12 Best Spy Agencies in the World [As of 2019]

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 are 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 stand 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 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 many 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 country’s leading intelligence agency regarding the internal security and responsible for the collection, analysis of intelligence concerning 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 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 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 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 1990s, to investigate possible sources of information leaks. The agency also had a major role in 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 Chinese intelligence agency responsible for 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 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 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 is 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 the 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 is spent on collecting foreign intelligence with minimal amount of domestic data. The CIA is undoubtedly the most easily recognizable intelligence agencies 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 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 an experienced science and technology journalist interested in machines, AI, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out what his latest project is, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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