WASHINGTON: A recently released FBI report about the compromising ties
between a Chinese-American Mata Hari and her FBI-agent lover is a stark
reminder that after terrorism, the greatest threat to our national security
at home is espionage.
According to the US government, spies from more than 140 (of 191) nations
are working overtime in our exceedingly open society to pinch US defence and
commercial secrets at a clip not seen since the Cold War ended.
The FBI report, which details the 20-year “relationship” between Katrina
Leung, an informant on Chinese intelligence activities in the United States,
and FBI counterintelligence agent James Smith, shows why America better keep
its eye squarely on the spy threat.
In fact, experts say we’re facing the biggest foreign intelligence challenge
since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Foreign spies are aggressively collecting
military and high-tech secrets using both “old school” and new spy
Foreign spy services are deviating from the traditional practice of placing
operatives under official cover in their embassies, consulates or trade
missions around the United States. According to the FBI, today’s foreign
007’s are tasking defence attaches, emigres or visiting students,
businessmen, scientists and researchers to respond to specific information
requests or exploit “targets of opportunity” they come across.
American high-tech industries are a key target. Every year, economic
espionage costs American businesses billions of dollars. Spies recruit
company insiders, form joint ventures, and even engage in “dumpster diving”
for discarded data.
While the United States is targeted for intelligence collection by many
nations, the top 10 countries probably account for 60% of the
counterintelligence threat, says the US government’s National
Counterintelligence Executive office.
China, by far, constitutes the greatest counterintelligence threat today,
according to the FBI. As many as 3,500 Chinese “front companies” operate
here with the expressed purpose of gathering intelligence, especially highly
prized information technology.
The FBI claims that the number of Chinese counterintelligence cases in
Silicon Valley increases by 20% to 30% every year. But Beijing also uses
espionage to support its unprecedented military buildup.
A Taiwanese citizen recently pleaded guilty to spying for Chinese
intelligence in the United States. He brazenly sought to buy – and illegally
export – cruise/air-air missiles and helicopter/fighter aircraft parts to
Russia is no post-Cold War pal on the Spy vs Spy front, either. Moscow ranks
as No. 2 on the counterintelligence threat list. Former KGB colonel – and
current Russian president – Vladimir Putin keeps his former comrades plenty
Russian spies aren’t as taken by high-tech industrial espionage as the
Chinese. Not surprisingly, Russian shpioni are more interested in gathering
Pentagon/military secrets and “Inside the Beltway” chit-chat for their
Cuban 007’s are here, too. Havana concentrates its “defensive” intelligence
efforts on penetrating the Cuban-American communities in the States to
ensure they don’t get stung by another Bay of Pigs-style invasion.
Iran’s secret service has similar counterrevolution concerns. But while
Tehran is focused on Washington’s deliberations over its nuclear programme,
it’s also scrounging for embargoed spare parts for its Shah-era, US-made
fighter and cargo planes.
Moreover, several Iranian “diplomats” assigned to their UN mission were
expelled from the US over the last few years for suspicious activities,
including “video-casing” New York City tourist and transportation sites.
We can only assume that non-state actors are gathering intelligence here,
too. Hezbollah and Hamas undoubtedly are collecting information for
terrorist strikes against US targets in case we take military action against
their sponsor, Iran.
Spies also focus on members of Congress and staff on Capitol Hill. They see
them not only as a source of insider “skinny” on legislative branch
deliberations, but as candidates for “influence operations,” too.
Considering the ongoing threat of terrorism here at home – and the
continuing challenge of law enforcement – adjusting to the growing peril of
counterintelligence is no small task for the FBI.
The FBI is doing its best to counter the growing counterintelligence
problem, including putting “spy catchers” in all 56 field offices. In
addition, the Bureau has increased the number of counterintelligence
officers in its ranks.
Equally important, the FBI has expanded its counterintelligence co-operation
with industry partners, especially with the four major defense contractors,
to facilitate spy spotting by the Hoover Gang.
But, unfortunately, that may not be enough. We’ve clearly got to do more to
prevent foreign spies from nicking sensitive American information for
ill-gotten commercial, military – or worse yet – terrorist gain. – KRT