Outing Spooks: “Doxing” in the Cyber-Hack Era

Revealing the identities of intelligence officials – a practice known as doxing – could become more common among nation-states, directed in particular at the clandestine cyber-spies who operate overseas. Doing so undermines an unspoken norm of confidentiality among even adversarial intelligence services – where they allow each other to operate intelligence networks in their country, within limits. It also opens individuals and their families up to violent acts by non-state actors such as terrorists and criminal groups as well as retribution by on-looking governments.

  • Spies have long relied on a level of anonymity or cover to operate effectively and safely in foreign lands under the watchful eyes of host-nation counterintelligence units and paranoid terrorist and criminal organizations. Should their identities become known, their country could face political blowback and they themselves could be confronted with prison or even violence.
  • For example, Philip Agee, a disgruntled former CIA officer, allegedly revealed the identity of over 1,000 CIA officers during the 1970s in an attempt to undermine the ability of U.S. intelligence to operate clandestinely overseas. In the September 1974 issue of the magazine CounterSpy, Agee publicly identified Richard Welch as the CIA station chief in Athens, leading to the publication of his home address and phone number. A year later, Welch was assassinated by a Greek terrorist group, prompting Congress to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, criminalizing the intentional, unauthorized disclosure of information identifying a U.S. covert agent.

Todd Rosenblum, Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs

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