Covid shut the door on spies – and opened another

World

Covid shut the door on spies – and opened another

This is how the pandemic and its restrictions on movement have affected the intelligence community

Charles Cumming

With November’s release of No Time to Die, the latest Bond film, and rumours of Tom Hardy taking over the 007 role when Daniel Craig finally hangs up his Walther PPK, it’s worth pointing out that – in the real world, at least – there has rarely been a more challenging time to be an international spy.

Why? Because Covid-19 has shaken up the world’s spooks as vigorously as one of James Bond’s vodka martinis. For the past two decades, spying have been undergoing a period of profound change. The advent of the smartphone has meant individuals can be tracked, traced and listened to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The boffins at HQ can read our private e-mails, intercept encrypted text messages and map our every movement via satellite and CCTV.

Modern intelligence services have access to our most sensitive personal data, from medical records to banking transactions. At the same time, huge amounts of personal information are available via social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These myriad technological advances were already making life extraordinarily difficult for spies operating in the field, who have to travel using false identities. But into this brave new world comes a challenge of a very different sort: coronavirus...

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