There are an estimated 10,000 spies in Washington DC
Of the more than 700,000 residents of the capital of the United States, 10,000 of those are actively working in the interests of a foreign power. The city is filled with federal employees, military personnel, contractors, and more who are actively working for the United States government, and some are working to betray its biggest secrets to the highest bidder.
It's an estimate from the DC-based international spy museum – and it's an estimate with which the FBI agrees.
If only it were this easy.
"It's unprecedented — the threat from our foreign adversaries, specifically China on the economic espionage and the espionage front," Brian Dugan, Assistant Special Agent in Charge for Counterintelligence with the FBI's Washington Field Office told DC-based WTOP news.
According to the FBI, spies are no longer the stuff of Cold War-era dead drops, foreign embassy personnel, and conversations in remote parks. For much of the modern era, a spy was an undercover diplomat or other embassy staffer. No more. Now you can believe they are students, colleagues, and even that friend of yours who joined your kickball team on the National Mall. Anyone can be a spy.
Ever watch "The Americans"? That sh*t was crazy.
There are 175 foreign embassies and other diplomatic buildings in the DC area. In those work tens of thousands of people with links to foreign powers. This doesn't even cover the numbers of foreign exchange students, international business people, and visiting professors that come to the city every year – not to mention the number of Americans recruited by spies to act on their government's behalf (whether they know it or not).
The worst part is that spies these days are so skilled at their craft, we may never realize what they're doing at all, and if we do, it will be much too late to stop them.
It would be super helpful if they wore their foreign military uniforms all the time.
"Everybody in the espionage business is working undercover. So if they're in Washington, they're either in an embassy or they're a businessman and you can't tell them apart because they never acknowledge what they're doing." said Robert Baer, who was a covert CIA operative for decades. "And they're good, so they leave no trace of their communications."
He says the dark web, alone with advanced encryption algorithms means a disciplined, cautious spy may never get caught by the FBI for selling the secrets that come with their everyday work, be it in government, military, defense contractors, or otherwise.