Spying - A Matter of Purse, Not Principle - Y Magazine
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Spying – A Matter of Purse, Not Principle

By Kim Howey

In one of the first publicly-available studies on spying, a BYU professor and graduate student discovered the changing motivations of people who become spies and betray their nation’s confidence.

Stanley A. Taylor, professor of political science, and Daniel Snow, an international relations student at the time, compiled a study showing that in recent decades, money has surpassed ideology as the primary reason for spying.

“This study is an attempt to help understand why spying was going on in the past and the motivations that have driven it,” Taylor says. “We observed the changing nature, the changing motivation of American traitors.”

Taylor notes that during World War II and the early Cold War, motivation was primarily ideological, but monetary motivation began to take over by the 1960’s. “A lot of Americans by 1960 were aware of the evils of communism. They had seen the horrors of Stalin. They weren’t quite as fooled by communism as were some of those who started spying in the 1930s and ’40s and through the war.” Additionally, the Soviet Union was America’s ally through World War II, and spies typically found it easier to justify spying for an ally. Then the Soviet Union became our Cold War enemy, and ideological reasons faded into monetary motivators. “I suspect, too, that society has just become more materialistic,” Taylor says.

Money and ideology were among the four recurring dominant motivators that surfaced in Taylor and Snow’s research. Disgruntlement and ingratiation were the other two. Monetary gain, appearing in 55.4 percent of cases since 1940, has increased dramatically since 1960. Ideology, on the other hand, is the primary motive in 23.7 percent of cases but has dropped dramatically since the famous atomic spy cases of the early 1950s. Disgruntlement–a sense of personal dissatisfaction from feeling unappreciated–is the only other motivator that is increasing, although it accounts for only 2.9 percent of cases. Ingratiation–betraying information to fulfill friendship or love obligations–accounts for 5.8 percent of cases and has declined in importance.

Snow cites the 1994 case of Aldrich H. Ames as an example of money as the motivator. An employee of the CIA, Ames received $2.5 million from the Soviet Union to reveal the names of Soviet and U.S. agents who were spying for the United States–all of whom were put to death. “He didn’t just spy for the Soviet Union,” says Snow, now an MBA student at BYU. “He spied for Russia. So after the fall of the Soviet Union, it’s Russia–this kinder, gentler Russia–that is still very actively spying on the United States. People aren’t spying for ideology anymore because there’s not really any ideology there to spy for. It’s just money.”

Spying for Ideology

“People aren’t spying for ideology anymore because there’s not really any ideology there to spy for. It’s just money.” – Daniel Snow

Taylor and Snow, Taylor’s research assistant at the time, began their analysis in fall 1996. Searching through books, magazine articles, newspaper articles, and government publications, they found 139 people who had been officially charged with spying since the 1940s. They then assessed 40 variables associated with treason, such as date of birth, date of arrest, personal habits, sexual preferences, and recruitment methods.

“Current counterintelligence profiles must pay more attention to the kinds of motivations we have discussed,” Taylor and Snow state in their article’s conclusion.

“The government could use this information to understand what they ought to be screening for,” Snow says. “It would help if they knew what kind of person to look for. If the spy is ideological, the government might start looking for people who were involved in communist groups in college. If the spy is money-oriented, they would look for people who started driving a Jaguar even though they’re only making $50,000 a year.”

In addition to finding motive correlations, the study documents how the spies were caught and prosecuted. According to Taylor, many spies, although not numbered, were known by the U.S. government but were not prosecuted for fear that prosecution procedures would reveal sensitive information to the general public through open court proceedings.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), however, established standards for the electronic surveillance of foreign powers and their agents, which were then used in a closed U.S. court to protect security and intelligence information. Spearheaded and cowritten by Taylor, FISA passed Congress in 1978. Taylor was one of two principle senior staff members for the Senate Intelligence Committee involved in conducting investigations and writing legislation. As a result of FISA, the 1980s were dubbed “The Decade of the Spy,” with more spies prosecuted than ever before.

The results of the BYU study were published in the Journal of Intelligence and National Security, the top journal in the field, making the study one of the few studies on spies available to the general public.

“Beyond the well-known cases, often little exists except one or two short newspaper articles on specific traitors. And as a category, very little has been written about Americans who have betrayed their government and revealed classified information to other states,” the researchers state in the introduction to the article.

Little information about spies as a category has been compiled because of the classified nature of much of the information. Only two known closed-source studies of similar treason issues have been compiled–both by the CIA–which include classified information unavailable to the general public.

“Spying is still a really important issue, and I think we’re going to start finding that a lot of countries we don’t traditionally think of as spying on us are pretty involved in it,” Snow says. Their study reports that in the last 15 years, France, Israel, Japan, Germany, and South Korea have actively gathered classified information about the United States.

“There’s no doubt that spies affect policy, lives, and the world,” Snow says.