Being an intelligence chief is not an easy job and occupies that treacherous border between legality and illegality. Here are some spy chiefs that have ended up on the wrong side of that border.

Danish intelligence chief Lars Findsen has been imprisoned for more than a month over accusations of leaking classified information, according to recent revelations on Monday. 

Copenhagen has not disclosed crucial details like where the spy chief leaked the country’s secret information and why he did so. While Findsen "denies all the charges", he still might be in serious trouble. 

But Findsen is not alone. Many spy chiefs around the world have faced similar charges to the Danish intelligence head because spy agencies have a hold on crucial information and state secrets.

As a result, a number of intelligence chiefs are accused of being involved in illicit businesses and corrupt activities, committing fraud, and taking bribes. 

Here are some examples from other countries: 

China

While Beijing still considers itself communist despite the fact that it runs a hybrid economic system with capitalist elements, much like former Soviet Union officials, it deals with several corrupt bureaucrats. 

Ma Jian, former deputy head of the Ministry of State Security, which is China’s top civilian intelligence agency, received a life sentence in late 2018 after being convicted of accepting 109 million yuan ($15.8 million) in bribes, and other crimes connected to insider trading and forced share transfers.

South Korea

Won Sei-hoon, the lead of the country’s National Intelligence Service between 2009 and 2013, was charged for a different crime. In 2017, the former spy chief of Seoul was sentenced to four years for launching a clandestine online campaign to help elect Park Geun-hye, a South Korean politician, as the country’s next president in 2012. 

Won Sei-hoon (C), former chief of South Korea's state intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), arrives at a parliamentary investigative committee at parliament in Seoul August 16, 2013.
Won Sei-hoon (C), former chief of South Korea's state intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), arrives at a parliamentary investigative committee at parliament in Seoul August 16, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters Archive)

Won was charged for violating rules that do not allow public officials to work on behalf of political candidates and interfere with the electoral process. 

Won allegedly formed a group of professionals with expertise on psychological warfare, which worked behind the scenes to launch a negative political campaign against Park’s rivals in the election. 

In 2013, Park won elections partly in thanks to Won. 

But later, Park was impeached in 2017, when Won also ended up in jail due to her involvement in corrupt activities. Park was later also convicted on corruption charges. Park’s father was a former president, ruling the Asian country between 1963 and 1979. 

Peru

Peru, a Latin American country, also had a spy chief who ended up a convict.

In 2016, Peru’s intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos was jailed for 22 years for the forced disappearance of two students and a university professor, whose bodies were burned on the premises of the country’s spy agency in 1993. They were tortured prior to their execution. 

Montesinos was largely believed to be operating on behalf of the country’s infamous former President Alberto Fujimori, who was also convicted on crimes of corruption and human rights abuses in 2009. 

Peru's jailed former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos talks to his lawyer Estela Valdivia (R) before a trial at a naval base in Lima, October 1 2010.
Peru's jailed former spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos talks to his lawyer Estela Valdivia (R) before a trial at a naval base in Lima, October 1 2010. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters Archive)

In 2000, Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, fled from Peru to Japan in the face of corruption charges and tried to resign from the presidency via fax. But later he was extradited to Peru, where he was tried and jailed for his crimes. He is still serving his sentence.  

North Macedonia

Last year, the Balkan state’s intelligence chief, Sasho Mijalkov, joined his colleagues from South Korea, China and Peru after being convicted for abuse of power due to his involvement in a surveillance equipment purchase from the UK in 2010. 

He was sentenced to a jail term between five and 15 years. Mijalkov was a cousin of the country’s former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who left North Macedonia for Hungary in 2018 to avoid being jailed over corruption charges. 

Jordan

In 2012, the Middle Eastern country’s feared spy chief, General Mohammad al-Dahabi, became Jordan’s first political elite to be tried and sentenced to 13 years after being found guilty of money laundering, embezzlement and abuse of power. 

Al-Dahabi ran Jordan’s intelligence agency between 2005 and 2009. His conviction came after popular protests demanding transparency and accountability from Amman led to an anti-corruption crackdown.  

United States

Despite the fact that many Hollywood movies strongly indicate that American spy chiefs have engaged in illegal activities, Washington has not jailed any intelligence chiefs yet. 

The country’s notorious relationship with Reinhard Gehlen, one of Hitler’s generals, who was also Nazi Germany’s spymaster responsible for Soviet activities on the eastern front, has not been debated much either. 

Gehlen made a crucial deal with the US in which he agreed to work in the interests of Washington and against the impending communist threat during the Cold War. 

Reinhard Gehlen, when he headed German Army counter-intelligence on the Soviet Union front. Gehlen, after WWII, directed an international spy network backed by US, operating behind the Iron Curtain, with headquarters in Pullach, Bavaria.
Reinhard Gehlen, when he headed German Army counter-intelligence on the Soviet Union front. Gehlen, after WWII, directed an international spy network backed by US, operating behind the Iron Curtain, with headquarters in Pullach, Bavaria. (AP Archive)

As a result, Washington did not charge him and his friends, who were recruited by him to serve in his anti-communist intelligence network called the Gehlen Organisation, over alleged crimes against Jews and other minorities during WWII. 

Gehlen was also the first chief of Germany’s federal intelligence agency, Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND). General Gerhard Wessel, who became the second chief of the BND after Gehlen, was also a senior Nazi official who served under Hitler.

Japan

The Japanese have no convicted spy chiefs. But they present an interesting case with a spy chief who served under both anti-American and pro-American Japanese governments during and after World War II, showing the durability of spy chiefs under different political circumstances. 

During WWII, General Arisue Seizo was the chief of the Imperial Japanese Army’s (IJA) Tokumu Kikan, or Special Service Organisations, fighting against the Allied Forces. 

Like many Tokumu Kikan personnel, Seizo “undertook a suite of new intelligence activities in the post-war period – inside Japan and in neighbouring countries – as Japan sought to manage its defeat and occupation, and rebuild its intelligence capabilities,” while working in sync with Allied Forces, according to Australian scholar James Llewelyn.

The Japanese Imperial Army was accused of committing war crimes against occupied people in places like Mainland China. 

Source: TRT World