Popular culture has affected the way Americans see and understand espionage. But beyond the fantasy of the spy genre, the truth is that spies aren't really as exciting as people think.
That doesn't mean they're not impactful, but many Americans don't really seem to understand the extent of that impact.
Espionage — and specifically Russian espionage — has been the topic of great national security concern since the Cold War.
"Once upon a time, spying or espionage was a fairly straightforward game," said the host of the 1965 government-funded film "Science of Spying." "It's not just stealing military hardware and secret plans, but using tanks and planes and men to promote our policies around the world and sometimes to overthrow governments we don't like. Both sides in the Cold War do it. Both sides deny it."
The Cold War ended decades later, but the issue of Russian espionage resurfaced in 2010 when the FBI arrested 11 Russian spies.
Many of them were living in the U.S. as middle-class citizens with inconspicuous houses, American college degrees, Western accents and children who had no idea what their parents were doing.
Think of them as the spies next door. They used social engineering to infiltrate U.S. workplaces, government organizations and schools to gather information and influence American citizens.
Two of the arrested agents communicated with Russian intelligence by embedding hidden messages in the pixels of online photos.
More recently, special counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officers for conducting "large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election."
Not included in that number is Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian woman accused of conspiring against the U.S. government.
Back in 2016, she entered the country under the cover of an F-1 student visa and enrolled as a graduate student with American University. There, Butina studied cyber policy and even co-authored a paper on "Cybersecurity Knowledge Networks."
The FBI is now accusing Butina — who hasn't registered as a foreign agent on U.S. soil — of using ties to gun rights organizations and a Republican operative to influence the GOP to be more sympathetic of Russia. Butina pleaded not guilty and is now being held without bail.
Additional reporting by Newsy affiliate CNN.