Peyton Posey, 334/844-5741


AUBURN -- Infiltration and control of the news media are tactics of organized espionage that date back to the early 1700s, according to a researcher in Auburn's College of Liberal Arts.

The 18th century author Daniel Defoe, best known for his novel Robinson Crusoe, was one of the early pioneers of this spy ring method, says Paula Backscheider, the Pepperell-Philpot Eminent Scholar in the Department of English.

Backscheider, who specializes in Restoration and 18th Century literature and cultural studies, examined Defoe's life for her work "Daniel Defoe: His Life and Spectacular Politics." Her writings on Defoe's association with spy rings also have been published in other journals, including one produced by the British Special Forces.

The secret agent Defoe was sent by the British government to Edinbrough, Scotland in the early 1700s. Through his writings, Defoe helped persuade the Scots to join England in its war with France.

Defoe maintained prestigious standing among the Edinbrough elite and thus, was able to infiltrate and influence many groups within the town, Backscheider said. Among his covert exploits, Defoe was a Mason and a key member of society and various community-minded groups. Most importantly, however, Defoe owned the town's five newspapers.

"He was able to enter this Scottish town and gain control over the power groups," Backscheider said. "Imagine how much power he had by controlling the newspapers. He was able to circulate propaganda, all the while sending information back to England."

Opposing forces ultimately adopted Defoe's tactics, according to Backscheider, and began spreading their own propaganda by way of illegal printing presses.

Such controversial activities were new to civilized society in the 1700s. Infiltration and the questionable ethics associated with spying are issues of debate and controversy even today, Backscheider said. Nevertheless, they are quite effective tools -- particularly as means for monitoring the activities of groups and factions and influencing their behavior.

Backscheider believes that studying early forms of organized espionage and the inner workings of such spy networks can help us to better understand and prevent covert activities which occur in modern society, particularly as terrorism has become a growing concern.

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CONTACT: Backscheider, 334/844- 9091.