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Spy Equipment and Espionage

Adrian Mudd   June 9, 2008

Espionage is widely thought to be a thing of the past – belonging in the history books of World War Two and the Cold War – but spy equipment is still used and in demand.


One of the major areas MI5 is responsible for alongside protecting the country from terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and security advice is espionage. Spy equipment is becoming more and more advanced, such asĀ hidden spy cameras and listening devices as technology moves swiftly into a new era of communications. Preventing damage to the UK from foreign espionage and other covert foreign state activity is a key element in national security.

So why is there still a threat from espionage? Spy equipment developed during the Cold War, but after the collapse of Soviet communism, the threat of espionage still remained. Several countries are using espionage to obtain information to advance military and political programmes.

Spy Surveillance

Spy equipment and counter surveillance is also used in the UK where the most serious threat comes from Al Qaida networks, but there is also a continued threat from Northern-Ireland related terrorism.

Since the advancement of technology, spy equipment and espionage activity has moved to accommodate high-tech areas including:

  • New communications technologies
  • IT and electronics
  • Genetics
  • Aviation
  • Lasers and optics

MI5 state on their website that there are an estimated 20 foreign intelligence services operating against UK interests – the Russians and Chinese being the gravest concern. Intelligent officers from Russia are still in operation in London using spy equipment and surveillance.

Alexander Litvinenko

The recent case of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security officer who died in London after being poisoned by radioactive polonium-210, brought to the public’s attention the fact that spies and spy equipment are still big news.

The Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure provides information on how to protect businesses and organisations against the threat of espionage. Many companies that have high-security risks or sensitive materials deploy surveillance and spy equipment to protect their premises and information.

Private lives

However, there are a lot of myths surrounding the work of espionage and secret services. MI5 has stated they do not use spy equipment to monitor the private lives of high profile people – but only investigate individuals whose activities fall under the statutory remit of the Security Service Act 1989.