Note: this post is only of interest to those not already (self-)informed about the basics of intelligence and espionage and those who in general take an interest in what the AIVD communicates to the public.
On 26 May 2020, the Dutch General Intelligence & Security Service (AIVD) released a new brochure (.pdf, in Dutch) to inform the general Dutch public about threat of espionage. The post below is an unofficial English translation of that brochure (a manually corrected version of an automated translation by DeepL.com). The AIVD will likely release an English translation itself; when it is released, I will add a link to it here.
Parts in  brackets were added by me.
Espionage – How do you recognize it and what can you do about it?
Espionage is of all times and poses a major threat to the Netherlands. At the same time, espionage is almost invisible and few people are aware of its dangers. All kinds of foreign countries are spying in the Netherlands. Not only via digital means, but also in the classic way: humans. Why does espionage happen and why is it harmful? How do you recognize it and what can you do about it?
What is espionage?
Passing on knowledge about Dutch foreign policy, copying and, for a fee, handing over documents from the European Commission, or hacking into a high-tech company to steal business secrets. They’re all examples of espionage. But what is espionage? Espionage is the surreptitious gathering of intelligence (information) or objects (e.g. products or machines). It may involve sensitive (personal) information, technology or state secrets, for example.
The Netherlands is an attractive target for espionage. Our country is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) and has interesting information at its disposal. We are also host to numerous international organizations such as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). Dutch universities and the private sector also have a great deal of knowledge and high-quality technology at their disposal. The task of the General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) is to identify and help end espionage and to raise awareness of it.
Who is spying and why?
All kinds of foreign countries are spying within and against the Netherlands in order to obtain information or objects from which they can benefit. There are various reasons to spy. A foreign country can, for example, keep an eye on its emigrated countrymen abroad to check whether they pose a threat to the foreign country’s regime. Or they can map out the political situation and the decision-making process in the Netherlands in order to influence it. They can also steal economic knowledge to advance their own economy.
Some countries spy on a large scale and have professional intelligence services at their disposal that carry out this work to the best of their ability. The AIVD investigates these countries. Which foreign countries pose the greatest threat depends very much on the (inter)national situation. Relations between countries can change rapidly, leading to new players appearing on the espionage scene.
How are they spying?
Foreign intelligence services spy in various ways. Nowadays a lot of spying is done digitally: intelligence services hack into computers to steal information without being seen. Ministries, research centers and companies in the high-tech, chemical and energy sectors are frequently attacked digitally.
Espionage is also still done in the traditional way, by approaching people to gain access to information through them. Employees of intelligence services look for interesting interlocutors (sources) such as civil servants, scientists, top officials and journalists. Supporting personnel can also be interesting to intelligence services, because they can also have access to confidential information.
Why is espionage harmful?
Espionage takes place out of sight from society. For many people it is hard to imagine that espionage is harmful to national security, but this surreptitious way of gathering information can have a major impact. If, for example, another country gains access to secret information, that country can use the information to influence decision-making or take other measures. Countries can use information about their own population abroad to intimidate or even eliminate opponents.
Espionage can also cause economic damage. As soon as other countries have access to confidential business information, it has an impact on the financial position of those companies. If blueprints and unique equipment are copied, the country that is spying no longer has to pay the (often high) R&D costs itself. This can result in the Dutch company selling fewer products or being unable to compete with the foreign company. Scientific projects whose results and methods are secretly copied for use in another country may result in the financing no longer being profitable. There is also a risk that knowledge about atomic technology will fall into the wrong hands. It is therefore important that confidential information or technology cannot simply be diverted to other countries.
How do you recognize espionage?
Espionage is largely human work. Let’s say you have interesting information, and you stand out to a foreign intelligence service because of it. They then try to get in touch with you through one of their employees. That person will try to establish a relationship of trust with you. For example, he or she poses as a diplomat, journalist or entrepreneur in order to get in touch with you in a natural way [i.e., inconspicuous]. However, you may notice certain signs indicating that you are dealing with an employee of a foreign intelligence service.
Intelligence services often carry out extensive preparatory investigations into people who may be of interest to them. On the Internet, for example, they look for people who have access to sensitive files. They also look for information about a person’s private life, such as hobbies or membership of a sports club, to get to know someone better. This information is used to get in touch with you ‘spontaneously’.
Was the first contact successful? Then more meetings often follow. You will be taken out to dinner, receive gifts and may think you are building a friendship. Appointments mainly take place outside, and the foreign intelligence employee appears to be extremely interested in your private affairs. But all this time he or she has only one goal: get you to spy. Eventually, the intelligence officer will ask you to provide information for a fee. In the beginning this may be trivial information, a test to see how far you are prepared to go, but later on it will also include sensitive documents to which you have access.
What can you do against espionage?
It already helps to be aware of the fact that espionage exists. If you get a strange feeling during a contact, it is always wise to exercise restraint and report this to your employer’s security department. By recognizing signals, you can be ahead of espionage. Do you suspect espionage by a foreign intelligence service? Then report this to your employer and the AIVD: aivd.nl/contact
Be aware of the potential value of information about your work and network. Information you can easily access, such as innocent-looking files or working conditions [note: it’s unclear what the AIVD is referring to with the Dutch word “werkomstandigheden” – perhaps salary information, corporate structure, culture, and/or internal policies], can be of interest to an intelligence service. An intelligence service may also be interested in your relationship with important people.
Find a good balance in what you share online about yourself and your work. For example, do not mention on LinkedIn or Facebook that you’re working on sensitive files. Be aware of what you share and especially with whom.
Protect your equipment. Intelligence services may be interested in the information on your phone or laptop. Be alert to phishing mails, make use of security software and keep software up to date. During business trips it is wise to keep equipment that contains valuable information with you and not to check it in as luggage. Also read the AIVD publication ‘On a trip abroad – Security risks en route‘.
Getting in contact with someone from another country does of course not automatically mean you are dealing with an intelligence service.
However, it is good to be aware of the nature of the relationship. Make sure you do not become dependent on the other person and be aware of the underlying intentions of your contacts.
Want to know more?
Would you like to know more about espionage and the role of the AIVD? Then go to aivd.nl/spionage.
This brochure is a publication of:
The General Intelligence and Security Service
P.O. Box20010|2500ea The Hague