Secret agents! The very word conjures up mystery and intrigue. There is an
atmosphere of glamour and stealth behind this word which is synonymous with the
word 'spies'. But the harsh reality is that secret agents have existed since
immemorial time when men need to get information about something or someone for
their own ends. Three meanings are attached to the word 'secret agent': (1) a
person employed by a government to obtain secret information or intelligence
about another, usually hostile, (2) a person who keeps a close and secret watch
on the actions and words of another or others or (3) a person who seeks to
obtain confidential information about the activities, plans, method of an
organization or person. The usual association of a secret agent is one who works
for a big institution like a ,government or company. A private investigator does
spying but on a personal level for someone.
What are the actions associated
with spying? Government secret agents engage in the art of espionage. These are
people who engage in gathering intelligence or secret information about a party
in which their employer is interested in. The information is usually
confidential information about the character, plans, methods or activities of a
person or organization. The secret agent needs to operate
furtively and to observe stealthily. His identity or intentions
cannot be exposed, or his information or sources of such will abruptly cease.
Governments employ secret agents to obtain information about other countries
or parties. During the Cold War, there was much competition for military and
political supremacy between Russia and America. Russia had its much feared
intelligence service, the KGB, and the United States had its CIA network.
Dictatorial and communist regimes may also employ secret agents to keep an eye
on troublemakers and on citizens who voice out their opinions. After the
communist regime collapsed in East Germany, many citizens were surprised and
incensed at the amount of intelligence gathering or spying on citizens by the
secret service and its informers. This happened even in a democratic country
like America when the secret service files were declassified and open to public
The public perception of spying for one's country is that it is honorable.
However, during wartime, secret agents or spies who were caught were executed by
hostile countries. Governments, companies and individuals have long recognized
that information obtained by their secret agents gives them an edge over their
rivals. Spying was and has been a serious business. The advances in technology
have enabled information to be obtained more easily. Secret agents, of course,
need to be intelligent, brave, resourceful and discreet but they have a
plethora of aids and methods to help them.
Miniature cameras, telephone bugs, spy planes, satellites, surveillance cameras,
effective disguise aids, you just name them and the secret agents employ them.
The movie industry has glamorized the secret agent as an attractive figure.
In the popular James Bond secret agent series, the British hero is always one
step ahead of his enemies. At times, secret agents are betrayed by their enemies
who are secret agents themselves and posing as friends. The movies often portray
these as beautiful seductresses.
Secret agents have always been fascinating to the layman. Mata Hari, the
famous female secret agent, is known in spy folklore as the sensuous female spy.
In reality, she was a dancer and courtesan who was shot by the French on
charges of spying for Germany during the Second World War. The spy genre book
has been popularized by well-known writers like John Bunyan, John Le Carre and
Spy films never fail to attract audiences with their secret agents, beautiful
women, non-stop actions, stunts and technological gadgets. Even for children,
the successful blockbuster, 'Spykids', a light-hearted take on spying
whetted their appetite for secret agents.
Spy shops selling spy gear do good business. Recently, the American CIA cashed
in on the growing popularity for secret agents. T-shirts and underwear bore
their logo! Welcome to the world of secret agents !