The Real Skyfall? Spy Capital of the World

SkyFall Real DreamSmoke

They lack Daniel Craig’s abs, and certainly don’t dress in tailored Tom Ford suits. But eliminate the Aston Martins and vodka martinis, and we’re talking real spies on the hunt for industrial secrets as much as for diplomatic dope and classified military files.

In fact, forget about Bond and think more Magritte, the Brussels artist, with his bowler-hatted, dark-suited-and-umbrella’d men falling from the sky.

Although in this era of Wikileaks and electronic hacking, espionage seems so yesterday and a theme more for novels and Hollywood blockbusters, in the European Union’s capital it’s a very present reality. With hundreds of foreign intelligence officers and agents on the prowl, Brussels is teeming with espionage and is openly known as the spy capital of the world.

They pretend to be diplomats, journalists, lobbyists, businessman and students – not that there aren’t plenty of those for real – and move around trying to influence decisions made by senior EU and NATO officials. They befriend people to get information at seminars, receptions and social events, or employ more pedestrian methods, like rummaging through the garbage at the myriad international institutions, installing surveillance devices in offices and apartments, or rifling the hotel rooms of unsuspecting businessmen or diplomats. The FBI has even released a video as a warning to corporate security experts.

According to Belgian security services, these operatives are looking for marks who correspond to the acronym MICE: money, ideology, compromise, ego. In other words, targets who are greedy or in debt, follow a radical ideology, hide guilty secrets or who simply want to be James Bond.

Although there’s no official confirmation, I’ll bet the massively successful European release of Skyfall last week has not exactly hurt recruitment into Brussel’s shadow spy world. In a recent interview, the head o Belgium’s state security services, the VSSE, said the level of espionage in Brussels is as intense as during the Cold War.

What kind of spies? Let me count the ways: political spies, corporate spies, cyber spies, official spies working for governments and spies-for-hire working for international companies seeking to crack the code of their competition.

Despite treaties and friendly agreements between countries, “it would be naive to believe that only countries like Russia, China or Iran are spying” he said. “There is one field where the difference between neutral friendly and unfriendly services tends to disappear and that’s when you are talking about the protection of economic and scientific information. In that case every service is in competition with the others.”

Nevertheless, some habits die hard – the activity of Chinese and Russian intelligence agencies is more intense and the spies from those countries more numerous. They are out to uncover European Union information with commercial, defense or political value.

Meanwhile, according to a joke making the rounds of security circles, the Iranian operatives mostly spy on their own ambassadors.

– By Cecilia Rodriguez for Forbes