I'm referring to just Non-official Cover Spies as distinguished in this r/eli5 post.

There are two types of "spies" - official cover and non-official cover. Official cover is much more common.

Official cover spies work out of an embassy, typically with diplomatic immunity - although with a false agency (eg: Department of State instead of CIA). If they get discovered, they get sent home at the host country's request.

Non-official cover spies are more rare (for the US anyway) and it[']s riskier. If they get caught, they have no rights so the host country can do whatever it wants with them. Typically, they'll be jailed and used to get back the host country's captured spies in an exchange.

Governments may loathe spies to go public, as in the case of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Files can remain classified for many years. While former spies may be canny enough not to unveil or elaborate their former work, why aren't they required to keep (the fact of) their employment by agencies confidential? Can't enemies still exploit former employees? E.g. enemies can blackmail them especially if they get indebted, or clandestinely kidnap them to the enemy state and coerce them to divulge everything they know. E.g. Andrew Bustamanate admitted

Yes. And I wish I could forget them.

to the question of "Are there REALLY big secrets that you know, that could land you/the country in terrible trouble if it came out to the public?" I'll cite some prominent examples of former spies.

The Central Intelligence Agency team that discovered Soviet mole Aldrich Ames. From left to right: Sandy Grimes, Paul Redmond, Jeanne Vertefeuille, Diana Worthen, Dan Payne.

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"Restaurants and cafés are in many ways the lifeblood of espionage," is how Amaryllis Fox puts it. Fox was a real spy. Her memoir, Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, released this month, recounts her adventures as a clandestine CIA operative from 2003 to 2010 deployed to 16 countries to infiltrate terrorist networks in the post-Sept. 11 world.

  • Note: This question was asked on Information Security prior, but was closed as off-topic there. I believed that the question may be a better fit for this site, but there was disagreement whether or not this question belongs here as well. – MechMK1 May 5 at 7:45
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    Not sure there is a genuine question here. That a few people end up being outed (Plame) or acknowledge their spy past some time afterwards is unavoidable but it doesn't mean it's generally allowed. Then there is a judgment call on which indiscretions deserve a punishment. Also, you ask about governments in general but American operatives seem more loquacious than most, it's not usual to publish a non-fiction book right after you left service. – Relaxed May 5 at 13:15
  • @Relaxed those appearing on Youtube have probably cleared it with their former employers. And let's face it, they only talk about old stuff in general in a way that makes their employers look cool. That's soft power right there (in a way that few other countries besides the US and to a lesser extent the UK have). – JJ for Transparency and Monica May 5 at 21:44
  • @MechMK1 this got closed too!!! – Swansea May 7 at 21:45

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