Journalists and Intelligence Services

Jorge Marinho

PhD in Communication Sciences, BA in International Journalism



Relations between information, journalism, intelligence, national and international security / defense are present throughout this article. As part of this, the various stages of the intelligence cycle warrant particular attention. In concrete terms, this paper also addresses different types of connections between journalists and intelligence services that operate internally or externally


Keywords: journalism; media; intelligence services; national security / defense.



Journalists and intelligence services share a common interest – information. There are several definitions of intelligence. For instance, Paul Lashmar, in his Ph.D Thesis, acknowledges that “Intelligence is a broad term, which in its simplest form here refers to the gathering of information for the benefit of an end-user.” (Lashmar). The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and, in general, the United States (US) Intelligence Community have the following understanding in relation to the concept in question: “1. Intelligence is a product that consists of information that has been refined to meet the needs of policymakers. 2. Intelligence is also a process through which that information is identified, collected and analyzed.” (Intelligence Defined). To this end, another perspective should be added: “3. And intelligence refers to both the individual organizations that shape raw data into a finished intelligence product for the benefit of decision makers and the larger community of these organizations” (Intelligence Defined).

According to the FBI, “The intelligence cycle is the process of developing unrefined data into polished intelligence for the use of policymakers.” (Intelligence Cycle). This process includes six steps: 1. Requirements; 2. Planning and Direction; 3. Collection; 4. Processing and Exploitation; 5. Analysis and Production; 6. Dissemination (Intelligence Cycle). The FBI presents the following definitions: “Requirements are identified information needs—what we must know to safeguard the nation; Planning and Direction is management of the entire effort, from identifying the need for information to delivering an intelligence product to a consumer; Collection is the gathering of raw information based on requirements” (Intelligence Cycle). The FBI also defines the remaining steps: “Processing and Exploitation involves converting the vast amount of information collected into a form usable by analysts; Analysis and Production is the conversion of raw information into intelligence; Dissemination—the last step—is the distribution of raw or finished intelligence to the consumers whose needs initiated the intelligence requirements” (Intelligence Cycle).

What is understood by intelligence services? Wills (2010, p. 10) provides an answer: “This guidebook refers to intelligence services as government organizations, whose main tasks are the collection and analysis of national security related information, and its dissemination to decision makers”. Segundo Wills (2010, p. 10), “This information typically concerns threats to national security such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and espionage by hostile states.” The said author points out that, “In most democratic states, these tasks are performed by a specialized intelligence service. However, in some countries such tasks are performed by a branch of the police” (Wills 2010, p. 10).

The collecting of information partly goes by way of the field of journalism: “In democratic societies intelligence services collect much of the information they need to fulfill their mandate from public sources such as media articles, reports provided by governmental and non-governmental organizations and academic publications. (Wills 2010, p. 17). On top of these sources, “Intelligence services also collect information from persons who have (or could gain) access to relevant information. For example, members of groups that threaten national security may act as informers by secretly passing information to intelligence services” (Wills 2010, p. 17). In certain cases, “Intelligence services may also use persons with aliases or false identities to infiltrate organizations and provide information about their activities” (Wills 2010, p. 17).

With regard to geographical area of operations, “States often mandate their intelligence services to work exclusively within or outside the borders of their state. Accordingly, they may have different intelligence services to work at home and abroad. Other states mandate one intelligence service to work both within and outside the national boundaries” (Wills 2010, p. 10).

Another distinction should be made:

-civilian intelligence services – “Intelligence services are an important part of the security sector in a democratic society. Their primary function is to collect and analyze information about threats directed against the state and its population. They provide this information to the government, enabling it to develop and enforce security policy” (Wills 2010, p. 11)

-military or defense intelligence services – “They are primarily responsible for collecting and analyzing information about threats to armed forces personnel and bases, and for sharing such information with the senior military command and the political leadership” (Wills 2010, p. 11). Generally speaking, “The potential threats that military intelligence services need to monitor may originate from within the armed forces, domestic groups, or from foreign states and entities” (Wills 2010, p. 11). For this reason, “Military intelligence services may operate both domestically and abroad, depending on a country’s needs, its legislation, and its force deployment” (Wills 2010, p. 11).

In some cases, there can be cooperation between civilian and military intelligence services (Intelligence / Information Sharing in Combating Terrorism: Home / Rodríguez-Hernandez 2013, p. 674). It is also possible to have cooperation between intelligence services from several countries (McGruddy Fall 2013 / Rosenbach, Peritz 2009, pp. 50-53). General Loureiro dos Santos (Portuguese Armed Forces) believes that, as concerns relations among States, national interest completely prevails over solidarity (Santos 2016, p. 16).


Government decisions

According to Cepik (2003, p. 67), governments find support in intelligence for making decisions regarding public policy, national defense and foreign policy. To a greater or lesser extent, depending on various circumstances, directly or indirectly, the media are also given power to influence decisions as part of domestic and foreign policy (Naveh 2002 / Obijiofor, Hanusch 2011, p. 127 / Oswald).

Currently, domestic and international security is related to intelligence services (Caparini 2007, p. 3 / Johnson / Scott, Hughes, Alexander 2011) and to the media, especially journalism (Badsey 2000 / Offiong / Robinson). To this end, public opinion must be taken into account (Anker / Atanasovic / Van Den Noorgate). The following quote is an illustration of this: “The American news media play a significant role in shaping public perceptions of national security policies (…)” (Robinson). Intelligence services have an interest in journalism’s ability to influence public opinion, from the local level to the global sphere. This is also related to public diplomacy (Efune / Marinho / Pinkus).


Similarities and differences

Experts acknowledge that “The relationship between secret services and the press is an enduring one” (Aldrich). A Major General of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) press service, Yuri Kobaladze, believes that “There is no essential difference between the work of a spy and a journalist; both collect information in the same way—just the end consumers are different (…)” (Matthews). From the American perspective, “As several Directors of Central Intelligence have pointed out while addressing the national press corps, journalists and spies are kindred spirits. They are both required to seek out human sources with valuable information and they attach great importance to the professional ethic of source protection” (Aldrich). Differences are also pointed out: “However, one species is in the business of secrecy and the other is in the business of exposure. Their paths cross frequently and they are simultaneously collaborators and competitors” (Aldrich). In view of the above, the following news headline comes as no surprise: “Journalist Selected to Head Greece’s Intelligence Service” (Makris).


Different kinds of manipulation

Connections between intelligence services and the media have been unraveled: “British journalists – and British journals – are being manipulated by the secret intelligence agencies, and I think we ought to try and put a stop to it” (Leigh). This manipulation can go by way of three situations. Thus being the case, “The first is the attempt to recruit journalists to spy on other people, or for spies to go themselves under journalistic ‘cover.’ This occurs today and it has gone on for years” (Leigh). There is another possibility: “The second form of manipulation that worries me is when intelligence officers are allowed to pose as journalists in order to write tendentious articles under false names” (Leigh). Finally, “The third sort of manipulation is the most insidious – when intelligence agency propaganda stories are planted on willing journalists, who disguise their origin from their readers” (Leigh).

1. Nets and media


As concerns the US, “The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) used networks of several hundred foreign individuals to provide intelligence to influence foreign opinion through the use of covert propaganda” (Goldman, Plouffe Jr. 2016, p. 240). In an organized manner, “This occurred through the use of individuals who provided the CIA with direct access to a large number of foreign newspapers, periodicals, news agencies, publishers and other foreign media outlets” (Goldman, Plouffe Jr. 2016, p. 240). 

According to an article by the “Expresso” newspaper, in Portugal, during the time following the Revolution of April 25, 1974, several Portuguese journalists collaborated as Soviet spies (Cadete). Some KGB agents operated on Portuguese soil, disguised as journalists from “Izvestia” or from the Tass and Novosti news agencies (Cadete).

It is relevant to cite a module from King’s College London’s Master’s (MA) Study Program in International Relations: “This module explores an even more tenuous relationship by focusing on the tensions as well as interdependencies between the intelligence and the journalistic communities. It explores the role media products play as an 'open source' in the intelligence cycle, how intelligence services 'use' the media to influence public perceptions (…)” (Media and Intelligence (Module)).


Concrete cases

In reality, “While Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty – established in 1949 and 1951, respectively, and run by the CIA until the early 1970s – operated overtly, the hand of the U.S. government was covert to make it more effective. Other examples of CIA use of radio propaganda include the Voice of Liberation radio used during the coup in Guatemala in 1954” (Goldman, Plouffe Jr. 2016, p. 240).

Using various resources, “The CIA also funded and covertly supported newspapers, journals, and other print media around the world. Some, such as its funding of Der Monat (West Germany), Encounter (the United Kingdom), and the Daily American (Rome), was within the context of rivalry with the Soviets” (Goldman, Plouffe Jr. 2016, p. 240).

In his capacity as CIA director, “In 1953, Allen Dulles expressed the desire to use the press both for intelligence collection and propaganda” (Goldman, Plouffe Jr. 2016, p. 240). For such purpose, “The CIA relied on U.S. journalists who would want to become a part of a vast network of reporters, magazines, electronic media, and other media personnel to supplement official information to promote current U.S. policies – including covert propaganda and psyops – through silent channels” (Goldman, Plouffe Jr. 2016, p. 240). This was developed as follows: “Though most did so unknowingly, the CIA did use journalists directly – both American and foreign nationals – in clandestine relationships of one sort or another with the CIA” (Goldman, Plouffe Jr. 2016, p. 240). In practically every country, cooperation between intelligence services and media professionals can be informal: “Many journalists, though, while not formally part of state intelligence agencies, often willingly cooperated with agency plans, which can be even better for spymasters” (Reiffer 2015, p. 352). As far as the US intelligence community is concerned, “The practice of recruiting journalists, and of placing intelligence agents under cover as reporters, was apparently banned in 1977. But appearances can be deceptive. Two decades later, in 1996, President Clinton’s CIA director, John Deutch, revealed that the CIA had retained the right to use journalists as spies and to have spies pose as journalists.” (Bayles, Gedmin). For this reason, “Since then, the issue has not gone away, in part because the CIA refuses to fully swear off these practices” (Bayles, Gedmin).

Also within the American context, “A once-classified FBI memo reveals that the bureau treated a senior ABC News journalist as a potential confidential informant in the 1990s (…). FBI officials declined to identify the reporter, but confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that the bureau did in fact treat the reporter as a potential confidential source for a limited period of time (…)” (Salomon, Mehta).

According to Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior intelligence officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, “Foreign journalists as well or Chinese journalists sent on foreign assignment is often used as well by the Chinese intelligence services” (Jones).

Is it possible to bring about some of the previously mentioned aspects, by disclosing the names of people involved? The answer is yes. For instance, I start off by presenting a case publicized in 2014: “German journalist and editor Udo Ulfkotte says he was forced to publish the works of intelligence agents under his own name, adding that noncompliance ran the risk of being fired.” (German Journo: European Media Writing pro-US Stories Under CIA Pressure). Other examples are shown below:

-from 1994 to 2002, Patrick Denaud was an agent for the French intelligence services disguised as a journalist (France – Journaliste et Agent Secret)

-from 1982 to 1993, Wilhelm Dietl worked in activities that were not solely those of a journalist (Sacks). As far as is known, “For 11 years, Wilhelm Dietl used his job as a journalist to spy for the German intelligence agency BND in the Middle East” (Melman).

Lastly, without seeking to present a full listing, I wish to underline that other works were publicized that disclosed the names of those involved in various cases (Bernstein / Journalists Exposed as Secret CIA Operatives).


2. A video illustrating the subject matter in question


I highlight that “Intelligence services perform other tasks in addition to their information collection role. For example, they do counter-intelligence activities. These activities include detecting and disrupting espionage conducted by foreign intelligence services that is directed against the interests of the state and its population” (Wills 2010, p. 11). In this field, we need to pay attention to journalists and other media professionals. In reality, “The proliferation of clandestine intelligence services is a striking feature of the modern international security environment” (Van Cleave).

It must not be forgotten that “The practice of using journalists as spies or for such intelligence gathering or using journalist covers thus increases the vulnerability of all journalists in hostile zones” (Picard, Storm 2016, p. 11).



At times, the purposes of intelligence services do not match appearances or, in other words, within a kaleidoscopic reality, they contradict what appears to be fact. Considering information as a common interest, journalists have been used or have served as a cover for domestic and foreign intelligence services to attain their goals. The possibility that spies would disguise themselves as journalists could generate widespread mistrust that endangers the physical integrity or even the very lives of professionals working for news media in hostile areas.

Certain situations can be examined in light of journalists’ relations with their sources, and also go by way of a web involving intelligence services and the media at various levels. There are several concrete cases that have been publicly disseminated, via journalistic work and academic research. On the one hand, this can somehow result in loss of credibility for journalism; however, on the other hand, this can also serve to make journalism relatively more transparent, with a view to its enhancement and, subsequently, credibility, considering the role that journalism should play in society. To this end, I wish to highlight the influence that journalism can have on public perceptions related to issues of national and international security / defense.

To a certain extent, foreign intelligence services do what they can, that is, that which counterintelligence services from other countries, for various reasons, including political guidelines they receive, do not hinder them from doing. In relation to all this, the issue of national interest / sovereignty is a central one.



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1. Photo by: Jorge Marinho

2. (Video) Dr. Udo Ulfkotte, Journalist and Author, on RT. Retrieved 4.5.2016 from

Published by Marinho Media Analysis / September 2, 2016