to pass along good numbers, much as a corporation might try to slant its quarterly earnings report.


John Negroponte, former director of national intelligence, admitted in 2006 that the U.S. was deploying about 100,000 spies around the world. Given that the U.S. is the world’s technology and military leader, and yet has a relatively small share of global population, is it so crazy to think the number of people spying on us is larger than that?

Do read the whole thing.


Is this comments section working?

I much prefer this experience without the comments section.

Sometimes, the comments are excellent. In particular, the commenters do a good job when the topic is an academic paper.

It's a cop out to say that movies and tv glamourize spying. What they do is give it a literary point of view. Like the serial killer nonfiction industry, which is stems likely from Pyscho, or American Pyscho. Like the "neighborhood killer"- shows like secret and lies on abc or sin on usa.

Breach is fantastic film, despite the lump in Ryan Philippe's head, and speaks more on how crazy cultural commentary is in Hollywood and now, for some time, in New York aka a Silicon Valley subsidiary.

Hi, always i used to check webpage posts here in the early
hours in the dawn, as i like to find out more and more.

Maybe institute some sort of registration widget.

The same way detectives in police shows have become "priests," for our collective sins, so too have spies become "doctors" for our collective ailments.

Nah. Everybody who want to pray to God can do so. That is where truth is found.

Remember God created you, I sure didn't.

Why do things hide? How many uniques does marginalrevolution have?

that being said, it is worth reflecting on this: "the same way detectives in police shows have become priests for our collective sins so too have spies become doctors for our collective ailments".

the way I look at it either you know God created you or you do not. That is the first step in any drama I would write. The second step - when someone knows that God created them, or when someone comically does not - come on, it is easy to be inspired, my young friends! It has happened so many times before .... and will happen so many times again ...

from what point of view? Poor little Marcel Proust wrote a "BOOK" that not a single pretty woman who knew Marcel ever read and that book had about 10 thousand unique sentences, of which about 5 thousand were exponentially better than the average similar sentence in any given "Le Figaro" of the day. And what good did that do for poor little Marcel? Listen, if you can't be obviously more interesting at any given moment in a conversation with people of the opposite sex than Shakespeare would have been, nobody is going to give you any rewards, but in the long run it does not matter. What matters is being a decent human being. Trust me.

That being said, the beautiful people often forget that nobody cares what they think ....

Nobody is beautiful, unless they also have a good heart. NOBODY remembers that. (But everybody knows that).

All that being said, I would prefer no comments!

God did not create me though, a woman did. You offer hope but no love, Efim. Yet I do trust you, despite your attitude.

Thanks for reading,

Feel free to piss on my grave , a year or two from now, I will be buried at Quantico cemetery, some of my friends will be there, one day or another, with a six pack or two, fuck it, if they want to piss on my grave, I won't care!!!

I love you bro

i will be the only dude in the whole fucking cemetery who could have fixed any given loser up with someone who would have loved them, I have done that many times in this world

not that my gravestone will look all that different from anyone else's

but as cold as the night is i have hoped anyone who looked at me coldly
would someday be someone
with love in their heart who understood that, despite the coldness I have tried so hard to mitigate, would understand that my great happiness

is real. I have loved, and I have made my beloved happy. I pray every day that everyone I pray for will experience that joy!

Quantico, 2058.

seriously, as hard as my life has been, i have often felt such joy at having helped people understand there is nothing more important than love

Quantico 2058,

"I tell you I can make sons of Abraham from the rocks on the side of the road"

Trust me this is not 201* (2017/2018? seriously I forgot)

the funny thing about being buried at Quantico - and I am being serious here - is that you have no idea who shares your gravestone (they put two names on each gravestone).... for God's sake, I could be buried, with my humble little engraved cross, in the same grave as some dude with a pair of golf sticks over his name!

Seriously, I really wish everybody, before they died, would understand what I used to know: God loves us most when nobody loves us, but loves us just as much when we are loved!

I really did forget. Of course this is 2017, right? Is is so bad that I was not sure it is not 2018?

it's four o'clock

Actually, it is 12:48 AM. You know what time it is,

I always know what time it is. So do you.

(and what year it is, too, sue me if I try to pretend maybe I don't in some sad effort to make people feel at home in the year they live in, one way or another - if you can make a better effort than me, go for it ,,,,).

I could have written Proverbs 8 but I chose to say other things, because I cared. So could you, I remember how bright you were, back in the day.

feel at home. This is your world it is not mine.

Quantico, 20xx.

Of course this is not your world and this is not my world.

Remember that: I said that this is not your world and it is not my world. Anything else I said was not as true as that. Your world awaits you,

God loves you more than God loves me.

God loves me enough to let me say that.

lotuses conceal it in their shadow;
the stream

It is totally possible to do things of which people disapprove but are not evil.

about 5 years ago I realized that me and a few friends did not have guardian angels at all we just borrowed other people's guardian angels

Good to know that commenters are welcome again , even if occasionally.

Agreed. My visits to this site have lowered a great deal since comments were banned.

Since the fall of the USSR I've come too think of the spy agencies as a waste. Get rid of the CIA and NSA, until the need arises. The military and the FBI can do what is needed. Secrecy is overrated anyway.

>Get rid of the CIA and NSA, until the need arises.

You mean, until there is an opposing American presidential campaign to spy on?

It's not often a long-time foreign intelligence asset and con artist gets nominated by a major party!

To be fair, she probably didn’t know she sent 30,000 emails to a foreign entity.

So Obama sent the CIA after her? Is that why you hate him?

she's a opiate dealer.

Doesn't really work that way. When "the need arises", we'll need assets in the right places (both spies and spy infrastructure like satellites), people who know what they're doing, and so forth.

Unless you're saying we should move the assets into fewer agencies, in which case, uh, maybe? I don't see a clear answer one way or the other, but I'm unclear why you would think it to be an obvious improvement.

"...when the need arises." What an odd thing to think. Would that be after the nukes are launched or what? Alternatively, shouldn't the same comment apply to our military? We don't need a permanent military in-between when the need arises. Think of all the money we could re-purpose on more effective social programs!!


"Congress shall have the power to... raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years..."

Yes, the framers explicitly tried to avoid a standing federal military force during peacetime.

I wonder how much traffic declined when comments were suspended.

The troll contingent left

I dunno about the others, but I'm still here.

I have the answer stuffed in my sock, if you'd like to see it.

I think interviews are ok, but they are highly overrated.

Once AI spins up, surely we'll all have at least one spy assigned to us? Possibly several - I'd expect to be followed by an American spy (AI) , a Russian spy (AI), and so forth. Perhaps even counter espionage AI's as well. What happens when each of us has an infinite number of spies? Maybe it'll be fun..

The Facebook, Google, Samsung and Apple spies (will) have much better information, but (will) have difficulty selling it to governments. So state spies (will) have to reverse-induct it from advertising performance data harvested by planting well targeted ads on those platforms.

" spy assigned to [each of] us" You believe we don't already have dossiers in dozens if not hundreds of data bases? Come to think of it, if Agency X executes clandestine operations (for example, say, a disinformation campaign) wouldn't they be in an excellent position to be training a Watson-type machine in a "big data" analysis? If they're not already doing this ("they" being both ours, our allies, and our enemies multitude of intelligence services), then I'd be very surprised... Anyway, thinking that a "spy" has to have the same type of (more or less) single focus consciousness as we do is unsupported and I'd guess unsupportable - think horizontal vs vertical integration.

Tyler, for what its worth, I much prefer your blog with the comments closed.

If you didn't like the comment section (understandable) why not just ignore it?


Thanks for reinforcing my preference. As I said,,

Non-responsive. If you don't like the comments, no one if making you click on them. "McDonalds, for what it's worth, I much prefer your restaurant without Big Macs on the menu".

More like "McDonalds, for what its worth, I much prefer your restaurant without the off-menu items that I don't see unless I ask for them"

No, more like, "McDonald's, I prefer your restaurant without the hooligans shouting and throwing tomatoes in the corner." Saying "Just ignore the comments" is like asking my neighbors to just ignore my lawn.

The Stasi at it's peak had 90,000 full time official and 170,000 full time unofficial domestic spies. In a country of 16 million people. When you include occasional snitches experts predict that 1 in 6.5 East Germans was involved in some way in domestic spying. Domestic is probably easier in some ways than corporate and international, but keeping in mind that this happened in a country without the resources, technology and political animus towards the US that China, Russia and even some US "allies" have today, it is not hard to think there is a massive amount of spying going on.

If you include those who participate full-time, part-time, occasionally, opportunistically, accidentally and via coercion whether they are residing in the US, visiting the US and those who spy from a distance, i think it is safe to assume that 100,000 spies is a small fraction of the actual number.

This is correct. We had 1 in 6.5 working for us, in the good old days.

And it is why you went out of business in the end. Talk about all the deadweight involved.

However, if you can get your citizenry to pay for devices that track their movements, can be used as microphones and cameras, and have them place this wealth of surveillance data into nicely organized data collections enthusiastically without the state needing to pay a cent for the infrastructure and labor, why, you can build a surveillance society where virtually everyone is contributing, and such activity can be made profitable to boot.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a cell phone held up to a human face - forever. Stasi couldn't, and they ended up on the ash heap of history.

I prefer the comments section; you get a better grade of troll here, which speaks volumes for the quality of your work.

Why were comments turned off?

Because there is a possibility that someone writes a good comment on a technical economics subject and gets an academic benefit for having written that comment and because

there were evil people who sexually harassed commenters.

do you see the problem?

everyone else who tried to contribute in a positive way was collateral damage

including me, tonight I wrote a few hundred words of decent English prose, maybe not great prose but prose that had never been written before, and some ignorant intern deleted every single word.

That was unkind, Tyler. I don't mind being sexually harassed by some sad crazy dude from the wack pack - I would prefer it if they got help but their sad anger does not really bother me - but I really don't like it when I go out of my way to write something that someone might find interesting only to have it deleted by one of your interns.

You may see it differently. I realize you have worked hard to make this site what it was.

But either you or some ignorant intern deleted a few hundred words that I worked on, words that were not like any other words that have ever been written.

That was wrong.

I would never have deleted a few hundred words that you had shared with another commenter, Tyler, never. Thanks for annihilating my efforts, and the efforts of the people who shared in a conversation with me. Not very kind of you: I would have never done that to you and someone you were conversing with.

in case you are wondering what was deleted, I wrote a few words about the hope we all should have for eternal life, some other commenter wrote that I had written (convincingly? I don't remember) about hope but I had not shown much love, I then replied that I would soon be buried at Quantico (a beautiful graveyard), he could visit my grave and wonder if I had finally understood the triumph of love, and I added that I was sorry I had shown more hope than love, love obviously trumps hope (Luke and the synoptic gospels revisit that comparison often: in the Acts, Saint Stephen is the best exponent of the triumph of love, and Saint Paul was never sure if he was saying most what he wanted to say when writing to the Philippians (with whom he never had to share a conflicted word, everybody understood that God loves us) or with the Ephesians (God bless their hearts). I remember many similar situations: we all could, if we care enough about enough people.

Well, is a "spy" only someone who wears a trench-coat?

"The Washington Post reported in 2010 that there were 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in 10,000 locations in the United States that were working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence, and that the intelligence community as a whole includes 854,000 people holding top-secret clearances.[3] According to a 2008 study by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, private contractors make up 29% of the workforce in the U.S. intelligence community and account for 49% of their personnel budgets.[4]"

I would guess globally (including China) there are millions upon millions of spies, operating powerful technologies, btw. I am sure many myrmidons spend days routinely, observing mundane phone calls and web-traffic.

Side note; If such agencies were turned on ordinary criminals, we could probably wipe out crime in the US.

Remember, some of those spies were really just informants, surveilling political campaigns for the campaign's own good

Did Ben Brophy approve, or is Bloomberg a special case, due to its undoubtedly better ability to analyze and keep track of web activity?

years from now Tyler you will be remembered as the guy who deleted good comments.

If you are not bright enough to host a decent website with comments, just don't keep the comments. It is not that hard!

I don't know about Tyler, but you're scaring the rest of us.

I for one consider Elfim to be an underrated commenter.

She's just stalling for time until the 3-D printer finishes the pistol.

the US is not the world's technology leader. the US doesn't even have high speed trains...

Come now, as noted by the author of the next post - 'Call me simple-minded, but I believe that the world’s most developed country ought to be responsible for exporting goods around the world. Instead, the US runs both a trade deficit and a current account deficit.'

See, we are the world’s most developed country, by definition.

One of the CIA's contribution comes from the analytical side of the house where they make estimates of other countries military budgets, personnel and equipment. In general the CIA estimates were lower than the defense department estimates. Defense budgets were based largely on the perceived threat and it was just human nature for the defense department to maximize the perceived threat The CIA's weaker
assessments contributed to the US saving large sums in military spending.

Of course, the defense department asked what would happen if you asked the CIA to make similar estimates of foreign intelligence services.

One thing that bugs me about this "hacking" debate is that, speaking about Facebook posts, we have no way to measure what impact that had in any way. None! I have not seen any correlation study, for instance, trying to figure out if people who had access to that content were in states that had unusual results or unusual turnout. Even if we had those, how in the planet are we supposed to prove correlation? Just like Obama said (before Trump was elected), we have a very decentralized system and our electorate is "influenced" by a myriad of sources. Why would a facebook post be the factor here when Hillary spent millions more in media in general???? might be a start. A database of 3M tweets from about 3K handles from Russia's Internet Research Agency, 400 full time employees. More important is the clear coordination (and manufacture) of the news cycle with both left and right wing trolls stepping activity up and down around the email leaks.

Even if we had those, how in the planet are we supposed to prove correlation?

So two questions I think you're hinting at here.

One is what would have happened in 2016 if there was no 'troll army' focused on a single agenda? Hillary would have won. The election was already razor thin therefore anything in one direction or the other was decisive. If a team wins the Superbowl by a single point, then obviously you can say any given field goal made that game. Of course, that's a bit too simple. If Trump didn't have the troll army, maybe he would have did other things. If Hillary wasn't bogged down with email nonesense, then perhaps she might have made an unforced error. If a field goal didn't happen in Q1, then maybe the team would have played a bit differently for the rest of the game.

Another is why should that matter? Consider Watergate. Nixon won in a landslide. If he had successfully stolen documents, playbooks, memos or what not from the DNC or bugged their offices without his henchmen getting caught it's hard to see how that could have caused him to have won by a larger margin. Yet despite that being pointless, he lost the Presidency because of it.

"One is what would have happened in 2016 if there was no 'troll army' focused on a single agenda? Hillary would have won." Well, just because you believe that it doesn't make it true. Hillary spent much, much more in all media and that did not get her enough votes. The fact that some Russian influence helped Trump (something btw that is very hard to prove) does not translate into "enough help to make him win". Razor thin is also subjective. It was razor thin in several states, so influence to one side or another could have changed everything. Without some sort of direct correlation (mapping people exposed to certain content to certain outcomes) this is purely speculation. That is all.
As far as comparing this to watergate, if there is proof that Trump enabled this interference I am all for it (it will be hilarious to see people's reactions to Pence). Up until now, no such proof exists.

Watergate was actually not as bad. There's no evidence that Nixon ever ordered the Watergate break-in and only got involved in the aftermath after the burglars were arrested. While there are theories that maybe Nixon did know about it beforehand and had reasons to directly order it, we have nothing like Nixon's son meeting with people promising to steal documents from the DNC or Nixon himself going on TV asking for 'someone' to break into the DNC and steal documents.

"Without some sort of direct correlation..." I don't think you have thought about what these words mean. Direct correlation? What is that exactly? Is there such a thing as an 'indirect correlation'?

Correlation simply means two different things happened together. Hillary lost by a razor thin margin therefore anything that helped Trump swung the election. Statement of fact. If you win the game by just one point then anything that cost the other guy a point or gained you a point won the game for you. Don't like that fact, then win by many points.

Now I was up front by the fact that saying something won/lost is not the same as saying if you could redo time the result would have been different. If the ref didn't make that bad call in Q1, both teams might have played differently in Q2-4 producing a different game.

What you demand, though, is absurd. What you mean to ask for is a demonstration of causation. Show X number of Tweets to a group and that generates Y votes and if Y votes were sufficient to make a combination of states that won Trump the election then that's it.

Such demonstrations are not possible. Let's say I know how many Tweets everyone saw and who they voted for and from that I get it takes 5,000 tweets to swing 1 vote. That's a sample size of 1 election. Next election it may take 50,000 tweets to swing a vote. Back in the day 100 banner ads used to convert to a click or sale. Now you have to show thousands to get a even a click. Absent a way to survey the multiverse, you're not going to get a trillion replays of the election to prove anything.

Nonetheless this constant refrain of 'it didn't matter' from Trump and his supporters is classic "methinks the lady doth protest too much". Grow up, 400 full time employees, millions of tweets, coordinated release of stolen information is a significant effort and it isn't comparable to running ads or phone bank. It would actually be illegal for a campaign to run such an operation absent an operation on foreign soil like Putin's Russia.

Boonton wants you to forget that his preferred candidate actually bought fake opposition research from Russian government sources (and gave it to the FBI to influence the election behind the scenes). Because that's worse than Watergate when a Republican tries to do it.

Beyond that, I love the argument that "This can't be proven, ergo any crazy thing I say must be true!"

"Boonton wants you to forget that his preferred candidate actually bought fake opposition research from Russian government sources"

So what? People by opposition research all the time. And the source of the research was British, not Russian (nice bait and switch there, the British guy was getting his info from Russian sources because he was collecting info on what Trump was doing in Russia...who exactly should someone investigating that go to?)

(and gave it to the FBI to influence the election behind the scenes)

So guy investigates Trump's problematic relationship with the Russians and turns over info to the FBI. Issue is? What exactly does 'influence the election behind the scenes' mean? Wouldn't influencing the election entail releasing the information to the public?

Let's get this straight, you think telling the FBI that the Russian gov't might have a 'pee tape' of Trump w/prostitutes (which has yet to be disproved BTW and does seem to fit with what we know of Trump's character) is 'behind the scenes influencing' of the election? It seems to me giving that info to Inside Edition would be much more effective in terms of election influence.

But this is all distracting from the point. Paying someone to collect nasty rumors about your opponent, some of which may be true or not and some may be coming from a foreign gov't is nothing like having someone break into your opponent's office and trying to steal their files...or trying to get stolen property after the fact.

I think there are exactly as many spies as I think there are

100,000 'spies' is a bit loose here. How many of these spies are simply reading and writing reports on publically available information? I suspect they are less James Bond and more like financial analysts studying companies for Wall Street firms.

They are not professional "spies" in the James Bond sense. They are sources of HUMINT that can include anyone with useful information: the doorman, hotel clerk, nurse, etc.

So does that mean when the US puts out fliers in Afghanistan that say "reward if you tell us where X is" and get 500 responses that counts as '500 spies'?

I don't how there are still people that don't believe that working as a spy is a real thing.

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