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Perhaps no occupation so well reflects the human condition as
espionage.

Whether on the corporate, national, or individual
level, woven into the fiber of the spy’s existence are both
loyalty and treachery; mankind’s loftiest ideals pitted against
the background of dark depravity we so often exhibit in a fallen,
broken world.

We live in a place where human beings are forever
seeking advantage over one another — for both the most noble and
ignoble of reasons. Perhaps that is why we find espionage so
intriguing whenever the drama momentarily surfaces from the dark,
shadowy underworld that it inhabits, where it lives so
conveniently hidden from our view, yet woven so inexorably into
the fabric of the human soul.

Who among us has never heard a conversation not intended for our
ears, or witnessed a glance or a touch between friends or lovers
that revealed so much more than they wanted the world to know?
Has anyone of us never stumbled across an open diary, discovered
an old, musty letter tucked away in a bureau drawer, or found a
tiny scrap of paper — with an initial and an address — but
nothing else? Fleeting glimpses into the secret soul of another.
The power to hurt or help, to wound or to heal; raw power over
the hopes and dreams of another. Secret power. The god-like power
to come from seemingly nowhere; to strike without warning in a
world our enemies believed was safe and secure.

To enter the world of espionage is to forever leave behind
childhood views of the world; our illusions about the innate
goodness of mankind; our doubts regarding the existence of evil.
Even in the full light of day it is a dark, shadowy world. No one
can really be trusted, no motives go unquestioned. It is a world
where the truth does not set you free — because the truth can
never be told. For in the act of telling, secret truth itself
dies.

Invariably, as a spy drama unfolds, the surrounding audience is
surprised — even shocked! “But he was such a nice man. …” And
yet there is the radio, the software discs, the codes, the secret
bank account, the life no one knew existed, save the one with
whom it was lived. The neatly ordered, carefully
compartmentalized life of the spy.

But while it is the human agent who draws our attention,
espionage, like much of the rest of life, has grown increasingly
technological.

Machines ask no embarrassing questions. They do
not have divided loyalties, nagging spouses, children to provide
for, retirement to worry about. They simply do their job, report
what they have seen or heard, and make no judgments about their
work. They float above us in space, live in the vulnerable points
of our high-tech world where data gathers together, and inhabit
the world of work and play. Like an ear at the door, they search
for the errant phrase, the telling word, then whisper their
findings to their human masters.

We sift and hone and refine their recorded phrases, add our thoughts, piece them together and construct our enemies. They do the same for us. Then we hide this
truth from all but the chosen few, for — if it were known — it
too could be used against us.

We on the outside, of course, know even less. Was the collision
between the U.S. Navy EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese
fighter an accident? Has the Navy been asked to contribute
another Pueblo? Was it a calculated Chinese effort to force a
landing in enemy territory and have a look at the tools of the
trade inside the U.S. plane? Were the aircraft flying in
international airspace — or encroaching on Chinese airspace? Was
the equipment photographed on the Chinese tarmac next to the
plane ours — or theirs — and merely displayed for show? Did the
crew have time to dispose of their computer discs and codes,
perhaps even jettison some especially sensitive equipment — or
were these things overlooked in the scramble for survival in a
crowded, crippled aircraft?

Were the Chinese confirming what they already knew from other sources — or making a bold bid for new knowledge about the envied and despised rival that reaches
across the ocean to stand between them and Taiwan? Are the
officials on either side informed and honest when they speak to
us? Or are they talking to each other through our press –
playing the dark game of deceit in the full light of day? Are the
papers reporting what they know — or holding back, for a better
deal later?

Our young servicemen and women know very little about this murky
underworld, of course. They are technicians, operating the
equipment that collects the data. They fly the route they are
given, study the messenger and hope that everyone follows the
well-established rules for military and diplomatic spying worked
out over decades with the Russians. Which of course, not being
the Russians, the Chinese in the end failed to do.

Largely because of the efforts of these people, you and I do not
need to live in the murky underworld inhabited by our spies. We
have the luxury of free-association, which is a fancy way of
saying that we can choose as our companions people of clarity,
brilliance, insight, vision, wisdom, truth and integrity –
provided we, too, are willing to pay the price for entrance into
their world. America — even as broken and crippled and fallen as
it is — still has many enemies who would see it groveling at
their feet. The spies make the sacrifices of which we rarely
hear, to insure that our enemies’ visions remain but a dream.

Give them, therefore, the honor they are due — but do not envy
them their secret knowledge.

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