Spies learn new tricks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 March, 2001, 12:00am

One minor by-product of the Cold War's end was a concern about whether the spymasters of the literary world would have to find a new line of work. No one need have worried. As yesterday's news from Washington proves once again, espionage remains a healthy industry, and apparently one with continued growth prospects.

The US Government is expelling 50 alleged Russian spies in its largest forced exodus of espionage agents since throwing out 80 Russians in 1986. Moscow is expected to retaliate with similar expulsions of Americans, at least some of whom really will be bona fide employees of the Central Intelligence Agency.

But if spying continues as a vigorous business, its nature has changed significantly since the Soviet Union collapsed more than a decade ago. These days, according to the experts, there is more industrial espionage than ever before as a wide variety of nations try to steal business and technology secrets from each other.

The US is a leading target. American officials have said at least 23 nations spy on American companies and research labs for secrets which their own national companies might use. Among them are agents from Russia, China, Israel, France, Germany and Japan, it is claimed.

Former CIA director James Woolsey insists the US doesn't play this particular game, but does seek such economic information as whether US companies lose contracts because their rivals pay bribes.

And he advises business travellers: leaving behind a briefcase with sensitive material when going out to dinner means 'you should have your head examined'.