Modern tradecraft moves in parallel with cyber operations

A free wireless network at Starbucks might be the medium for passing along intelligence.

The demands on today’s clandestine assets require unique training, education, and skill sets that must be continuously refreshed in order to stay up-to-date with the latest tradecraft, especially when it comes to cyber operations.

A common misunderstanding is that the skill set and operational domain of today’s spy resides in the physical world. Another misconception is that the operational environment of today’s cyber spies  is confined to an office cubicle seated in front of a computer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is the cyber side and the traditional operational environment of the spy intersect.

It is difficult to think of a situation where tradecraft practices do not interact with a cyber component. The requirement is that spies must have cyber skills and maintain those skills.

Today, most if not all field assets operating on the clandestine side routinely leverage digital tradecraft. Some of the individuals I have worked with over the years say it is not uncommon for meetings to pass intelligence to individuals tied to three-letter agencies in public places like McDonalds or Starbucks. One individual remarked that even the best spy thrillers barely come close to portraying the digital tradecraft that is currently being practiced.

For example, consider the FBI announcement about the Russian spy ring that was taken down back in 2010. The ring was described as "long-term, deep cover" operation, 10 spies in total that operated for decades. This covert group leveraged modern digital tradecraft with unconfirmed reports of a digital brush-pass – a version of the physical transfer of messages commonly seen in spy thrillers.

The Russian spies exchanged information via a free wireless network at the Times Square Starbucks as well as other locations. Consider that the next time you are at Starbucks ordering your favorite grande latte!

So, again, it’s clear that the growing importance of cyber operations moves in parallel with modern tradecraft.