Short. Got it. Thank you to all those who provided answers before.

Closed question. Points there will influence if your answer is helpful or not.

I Want to make an intelligence agency in a fictional setting that only has about 16 century technology.

As you know intelligence agencies of the modern day use electronic means to get information but I don't have that.

So. I want the means that the agency can use to achieve the below goals.

Again I want to know how would they do that? What methods or means or ways to do that?

Example: How to take a castle easily? Bribe someone on the inside to open the gates.


  • Early rebellion detection and general discontent
  • Uncover Corruption.
  • Counterintelligence
  • General information gathering
  • General governmental supervision

Nothing else matters or gets into it. Literally I'm just asking about the methods of achieving those goals in such a setting. Not the possible corruption of them or why I want that or whither or not it even makes sense...etc

Please not that I already have a bunch of things in the setting happening which I mentioned in the previous question. For those who truly want to help I think reading it should narrow down the answer. But all help is appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ "As you know intelligence agencies of the modern day use electronic means to get information": That is called signals intelligence, SIGINT. Human intelligence, HUMINT, is still extremely important, sometimes more important. Bonus! Viktor Suvorov' Inside Soviet Military Intelligence is available online at Lib.ru. (Please practice safe computing when visiting Lib.ru.) (Go read it. The man actually was a GRU officer.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 9 '20 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ Why not editing the closed question instead of reposting? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 9 '20 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ I am closing this one as duplicate. Please edit the first one, per site policy $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Nov 9 '20 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ I got the fact that you wanted modern capabilities in an earlier world. (I even said so in my comments.) What's the real problem here? Long questions frequently get poor results, so we tried to get you to focus your question. Closed questions should be edited rather than reposted. Those are the rules. The simple solution is to update the old question with the text of the new question and delete the new question. Then we can reopen the old question and move forward. I'll even ask L.Dutch to push all the old comments into chat so they don't burden the question. $\endgroup$ Nov 9 '20 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ The wording of the close message is a known issue, and one we have repeatedly asked Stack Exchange to fix, because it leads to exactly this scenario: people reposting their closed questions instead of editing them. I really do hope it gets fixed sooner rather than later, before any more users fall into this same hole. $\endgroup$
    – F1Krazy
    Nov 9 '20 at 20:28

I would very much recommend looking into Washington's Spies, a historical book about a group of individuals who formed the spy ring for the Continental Congress during the American Revolutionary War. They invented dead-drops, used codes, and generally did all the things a 1600s intel service could do. It's a bit late (1770s vs 1600s), but the tech is essentially usable for your period. Sparknoted ideas are as follows:

The basics of intel and counterintel are the same in 1600 as they are in 2020. The hard part is you can't plant listening devices or hack a server. The easy part is as hard as it is for YOU to find your target, it's just as hard for your target to find your own spies. Still need to listen in to what the target is saying? Get someone REAL good at acoustics. During the Cold War the US Embassy in Moscow discovered a LOT of intel was being picked up by the Soviets. No recording devices were found, and no spy could have heard everything being discussed. Eventually it was discovered that one of the rooms had a fireplace which, through clever architecture, conducted the sound of ANY conversation in that room in such a way that it was perfectly audible from the roof of a nearby building. So that's a fun real-world scheme that could work for a farsighted-enough intel unit.

As for finding out enemy spies or discovering discontent, standard Source Production works. Every agent knows a guy who knows a guy who sees something interesting and reports back. Your sources get paid for good intel, not paid for bad, and it becomes a "how much do you trust this guy?" game. Which, incidentally, isn't too different than today. Check for government employees living outside their means (maybe they're being paid to pass info?) have people in the local tavern who are willing to report sedition for gold. These sorts of things are still being done today and started long before the 1600s!

As for intel gathering itself, that's a tricky one. You can recruit sources just like you do now (find a guy in need of some cash, or more cash, or maybe doesn't want X thing to come to light, and make him do stuff for you). It's certainly trickier to get info out compared to today. There's a reason the FSB (former Soviet KGB) has gone back to typewriters for Top Secret stuff! But tricky" isn't "impossible." A man who can take quick notes or with a good memory can still look at a document and bring the gist of it back to you. Or a well-placed spy at a Royal Banquet or seditious Guild meeting can overhear something and report back. You generally don't want to actually TAKE things in this era, as the copy going missing tells your enemy there is a spy around.

Once you have the info Codes and Ciphers are MUCH more reliable in the 1600s. The math simply isn't there to break more than the easiest codes. Instead, you have to rely on what amounts to crossword-puzzle dilettantes and the occasional linguist to break them. Book Ciphers were certainly doable in that time period, and without knowing the book in question even modern codebreakers would be flummoxed. A Book cipher simply has you write a series of numbers indicating page, paragraph, and word from a given book. Your buddy on the decoding end has the same book, and BAM, easy decode. Meanwhile if you don't have the book you're basically SOL'd. Combine that with some lemon juice ink (low-tech invisible ink, needs a fire to read) and a innocuous letter can pass a generic perusal.

Getting the letter back requires a bit of thought. Dead-drops between sources and letter carriers are good. Or letters sent to a certain person at a foreign bank if your spy is well-to-do. If the Certain Person is also in your ring, you're golden. (and remember, it's 1600 so it's a LOT harder to see people's connections to others) if you want to get real esoteric carrier pigeons could also be used provided your spy can have a good reason to own some.

On the Counter-intel side the methods are much the same, but with the caveat that if your opponent is doing everything above you are going to have a helluva time catching them! Your best bet is to ensure people in positions of power are people you can trust not to be easily bribed. No dark secrets, not gamblers or drinkers or womanizers, no drug use, etc etc. Basically go to any Intelligence Service's recruiting website, look at what would disqualify an applicant, and apply that to the 1600s!


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