There are three main features to the spying operations that took place during the Cold War.

  • The collection of documents and evidence from the 'opposite' side by the spies.
  • Counter intelligence
  • Covert operations

Each side strove to gain the upper hand and to discover the secrets of the opposing ideology. In films and television spies are often portrayed as glamorous individuals who led a fast moving lifestyle, carry guns and weapons and have exciting adventures. In reality, this is far from the truth. Spies were often none descript people who led ordinary lives, who did not stand out from the crowd and drew very little attention to themselves. They did not want to draw attention to what they were doing especially as they usually worked or had connections with top secret work places such as laboratories or government offices.

Counter intelligence, was the efforts of both sides to protect their agents. This often involved laying false trails in an attempt to confuse the enemy. During covert operations, each side used their intelligence agencies to put pressure on their enemies and to support their allies.

Why where spies necessary?

From the early years of the Cold War secrets played an important part, each side trying to gather information about the other side whilst going to quite extra ordinary lengths to protect their own secrets. The key was the arms race. Each side wanted and perhaps needed to know, the pace of weapon developments that the opposition had achieved.

Winston Churchill described spying as 'the battle of the conjurors', with the spies practiced in the art of deception.

Spying was a dangerous occupation and people risked their lives to obtain secrets of national importance.