Article on “spy” photographer

On October 30, 2014, the New York Times ran an interesting article on a student/photographer in Hong Kong, Dan Garrett. Mr. Garrett has been accused by the Chinese government of being “without any exaggeration a top-level spy”.

Dan Garret photo

From Dan Garrett’s Twitter

The article goes on to tell Garrett’s story, but it never really answers the question of whether he is a spy. In the article, Garrett, whose LinkedIn profile shows him as a former GS-15 with the State Department, is quoted as saying “I’m no James Bond”.

So, what is a spy?

I attended a public conference with former CIA director Michael Hayden. He told the story of an assignment he had in Europe (maybe Germany?) many years ago to ride the train and count the number of military vehicles he saw out the window. Was this spying?

I’ve heard government security analysts mention incidents of “photography” at industrial facilities. Is taking a photos the same as spying? Does it depend on the photographer’s intent? Does it depend on who pays the photographer? Does it depend on whether the photographer knew how the information “collected” could/would  be used? Does the nationality of the photographer make a difference?

I guess I’m really getting at two points: Under what conditions is your organization concerned about photography? How does your organization mitigate photographic and video graphic reconnaissance?

I would also simply note that there are lots of nice stills and even flyover videos of infrastructure facilities on the Interwebs… and more being added daily.