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For the UK fair trade organisation, see Traidcraft.

Tradecraft, within the intelligence community, refers to the techniques used in modern espionage and generally, the activity of intelligence. This includes general topics or techniques (dead drops, for example), or the specific techniques of a nation or organization (the particular form of encryption used by the NSA, for example).

Intelligence technology and techniques[edit]

  • Agent handling is the management of agents, principal agents, and agent networks (called "assets") by intelligence officers typically known as case officers
  • Analytic tradecraft is the body of specific methods for intelligence analysis
  • Black bag operations are covert or clandestine entries into structures to obtain information for human intelligence operations. This requires breaking and entering, lock picking, safe cracking, key impressions, fingerprinting, photography, electronic surveillance (including audio and video surveillance), mail manipulation (flaps and seals), forgery, and a host of other related skills
  • Concealment devices are used to hide things for the purpose of secrecy or security. Examples in espionage include dead drop spikes for transferring items to other people, and hollowed-out coins or teeth for concealing suicide pills.
  • Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties (called adversaries).[1] More generally, it is about constructing and analyzing protocols that block adversaries
  • A cut-out is a mutually trusted intermediary, method or channel of communication, facilitating the exchange of information between agents. Cutouts usually only know the source and destination of the information to be transmitted, but are unaware of the identities of any other persons involved in the espionage process. Thus, a captured cutout cannot be used to identify members of an espionage cell.
  • A dead drop or "dead letter box" is a method of espionage tradecraft used to pass items between two individuals using a secret location and thus does not require them to meet directly. Using a dead drop permits a case officer and agent to exchange objects and information while maintaining operational security. The method stands in contrast to the 'live drop', so called because two persons meet to exchange items or information.
  • "Drycleaning" is a countersurveillance technique for discerning how many "tails" one is being followed by, and by moving about, seemingly oblivious to being tailed, perhaps losing some of those doing surveillance.[2]
  • Eavesdropping is secretly listening to the private conversation of others without their consent, typically using a hidden microphone
  • False flag operations is a covert military or paramilitary operations designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by entities, groups, or nations other than those who actually planned and executed them. Operations carried out during peace-time by civilian organizations, as well as covert government agencies, may by extension be called false flag.
  • A front organization is any entity set up by and controlled by another organization, such as intelligence agencies. Front organizations can act for the parent group without the actions being attributed to the parent group.
  • A honey trap is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person and encourage them to divulge information during or after a sexual encounter
  • Internet police is a generic term for police and secret police departments and other organizations in charge of policing Internet in a number of countries. The major purposes of Internet police, depending on the state, are fighting cybercrime, as well as censorship, propaganda, and monitoring and manipulating the online public opinion.
  • Interrogation is a type of interviewing commonly employed by officers of the police, military, and intelligence agencies with the goal of eliciting useful information. Interrogation may involve a diverse array of techniques, ranging from developing a rapport with the subject, to outright torture.
  • A legend refers to a person with a well-prepared synthetic identity (cover background) who may attempt to infiltrate a target organization, as opposed to recruiting a pre-existing employee whose knowledge can be exploited.
  • A one-time pad is an encryption technique that cannot be cracked if used correctly. In this technique, a plaintext is paired with random, secret key (or pad).
  • One-way voice link is typically a radio based communication method used by spy networks to communicate with agents in the field typically (but not exclusively) using shortwave radio frequencies. Shortwave frequencies were and are generally highly preferred for their long range, as a communications link of 1200 km is easily possible. VHF and UHF frequencies can be used for one way voice circuits, but are generally not preferred as their range is at best 300 km (on flat terrain). Since the 1970s infrared point to point communication systems have been used that offer one way voice links, but the number of users was always limited.
  • Steganography is the art or practice of concealing a message, image, or file within another message, image, or file. Generally, the hidden message will appear to be (or be part of) something else: images, articles, shopping lists, or some other cover text. For example, the hidden message may be in invisible ink between the visible lines of a private letter.[3] The advantage of steganography over cryptography alone is that the intended secret message does not attract attention to itself as an object of scrutiny. Plainly visible encrypted messages — no matter how unbreakable — will arouse interest, and may in themselves be incriminating in countries where encryption is illegal.[4]
  • Surveillance is the monitoring of the behavior, activities, or other changing information, usually of people for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting them.[2] This can include observation from a distance by means of electronic equipment (such as CCTV cameras), or interception of electronically transmitted information (such as Internet traffic or phone calls); and it can include simple, relatively no- or low-technology methods such as human intelligence agents and postal interception. The word surveillance comes from a French phrase for "watching over" ("sur" means "from above" and "veiller" means "to watch").
  • TEMPEST is a National Security Agency specification and NATO certification[5][6] referring to spying on information systems through leaking emanations, including unintentional radio or electrical signals, sounds, and vibrations. TEMPEST covers both methods to spy upon others and also how to shield equipment against such spying. The protection efforts are also known as emission security (EMSEC), which is a subset of communications security (COMSEC).[7][8]

In popular culture[edit]

In the books of such authors as Grant Blackwood, Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming, and John le Carré characters frequently engage in tradecraft, e.g., making or retrieving from dead drops, dry cleaning, and wiring, using, or sweeping for intelligence gathering devices, such as cameras or microphones hidden in the subjects' quarters, vehicles, clothing, or accessories.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rivest, Ronald L. (1990). "Cryptology". In J. Van Leeuwen. Handbook of Theoretical Computer Science 1. Elsevier. 
  2. ^ Grant Blackwood & James Patterson (Editor) (2006). "Sacrificial Lion". Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night. 
  3. ^ Fridrich, Jessica; M. Goljan; D. Soukal (2004). "Searching for the Stego Key" (PDF). Proc. SPIE, Electronic Imaging, Security, Steganography, and Watermarking of Multimedia Contents VI 5306: 70–82. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  4. ^ Pahati, OJ (2001-11-29). "Confounding Carnivore: How to Protect Your Online Privacy". AlterNet. Archived from the original on 2007-07-16. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  5. ^ Product Delivery Order Requirements Package Checklist (PDF), US Air Force 
  6. ^ TEMPEST Equipment Selection Process, NATO Information Assurance, 1981 
  7. ^
  8. ^

External links[edit]