Should a country collect secret information on its own allies?


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The International Security Observer (ISO) is a web-based think tank on international security and defence affairs. It was created in September 2011 in order to foster the next generation of security experts by encouraging discussions on strategic issues among junior and senior analysts. ISO’s strength lies within its worldwide network of volunteer contributors, who come from different cultural backgrounds and disciplines. So far, ISO has hosted thoughts, insights and articles from more than 50 contributors from Europe, the U.S. and Asia.


  1. Jose Rene Medina on

    Countries doesn´t have friends or enemies, only have eternal interests……any goverment in the world has a tool called strategic intelligence, that is commited to the goal of give accurate information of the strenghs and weakness of neighbors, also provides information about the trends and intentions of friends and foes alike…to get this information is something that every country has done since nations has been in existence, the trick is to play dumb and pretend that you´re not doing (As Government) what you must do to know what´s going on in your neighborhood, and tangle the other fellow in his effort to know about what´s happening with you, and don´t be caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

  2. David Shenton

    Designer of unique covert surveillance products since 1986

    History tells us that they always have, (Spied on friends and allies) and in doing so, were often fed what they wanted to hear, rather than anything of value.

  3. Yes, absolutely. Trust but verify. As the legal representatives of a nation of people, governments have a fiduciary duty to first serve its citizenry and their interersts. To do that effectively, and build a coherent foriegn policy, leaders need accurate and timely information on all parties involved – be they friend or foe.

  4. To quote a recent article in The Economist:
    “A stream of former security officials has already appeared on the airwaves or in print to claim that there is nothing to be surprised at. Bernard Squarcini, formerly France’s counter-intelligence chief, told Le Figaro that he was “amazed by such disconcerting naïveté. You would almost think our politicians don’t bother to read the reports they get from the intelligence services.” He added: “All countries, even when they co-operate on counter-terrorism, spy on their allies.” Nearly two-thirds of respondents in a recent poll agreed.”

    I couldn’t agree more, is it so shocking that a country would collect information on a foreign state, friendly or no? I really do think that naivety is prevailing here.

    • I agree with Andy. The act itself is not new, spying existed before the nation-state became the norm. Empires spied on empires, ect. I think the debate revolves around to what extent can nations spy on each other. There has to be self-imposed barriers, lines that are not to be crossed. Should the phone of a friendly nation’s leader be tapped? Probably not. Would you want to try to get as close as possible to tapping that nation’s defense or intelligence heads…probably…but how close? No one will share everything, friendly or not. But that should be ok. That’s what intelligence is: trying to develop informed analysis based on the information that can be collected.

  5. Fabrizio Gualdesi on

    In my view, it has always happened and it will always happen. Either you call it “Espionage” (as the old school does) or secret intelligence (as the new school does) the substance is the same and it’s part of International Relations since their inception. It lies in the nature of IR in general. The only difference is that with the level of media coverage nowadays, it’s much easier to “be caught” in doing something which can be considered illegal then it was 50 years ago or more.

  6. Giuseppe Fiore on

    This is such a nuanced subject. I don’t know the (right) answer to that question but I do believe this. Freedom is not free. It always demands actions by free people to defend it and preserve it. Morally it is not correct but the problem lies in the world not working on a moral code but on realpolitik.

  7. If they arent a part of the Five eyes group of countries, ie people we really trust to watch our backs then yes, we need to know the thinking before we get to meetings in Brussels so we can arrive arme

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