Lawfare – How Do You Spy When the World Is Shut Down?

Empty square in Milan during coronavirus lockdown.
Empty square in Milan during coronavirus lockdown. (Flickr/Alberto Trentanni,; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,


The novel coronavirus presents significant challenges to the mission and operations of every government agency and department—and the Central Intelligence Agency is no exception. In fact, the agency’s intelligence officers now face a more difficult challenge than ever when it comes to their efforts to recruit spies.

Normal techniques don’t work under the unique circumstances created by the virus. Bumping up against disaffected foreign diplomats or disgruntled terrorists? Difficult when virtually all public events have been canceled. Developing a relationship of trust with a potential intelligence asset? Far from a cakewalk when lengthy face-to-face meetings are a nonstarter. Conducting surveillance detection before meeting with a recruited asset or gathering material from an asset’s dead drop full of secret material? Good luck avoiding attention from local law enforcement and counterintelligence when the streets are otherwise empty. And don’t even try to pull off a brush pass when social distancing demands at least six feet of physical separation.