Thursday, June 16, 2016

THE AMERICANS: How would today’s tech have changed the way they spied in the 1980s?

I’ve been watching FX’s show, The Americans for several seasons now and think that it’s one of the best programs on television today. It’s about a husband and wife spy team from Russia who live a secret, seemingly normal life in a 1980s Washington, D.C. suburb.

The show stars Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings and Keri Russell as his wife Elizabeth and follows the two undercover KGB spies as they conduct secret missions for mother Russia while trying to negotiate the ins and outs of raising a family in America during the Cold War.

Complicating things is their next-door neighbor, Stan—played by Noah Emmerich—who works with a woman that Philip secretly married. The woman, named Martha Hanson and played by Alison Wright, works for Stan’s boss, Agent Frank Gaad (played by Richard Thomas). Philip (in disguise as his alter ego, Clarke) seduced Martha and got her to plant a bug in Agent Gad’s office. Without giving anything away, things have gotten complicated. But that’s how things are in the world of spying.

Given the strides that the world has taken in the development of modern technology, can you imagine what life was like for spies back in the day? Bugs in pens, reel-to-reel tape recorders, calls made from random pay phones—all feature prominently in every episode. Nowadays, we have the Internet and a spy software for cell phone—both of which take the art of spying to a whole new level. A digital one.

While I’m sure that Russia and the FBI and the CIA still use good old-fashioned spies and spy techniques, it’s obvious that a lot has changed due to the advent of the Internet. Nowadays, government organizations employ teams of computer experts and even a spy software for cell phones. I imagine that spying has become both easier and more difficult for both sides—what with the way that technology keeps evolving.

Spying isn’t even just for the government. There are a multitude of mobile spy tools for cell phones programs that you, as an individual, can purchase and put on someone’s cell phone. Many of them can give you access to the target phone’s calls, texts, social media activity and SMS messages. They can also let you track the device via GPS and activate the microphone and camera so that you can survey the user’s environment. It’s all very stealthy and can be done remotely so that no one knows you are doing it. Real spy stuff.

Imagine how easy it would have been for Philip and Elizabeth to conduct many of their secret missions if they had a smartphone and a couple of spy apps to put on their targets’ phones? It’s a little scary. If they did, America—and the technology we helped create—may never have developed to the point at which we are now, because we’d have been too busy waiting in line for toilet paper.

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