Spies and journalists, journalists and spies: Is there a difference? Tightly embraced, the two disciplines historically played off each other in the search for foreign news and information.
Sometimes there were no degrees of separation. U.S. agencies used journalists as covert agents until the reforms of the Vietnam era. As a Congressional committee reported in the early 1970’s, “Full-time correspondents for major U.S. publications have worked concurrently for the CIA, passing along information received in the normal course of their regular jobs and even, on occasion, traveling to otherwise non-newsworthy areas to acquire data.”
The agency also had stringers and other freelancers who collected information and rumors and planted stories in foreign media that were fed into the international news traffic and sometimes appeared in U.S. print and electronic outlets.
Of course, the rationale was, “everyone does it.” The British certainly did. Kim Philby, the most notorious double agent in modern times, was placed in Beirut by British intelligence as correspondent for three icons of the London media, The Times, The Economist, and The Observer. He ran to Moscow with the wife of an American colleague after London finally discovered his higher allegiance.
Still, the grand champions at mixing the two trades were the Russians with their ubiquitous KGB and GRU, the military intelligence arm. In this new, encyclopedic book about Soviet spies, one of the authors, Alexander Vassiliev describes how he was recruited for the American division of the KGB.