When you think of the high stakes world of espionage, it probably conjures thoughts of high-tech stake outs, under cover missions to diplomatic events and the occasional interrogation. Not something that equates to buying a phonebook.
Unfortunately, foreign intelligence services in Estonia have revealed in their annual report that Russia gains intel on U.S. persons of interest by ordering publicly available directories.
These congressional phonebooks contain the names, job descriptions, email addresses and phone numbers of both federal government and congressional employees. They are made available by local provider U.S. Leadership Connect.
“The Russians have always taken advantage of the relative openness of societies in the West,” said former CIA officer Robert Dannenberg. He added that Russia uses the intel “mostly for targeting purposes but also to fill holes in collection.”
While it’s unnerving to hear that Russian agents can so readily acquire such information, many officials admit that it isn’t surprising.
Thomas Rid is a professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He claims “there’s a long track record of Soviet intelligence using publicly available records, but not easily available, for espionage and active measures.” He also added that, “it’s an old joke in intelligence history circles that the best reports that Soviet spies would write would copy reports from the New York Times and the Washington Post.”