Is there any person alive who hasn’t wished that they could be a spy? Covert missions, insane gadgets, and the thrill of the chase lure a lot of people into the world of espionage, but it takes a lot more than cool devices to become a good spy. There are a lot of people who thought they would be the best spies in their field, and now they’re the laughing stock of the espionage world. World governments didn’t even need a spy detector to catch these terrible spies, they just had to sit back and wait for the “professionals” to mess up. Even if you’re new to installing keyloggers and tracking devices, it’s safe to say that you won’t be as bad at covert observation as these unfortunate “spies”.
In the early 1970’s the UK government was pressuring the M15 to find more ordinary citizens, and in 1974 they hired Michael Bettaney. Bettaney seemed to have no business being a spy. He didn’t have a problem flaunting his secret spy status and he seemed to show signs of instability, but despite the red flags the British government promoted him in 1982 to work on highly sensitive Soviet cases. Once Bettaney was promoted he showed his employers how much a hard working employee he was by promptly taking pictures of classified documents so he could sell them to the KGB.
This went on until 1984 when Bettaney decided to strike a deal with the Soviets, he told his superiors that he was taking a vacation to Vienna and set off to sell the documents. It turns out that the Soviets weren’t really too interested in anything Bettaney had to give them, since Bettaney was such a terrible agent they thought that he was a poorly planted M15 mole. The KGB themselves alerted the M15 about their “mole” less than 24 hours before he was scheduled to meet with them. It isn’t shocking to say that were very surprised (and maybe even a little embarrassed for the UK) when the M15 sheepishly admitted that they had no clue about the “mole” they were talking about. Despite his massive betrayal Bettaney only spent 14 years in jail, and was freed on parole in 1998.
The Russian SVR Spy Ring
Terrible spies didn’t just exist during the Cold War, this next instance took place a few years ago and it seems like it’s straight out of a Naked Gun script. Russia’s SVR agency is their new KGB, and in the early ’00s they sent spies to the United States and the UK to conduct some secret surveillance. They were given typical American sounding names and were sent to work in the computer labs of top universities, but they didn’t blend in too well because they were absolutely terrible at their jobs. These spies transferred all of the data they collected using a very unsecured PC-to-PC open wireless network, and they were so terrible with their computers that they frequently had to send them back to Russia to be fixed. They even wrote down their 27 character passwords on post it notes and displayed them on their computers because they couldn’t memorize them.
Their spying techniques weren’t even the worst thing about their mission, the SVR spies seemed to lack creativity and common sense. When one spy purchased and registered a cell phone she put down her address as 99 Fake Street, and almost all of the “information” they collected were about things you could easily find online or in a newspaper. The US and the UK found out about them pretty quickly, but both countries chose not to arrest any of the agents because they were way too easy to monitor. When the FBI finally moved in on the spy ring they had no trouble finding any of the information the agents stole, or the top secret Russian information they had, because they were kind enough to put it all on their desktops with cute little icons.