Motives for spying
There are many suggested motives for spying that an individual may have. In general, espionage
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

 carries heavy penalties, with spies often being regarded as traitors
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

, and so motivating factors must usually be quite large.

There have been various attempts to explain why people become spies. One common theory is summed up by the acronym "MICE", which stands for "Money, Ideology, Compromise or Coercion (depending on source), and Ego" or Extortion (depending on source). Other explanations have stressed the role of disaffection and grudges, or of personal links.


For many spies, the primary motivating factor is the prospect of financial gain. Spies may simply seek to supplement whatever income they already receive, or may be driven to spy due to financial difficulties. Sometimes, these spies are detected due to extravagant spending of the money they receive. Adeel Aakash and John Anthony Walker
John Anthony Walker
John Anthony Walker, Jr. is a former United States Navy Chief Warrant Officer and communications specialist convicted of spying for the Soviet Union from 1968 to 1985, at the height of the Cold War...

 are examples of spies who worked for money.

Ideology, patriotism, or religion

Sometimes, a person will become a spy simply because of their beliefs. These can include their political opinions, their national allegiances, or their cultural or religious beliefs. This was particularly true during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, when many spies were motivated by support for the ideological positions of either the Western world or the Communist
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 bloc. Examples of spies with ideological motivations include Kim Philby
Kim Philby
Harold Adrian Russell "Kim" Philby was a high-ranking member of British intelligence who worked as a spy for and later defected to the Soviet Union...

 and Klaus Fuchs
Klaus Fuchs
Klaus Emil Julius Fuchs was a German theoretical physicist and atomic spy who in 1950 was convicted of supplying information from the American, British and Canadian atomic bomb research to the USSR during and shortly after World War II...

 (communist), Fritz Kolbe
Fritz Kolbe
Fritz Kolbe was a German diplomat who became America's most important spy against the Nazis in World War II.-Career:Fritz Kolbe was born in Berlin...

 and Juan Pujol
Juan Pujol (alias Garbo)
Joan Pujol Garcia , also known as Juan Pujol García , MBE , was a double agent during the Second World War who was known by the British codename Garbo and the German codename Arabel...

 (anti-Nazi), Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale
Nathan Hale was a soldier for the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He volunteered for an intelligence-gathering mission in New York City but was captured by the British...

 (pro-American independence), Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Harriet Ross; (1820 – 1913) was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and Union spy during the American Civil War. After escaping from slavery, into which she was born, she made thirteen missions to rescue more than 70 slaves...

 (anti-slavery), Ana Montes
Ana Montes
Ana Belen Montes is a former senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the United States. On September 21, 2001, she was arrested and subsequently charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage for the government of Cuba...



Not all spies enter into service willingly—sometimes, a person can be threatened into providing secret information to another country.

Threats of injury or death are the most direct form of coercion. For example, Mathilde Carré
Mathilde Carré
Mathilde Carré , known as "La Chatte", was a French Resistance agent during World War II who turned double agent....

, a member of the French Resistance
French Resistance
The French Resistance is the name used to denote the collection of French resistance movements that fought against the Nazi German occupation of France and against the collaborationist Vichy régime during World War II...

, was captured by the Nazis and threatened with torture unless she became a double agent
Double agent
A double agent, commonly abbreviated referral of double secret agent, is a counterintelligence term used to designate an employee of a secret service or organization, whose primary aim is to spy on the target organization, but who in fact is a member of that same target organization oneself. They...

. Threats can also be made against family or friends of the target—Svetlana Tumanova was told by the KGB
The KGB was the commonly used acronym for the . It was the national security agency of the Soviet Union from 1954 until 1991, and was the premier internal security, intelligence, and secret police organization during that time.The State Security Agency of the Republic of Belarus currently uses the...

 that her family in the Soviet Union would be harmed if she did not co-operate, and Ronald Humphrey said that he had helped North Vietnam
North Vietnam
The Democratic Republic of Vietnam , was a communist state that ruled the northern half of Vietnam from 1954 until 1976 following the Geneva Conference and laid claim to all of Vietnam from 1945 to 1954 during the First Indochina War, during which they controlled pockets of territory throughout...

 in order to obtain the release of his Vietnamese wife.

A more subtle form of coercion is blackmail
In common usage, blackmail is a crime involving threats to reveal substantially true or false information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand is met. It may be defined as coercion involving threats of physical harm, threat of criminal prosecution, or threats...

, with a government threatening to release embarrassing information about a person's activities unless that person provides them with secret information. A wide range of material can be used for blackmail—extramarital affairs, homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

, and undiscovered crime
Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

s have all been used for this purpose. John Vassall
John Vassall
William John Christopher Vassall was a British civil servant who, under pressure of blackmail, spied for the Soviet Union....

 and Alfred Redl
Alfred Redl
Alfred Redl was an Austrian officer who rose to head the counter-intelligence efforts of Austria-Hungary. He was one of the leading figures of pre-World War I espionage. His term in office was marked by innovation, and he used very high technology for the time to ensnare foreign intelligence...

, who were threatened with revelations about their homosexuality, are both example of this type of spy. Sometimes, traps of this sort may be laid especially to collect blackmail material—Vassal was almost certainly set up, as was Clayton Lonetree
Clayton J. Lonetree
Clayton J. Lonetree is a member of the Navajo Nation who served nine years in prison for espionage. During the early 1980s, Lonetree was a Marine Corps Security Guard stationed at the Embassy of the United States in Moscow....

, who was blackmailed after an affair with a Soviet agent. William Sebold
William G. Sebold
William G. Sebold , born Wilhelm Georg Debrowski in Mülheim, Germany, was a German spy in the United States during World War II, who became a double agent for the FBI.-Early life:...

, a German-born American, was threatened by the Nazis with revelations that he lied in order to immigrate. Sebold, however, quickly betrayed the Nazis, indicating a major problem with the use of coercion—the target has no real loyalty to their blackmailers, and will turn on them when possible.


The role of ego and pride
Pride is an inwardly directed emotion that carries two common meanings. With a negative connotation, pride refers to an inflated sense of one's personal status or accomplishments, often used synonymously with hubris...

 in motivating spies has occasionally been observed, but is often hard to demonstrate. In some situations, a person can be enticed to spy by the sense of importance or significance which it gives them—they cease to be simply a minor functionary, and are having a substantial, albeit covert, impact. This motivation often involves the target gaining a sense of superiority over his or her colleagues, whom he or she is outwitting. Furthermore, in rare cases a spy may even be motivated by the excitement of tradecraft alone.

It is possible, although hard to observe and demonstrate, that excitement and thrills play a part in the decisions of some spies. This is particularly true if they are bored with their life. Excitement is seldom the primary motivation of a spy, but may be a contributing factor. One notable example of a spy motivated primarily by excitement, however, is Christopher Cooke, who claimed to be fascinated with espionage, and who told investigators that he specifically sought to involve himself in spycraft for that reason.

Robert Hanssen
Robert Hanssen
Robert Philip Hanssen is a former American FBI agent who spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States for 22 years from 1979 to 2001...

 is another example of someone who, though paid handsomely, decided to spy due to arrogance.

Disaffection and grudges

On some occasions, a spy is motivated largely by personal, non-ideological hostility towards the country or organisation that they are spying on. This may stem from some real or imagined wrong—a person may, for example, betray secrets to the enemy if they feel that they have not been given sufficient recognition, or they have been treated badly. Liu Liankun
Liu Liankun
Liu Liankun , was a Major General in the People's Liberation Army who provided the Republic of China in Taiwan with secret intelligence about the status of missiles from the People's Republic of China...

, a general in the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

, is believed to have begun spying for Taiwan
Taiwan , also known, especially in the past, as Formosa , is the largest island of the same-named island group of East Asia in the western Pacific Ocean and located off the southeastern coast of mainland China. The island forms over 99% of the current territory of the Republic of China following...

 after being falsely accused of corruption and therefore denied a promotion. Another case is that of Earl Edwin Pitts
Earl Edwin Pitts
Earl Edwin Pitts is a former FBI special agent who, in 1996, was arrested at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Pitts was charged with several offenses, including spying for the Soviet Union and Russia...

, who, in defence of his espionage, cited various instances of alleged poor treatment by his employer, the FBI.

Personal relations

A spy may also be motivated by personal connections and relationships. In some cases, secret information may be passed on due to a family connection, a friendship, a romantic link, or a sexual relationship. In particular, the spouses and friends of an active spy may sometimes be drawn into the spy's activities—an example is Rosario Ames, wife of Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Hazen Ames is a former Central Intelligence Agency counter-intelligence officer and analyst, who, in 1994, was convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia...

. The tactic of seducing a potential source of information is also well-established—for example, Katrina Leung
Katrina Leung
Katrina Leung was a former high value Federal Bureau of Investigation and PRC Ministry of State Security agent who, on April 9, 2003, was indicted by the United States Department of Justice for "Unauthorized Copying of National Defense Information with Intent to Injure or Benefit a Foreign...

 is accused of using this method to gain access to secret FBI
Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is an agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency . The FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crime...

counter-intelligence documents.

External links

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