The Cold War is over. Why, then, does America continue to be penetrated by foreign operatives that seek to disrupt our intelligence agencies and weaken U.S. security? In his new book “Enemies,” author Bill Gertz, longtime reporter for the Washington Times, points the finger directly at a lack of counterintelligence.
The United States remains a superpower full of valuable information that other states—including “allies” such as France—would love to exploit for their own benefit and our detriment. At risk is nothing less than America’s ability to control its secrets and security.
It is often mentioned that, in sports, the best offense is a good defense. In the world of spying that means counterintelligence assets that can be used in a variety of ways to not only find moles in our midst, but to stop them before they penetrate.
However, as Gertz outlines in the following interview with HUMAN EVENTS, the U.S. security apparatus lacks sufficient means to wage effective counterintelligence.
What nation’s intelligence operations pose the largest threat to U.S. security today?
By far, China’s intelligence services pose the greatest threat. China has a three-pronged intelligence assault underway.
The first is its traditional intelligence operations, which are focused on planting spies inside our government with the goal of learning about U.S. intelligence operations against China. Through several recent cases, they have compromised all of our major collection operations, both electronic and human.
Second, they have engaged in technology theft and acquisition, as the case of defense contractor Chi Mak shows. China has obtained extremely sensitive defense technology, including the secrets of the Aegis battle management system that is the heart of the current Navy warship forces, and secrets about Virginia-class submarines that give China the capability to track our newest submarines.
Last is influence operations that have been spectacularly successful in persuading our elites and government into adopting the false notion that China poses no threat to the United States.
Another nation’s intelligence service that also poses a major threat is Russia, which has increased spying to Cold War levels, according to the FBI.
What nation’s intelligence apparatus should we seek to emulate the most? China? The UK?
There is no model since the United States is the world’s lone superpower. Unfortunately, we are severely hamstrung in carrying out global responsibilities in the role because we do not have a superpower-level intelligence system.
We need to radically improve our intelligence-gathering and especially our counterintelligence capabilities. In fact, if we had aggressive, offensive strategic counterintelligence capabilities, we would be inside of all the major spy services and could learn the best techniques and methods from all of them. This concept of strategic counterintelligence was codified in a new Bush Administration strategy, but unfortunately, bureaucrats in the intelligence community who oppose aggressive counterintelligence—because it makes the job of collecting intelligence more difficult—have derailed the new strategy, which urgently needs to be implemented.
China’s services are modeled after those of the Soviet Union and are oriented toward being political police in addition to intelligence collectors so that is not a good model. Our current system is based largely on the British model but needs to be adapted to a more global mission.
What are the essential elements of an effective counterintelligence operation? How much of it is bodies in the field?
Effective counterintelligence operations require knowledge of the target, first, and then creative operations. An example is the British in Northern Ireland. To find IRA bombers, British intelligence set up a laundry service in a pro-IRA area of one city and then offered cut rate prices. They then surveyed the cloths for traces of explosives as a way to find IRA bombers.
Such techniques have been used in the past but the current counterintelligence system is incapable of carrying those types of operations because of opposition from managers or a lack of support from management.
Bodies in the field are very important and there are many dedicated professionals out there who are engaged in the often difficult, and sometimes tedious role of surveillance, both physical and electronic. This cadre needs more support, better training and better equipment and should be expanded to better cope with a growing foreign intelligence and foreign terrorism threat.
Based on the number of counterintelligence operatives the U.S. security community uncovers, how many are out there that we don’t know about?
Not sure of the question. I would note that China’s Ministry of State Security is fundamentally a counterintelligence-oriented service with a top priority of gathering intelligence on what foreign intelligence services are doing inside China and China’s intelligence services. The 2nd Department of the People’s Liberation Army, as the military intelligence service is called, is mainly a technology collector and information collector.
Given the amount of continued Russian spying against the United States, has the Cold War truly ended?
The Cold War in the traditional sense is not really over, especially if you ask someone from Cuba, North Korea or even China and Vietnam. Although the Soviet-style of communism appears to be limited, Russia today is ruled by leaders who come from the KGB, including Putin and many of his key aides. These people are not Communist in name, but are so linked to the past Soviet system that they still harbor Soviet views, prime among them that the United States remains the main enemy.
Can any U.S. president substantially change our intelligence culture? If so, how much blame can be attributed to any particular administration? If not, how should that culture go about changing itself from within?
Yes. Presidential attention to the issue is the key. Current U.S. intelligence agencies are in many ways operating independent of political control by arguing they are "professionals" outside of politics and who claim that any orders from political leaders is an attempt to "politicize" intelligence. This appears especially to be the case with Republican administrations, since many in the intelligence community—while professing to be apolitical—are left of center and lean toward Democrats. As one senior CIA veteran put it, "I worked at CIA for 30 years and never met a Republican." It may be an exaggeration but it captures the lack of political diversity in the agency. Much can be said of the FBI.
What steps need to be immediately undertaken in order to improve our counterintelligence and overall intelligence apparatus?
In “Enemies,” I recommend setting up a presidential-congressional commission on part with the 9/11 and WMD commissions to look at what needs to be done to fix counterintelligence. Unfortunately, scores of studies have been done, most of them after major spy cases were uncovered, yet nothing seems to change. It’s the culture.
As Richard Haver, a former intelligence official puts it: Our system today is a compliance culture that says if you follow the rule book and do what is in your job description, you cannot be blamed for spy failures. Have says we need an accountability culture that says those in charge of keeping secrets and finding spies should be held responsible for foreign intelligence service penetrations and other counterintelligence failures.
What about the long-term? What should be the strategy for five, 10, 20 years down the road?
The long-term strategy should be to shift intelligence resources toward counterintelligence, based on the idea that finding out what foreign intelligence services are doing and foreign terrorists, who conduct intelligence operations prior to attacks, are doing and how they operate.
Currently, debates over how to act in the world appear to be limited between diplomacy at one end of the spectrum to military action that the other.
Effective counterintelligence should be the pillar of the middle-range of activities, which include neutralizing foreign intelligence by getting inside their organizations, intelligence collection to know the enemies, covert action to influence the enemies and special paramilitary and military operations that are short of full scale war. These means are the best hope for resolving the Iran and North Korea problems, for example, in the short term, and China in the long term.