024 | Spies

This episode, we discuss a brief history of spying, one of the oldest profession on earth! We try to dissect why people betray their country, and what happens when they do. Tune in, fellow travelers!

Sesame Street Moved to HBO: It’s a sad time when Sesame Street moves to Cable. I guess it’s just hipsters watching it inbetween episodes of Game of Thrones. 

Flynn Steps Down: It turns out that you just can’t talk to foreign officials without doing it through official channels. There’s actually a law about that, but either people have forgotten about it, or it’s just impossible to jail politicians. [1]

What’s the Point of Spying? The modern art of spying seems to be twofold: the procurment of weapon blueprints (or simply technology), and an assessment of the enemy’s fighting strength and combat readiness. 

The Problem with Spying: intelligence officers are incentivized to exagerate their reports in order for them to be paid attention to, giving a distorted idea of the situation. Money seems a primary motive, with secondary being ideological (disillusion with current government, need for balance in enemy strength).[2]

The Life as a Spy: Why do people become spies? There seems to be a lot of different reasons, but excitement and feeling special seems to be one on the main recruiting techniques. I wouldn’t be surprised if people with large egos are often selected due to these traits.[3]

Early History of Espionage: We’ve been spying on each other for quite some time, though not always for the same reasons. It goes back to biblical stories (Joshua and Caleb and the twelve spies when entering the Promised Land) Ancient Chinese and Indian texts from Sun-Tzu and Chanakya.[4]

The Birth of the Modern Spy: Modern techniques owe a lot to Francis Walshingham, Secretary of State fo Elizabeth I. Driven by Protestant zeal against Catholics (for fear of another Bartholomew's Day massacre), ended up with a wide net, used torture, and leveraged a cryptographer,[5] who worked on deciphering codes of those plotting against Elizabeth I.

The First Honey Trap, Mata Hari: Woman spy in WW1, executed in order to save France from crumbling over the Mutinee.(french army having mutineed in 1917 amid disasterous offensives and Russia’s revolution. Her severed head also went missing from the Musee d’Anatomy and has never been found.

Execution of the Rosenbergs: Americans were beginning to grow more fearful of their own creation, and it was becoming apparent that not every person working on the rushed project felt that it was morally justified for only one nation to posses such a device. In 2008, his sons claim that their father was guilty, but that their mother had been framed. [6] 

The Young Spy - Ted Hall: a 19 year old scientist working at the Alamo, decided to leak information about the bomb to the soviets because he felt that one nation who possessed such a weapon could use it to unleash untold evil on the world. 

American Traitors: So it turns out the 1985 were a pretty crazy time for spy games. Imagine 4 double agents being caught in a row? That’s gotta be scary.[12]

Richard Miller (first FBI agents to be arrested for espionage) who had just been excommunicated from Mormon church for having an affair. He was “Honey Potted” by an attractive Russian agent. 

John Anthony Walker: Navy officer who helped to sell Navy secrets. He had money issues (debts). He was able to provide the Key list (secret codes) so USSR was able for 18 years to know the precise deployment and orders of US Navy. Also helped the Vietnamese prepare for airstrikes. He recruited his broter and friend when he retired to continue the scam. And eventually his Son. He was eventually outted by his ex-wife[7]

Edward Lee Howard: CIA informant who revealed the identities of several Russian double agents in Moscow. Wanted revenge for not being given important CIA operation. 
Ronald Peltan: Codename "Mr. Long": An NSA spy. / revealed what spots were under heavy servailance. Had declared bankruptcy (only paid 24k a year), so he / Codename Ivy Bell (having tapped into the under sea com cable and has tapped into Soviet's undersea com cables. (cost 1 billion) [8]

The Next Generation of Turncoats 

Aldrich Aimes: Sometimes, the reasons why secrets get sold to another country is simply to impress a woman. That’s the case of Aimes, who was the CIA head of Russian Counter Intelligence. Had list of all the double agents working for KGB, which he gladly sold to buy his mistress more jewels and furs. [9] He utterly devastated the CIA’s ability to recruit more agents.


Robert Hanssen: Spied for the FBI for Russian Federation. Considered most destructive spy, spied for 20 years. Gave Russia their “Doomsday” plan (where president goes during disaster, or where CIA relocates, etc). Revealed satellite and the tunnel they had build in Russian embassy in Washington. Not about money but about EGO and prestige. Also, if you want to know what the records are for longest prisons sentences, some of these are pretty ridiculous. [10]  

Kim Jong Un Brother Killed by Poison Needles: There’s always interesting international intruigue going on. How about North Korea’s Kim Jong un, who is actively trying to take out the trash? [11]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/13/us/politics/donald-trump-national-security-adviser-michael-flynn.html?_r=0
[2] https://vimeo.com/91782594
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/11/thought-smarter-everybody-kgb-spy-jack-barsky
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espionage
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Phelippes
[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/22/AR2008092202622.html
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Anthony_Walker
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_Pelton
[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aldrich_Ames
[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_longest_prison_sentences
[11] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/north-korean-leaders-half-brother-killed-by-poison-in-malaysia-reports-claim/2017/02/14/7324f8c6-f2af-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.14f9c2d2cb37
[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfi8FIh7tsU