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The Spy Who Came In from the South

By Darryl Li

Cite As:
Li, Darryl. 2020. “The Spy Who Came In from the South.” Cultural Anthropology 35, no. 2: 231–236.


Dominant imaginaries of espionage presume that all states surveil their populations but that only the powerful ones can play the “great game” of spying outside their borders. How, then, does a poor postcolonial state spy abroad? Drawing on an ethnography of Arab migrants and jihad fighters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, this essay suggests one answer: powerful states have their spies pose as diplomats, while weak ones exploit their diasporas. This realization takes one step toward demystifying and de-exceptionalizing state intelligence apparatuses and understanding them as socially embedded institutions.


espionage; migration; security; labor