12 Best Spy Agencies in the World [As of 2020]

An intelligence agency essentially works like a nervous system in any nation’s defense setup, which is responsible for feeding vital information to law enforcement agencies and armed forces about possible threats to the national security. They collect, analyze and exploit secretive information that is not available to common people to their own advantage.

These agencies gather information by various means, including espionage, signal gathering or intercepting, cryptanalysis and various other methods. For those who don’t know, almost every nation has more than one operational secret service or spy agency, but mostly one stands out of the rest.

So what makes one spy agency better than another? Is it because of a colossal budget or relentless and hard training or it’s just because of the technology they use? Well, actually it’s a mixture of all these things. Anyway, here are the 12 best spy agencies in the world.

12. National Intelligence Organization

Established In: 1965
Annual Budget: $400 Million (2007)

The National Intelligence Organization is one of the major intelligence agencies in Turkey. It is mostly responsible for counterintelligence duties and largely focuses on cyber defenses. The agency is also known for several high profile espionage against other nations, including Egypt, Germany, Austria, Greece, and Sweden.

11. National Intelligence Service, South Korea

The headquarters of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) | Image credit: Hani.co.kr

Established In: 1961

The NIS or National Intelligence Service was established under the regime of Korea’s military dictator Park Chung-hee in 1961. It was originally established under the name of KCIA and was responsible for coordinating domestic and international intel. movements. Historically, NIS has been involved in politics. Recently, the agency has admitted that they were trying to rig the 2012 presidential elections.

10. Canadian Security Intelligence Service

CSIS expenditures

Established In: 1984
Annual Budget: $447 Million (2017)

Canadian Security Intelligence Service or CSIS is the country’s leading intelligence agency regarding the internal security and responsible for the collection, analysis of intelligence concerning the nation’s security. Over the years, CSIS has been accused of many wrongdoings and using aggressive tactics.

9. Research And Analysis Wing

Established In: 1968

The Sino-Indian war of 1962 was a major setback for the existing intelligence agency in India; the Intelligence Bureau, which was at that time responsible for both internal and external security. To thwart any other major catastrophes in the future, R&AW was established by the Government of India as a dedicated foreign intelligence agency.

It is known for its aggressive intelligence collection style with means such as psychological warfare, sabotage, and assassinations. The agency maintains an active connection with major intelligence agencies in the world such as the CIA and Mossad and MI6.

8. Australian Secret Intelligence Services

R. G. Casey House, Headquarters of the ASIS

Established In: 1952
Annual Budget: $337 Million (2017)

The Australian Secret Intelligence Service or ASIS is one of the oldest operational spy agencies in the country. Its existence remained highly classified until it was exposed by the Daily Telegraph in 1972. As an important part of the Australian Intelligence Community, ASIS responsibility lies in gathering foreign intelligence.

Since its exposure, ASIS has been involved in various controversies, including the Favaro Affair in 1975, The Sheraton Hotel incident in 1983 and alleged political involvement in Papua New Guinea.

7. General Directorate for External Security

DGSE headquarters

Established In: 1982
Annual Budget: $731 Million

French foreign intelligence agency, General Directorate for External Security or DGSE operates under the guidance of the French Ministry of Defence. It is largely known for its expertise on counterintelligence and economic espionage against other nations.

Though the agency was formally founded in 1982, its roots can be traced back to 1947, when its predecessor SDECE was established. In the 1960s, SDECE became involved in a high profile kidnapping of a Moroccan revolutionary named Mehdi Ben Barka. Following this, SDECE lost its autonomy and was eventually renamed DGSE.

6. Federal Intelligence Service, Bundesnachrichtendienst

Image Courtesy: Bundeswehr-journal de

Established In: 1956
Annual Budget: $1.1 Billion (2019)

The Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND was established during the Cold War to replace the earlier Gehlen Organization. During that time, BND worked closely with the American CIA to monitor movements in the eastern bloc. In the next couple of decades, BND was mostly focused on Russia and the Middle East.

Currently, being the only foreign intelligence agency of Germany, BND collects both civil and military intelligence using wiretapping and other sorts of surveillance techniques. In 2005, a report revealed that BND has been spying on a group of German journals since the 1990s, to investigate possible sources of information leaks. The agency also had a major role in the 2008 Liechtenstein tax affair.

5. Ministry of State Security

MSS facilities in Xiyuan, Beijing

Established In: 1983
Annual Budget: $3 Billion to $4 Billion

Headquartered in Beijing, the Ministry of State Security is a Chinese intelligence agency responsible for the security of political security, counterintelligence, and foreign intelligence. MSS is one of the most powerful agencies in the country with powers to detain citizens and conduct all types of clandestine activities internally or externally.

Over the years, MSS agents have increased their activities in the United States, causing the CIA and other American agencies to be more suspicious.

4. Foreign Intelligence Service

Emblem of the SVR

Established In: 1991

After KGB was dismantled in 1991, Russia was in a dire need of a specialized agency to take care of the nation’s internal and external security. As a result, two agencies were established; Foreign Intelligence Service and Federal Security Services.

Foreign Intelligence Service’s main duty is to conduct intelligence, strategic, economic espionage in other nations and provide protection to Russian officials overseas. Since 1991, SVR has conducted many overseas espionage and spy campaigns most notably in the United States.

Read: 15 Most Secret and Experimental Military Aircraft

3. Mossad

Old Entebbe Terminal in 1994. Bullet holes from the 1976 raid are still visible

Established In: 1949
Estimated Numbers of Employees: 1,200

Mossad is Israel’s foremost special operation and foreign intelligence agency, responsible for data collection (intelligence) stealth operations. Mossad is known for its fierce counterterrorist measures, which they have demonstrated time and time again.

One of their most famous counterterrorism operations was Operation Entebbe in Uganda in 1976. The agency was responsible for gathering information about the exact whereabouts of the hostages, numbers of hijackers and other details. Mossad also operates a venture capital fund to invest and acquire new promising spy techniques.

Read: 16 Most Dangerous Special Forces in the World

2. Secret Intelligence Service

SIS Building at Vauxhall Cross  Image Courtesy: Laurie Nevay

Established In: 1909
Annual Budget: $2.69 Billion (2015)
Estimated Numbers of Employees: 2,479

British SIS or Secret Intelligence Service is one of the most respected organizations in the spy world. This premier spy agency is known by many names and one such name in M16 (Military Intelligence Section 16). The existence of SIS was officially acknowledged only in 1994, almost 9 decades after its initial establishment.

Unlike MI5, SIS’s domain is only limited to people and entities outside the British Isles. Historically, the agency was involved largely in the Second World War, Cold War and other regional disputes all over the world.

1. Central Intelligence Agency

Image Courtesy: CIA

Established In: 1947
Annual Budget: $15 Billion (2013)
Estimated Numbers of Employees: 22,000

When the CIA was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1947, its main motive was to mediate foreign policy intelligence and analysis countrywide. Now, this agency is perhaps the most powerful agency in the United States Intelligence Community.

Most of the organization’s resources and manpower are spent on collecting foreign intelligence with a minimal amount of domestic data. The CIA is undoubtedly the most easily recognizable intelligence agency in the world, mostly due to the numerous mentions in international and Hollywood movies.

Read: 13 Top Secret US Military Intelligence Programs

CIA is also one of the heavily funded government organization in the USA. Historically, CIA has been involved in many international controversies, including 1954 Guatemalan coup d’état, political shake-ups in Syria, Indonesia and Congo.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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  • Hello,
    I just want to add some words about correct ranking , number one is ISI from pakistan, it maintaining ranking on top last 5 years, u should check correctly rank plz

  • There is only one Intelligence Agency in this world which is ‘ISI’ while other are school security guard level….The fear everyone can see people are even frighthened to Call or write ‘ISI’ because they are in a fear if they call or write this word they will pissoff in trouser.

  • Lol shit
    By Mistake you’ve putted Raw in Top 5 And CIA on top
    America is Asking to Pakistan for help them in Afghanistan
    Lol Everyone knows ISI on top….
    And IN SHA ALLAH till end it’ll remain on top..
    Again LMAO RAWbin top 5

  • There is only one Intelligence Agency in this world which is ‘ISI’ while other are school security guard level….The fear everyone can see people are even frighthened to Call or write ‘ISI’ because they are in a fear if they call or write this word they will pissoff in trouser.

    • F**king as**ol*………….. Endians are Cowered peoples including their Stupid Army……… when ever War topic starts they always apply for LONG LEAVES……….. HAHAHAHAHA…………. pity on the ENDIAN soldiers.

  • While compiling data for the ranking, I think you people have forgotten to enlist ISI, Pakistan. The most powerful and active offensive intelligence agency of Pakistan engaged in Afghanistan and across the country to counter threats and challenges to national security. ISI has most of the time been at the top of the list.

  • shame on you… ISI remains always top so that is why isi is now the boss ,
    here ranking is just between other agencies

  • don’t know why everyone’s looking for isi, they got beat by the KGB, and missed undercover operators for the bin laden raid. They didn’t even properly check a company they were working with, and lost to the Indian military.

  • Mr. John, if you have not proper information, dont talk.
    Isi is the only agency which maintain its legacy and never beaten by any one other.
    Isi co-operate with cia then they found bin laden.If isi not do this, cia will never be able to find bin laden.
    Recently, it was isi which has a great role against indian threats.Due to information given by isi, pak air force was able to successful air strike on india and india gets huge loss.

  • I am not surprised by the ranking, in fact I was not expecting ISI Pakistan when I realize the author is an indian. Moreover, put raw at no 1 position and celebrate. We don’t want your approval to stay at the top. We are the best and world knows that. #PakistanZindabad

  • Hahah I love pakistan isi In pakistan All People same like isi

    Beacause isi is near our HEARTS

    Pakistan Zindabad ISI paindabaad

  • It is said to Stupid Indians Sher ki khaL pehan leny sy INDIAN GEEDAR Sher nahi ban jata lehaza ap DAR Pok Indian Geedar apny OoKaat mn raho to Acha hy.

  • ISI is the number of best spy agencies in the world. Knowing you are a dumb Indian, it makes sense for you to forget whos your father when it comes to Intelligence.

  • Indians are putting this by Rank…………. hahaha, NO Wonder why the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) from Pakistan is not in the List, look at the Writer (Written by Varun Kumar)….
    Pakistan Intelligence agency is NO.1 in the world…….