Intelligence services and spy agencies by their very nature operate under the radar, away from the prying eyes of the public or foreign governments. Their mission statements usually involve surreptitiously acquiring information -because as we all know, knowledge is power.
These agencies often have meticulously constructed images, either developed through carefully seeded morsels of information, or they gain a reputation through the absence of any information at all. For example, MI6 revels in the dramatic interpretation portrayed by James Bond, whilst Mossad's reputation of being deadly and effective often precedes it, whilst others like the Russian FSB or South Africa's SSA are notoriously covert and little is known of them.
On Monday evening Al Jazeera announced that it had come into possession of a massive amount of leaked documents. These documents had been the property of various spy agencies around the world, until being liberated into the hands of the media.
This latest leak puts the reputation of these spies on the line - a media organisation has seemingly been granted not only insight into a broad range of activities that these agencies engage in, but also the information they share and their very workings.
One can't help but compare it to another very recent high profile leak - the E. Snowden case. However to my mind, it is starkly different. First impressions suggest that it's unlikely to have come from a disaffected employee in one of the mentioned agencies, as there seems to be too much range in the material. There is of course potential that this could be the result of some sort of cyber attack, or the combined efforts of a third party, be it nation state or otherwise. Time will tell if the combined resources of some of the world's most advanced intelligence sources are able to pinpoint the leak.
In any case, this latest episode will capture the public's imagination - as a good spy story always does - and will threaten to impact the reputation of not only the intelligence services involved, but also their governments.
Already the first documents are being made public which seem to imply that certain intelligence services are at odds with politicians' claims and that some Western states are heavily invested in recruiting sources in the Far East.
If one considers the fallout from the Snowden affair, then this could prove to rival it. This is compounded by the fact that Al Jazeera has said that the documents range in date from 2006 to December 2014 and so certainly carry information that is current and relevant to the political ecosystem and the world that these spies operate in.
Questions abound as to who procured these documents, why they did so and why Al Jazeera were given them. After all, not only do we not know what else was leaked and not shared with Al Jazeera but we don't know to what end or indeed what else the editors will choose to make public over the coming days and weeks.
It will be interesting to observe the public reaction to some of the claims that will emerge as well as any rebuttal that may be forthcoming from governments that are mentioned or the agencies involved. I highly doubt that the latter will engage in the ensuing conversation, but it may well change the way we, the public, view the murky world of espionage in the future.