This article is the first in a series on espionage.
There are still people who think of espionage as part of the old Cold War and in the past. The reality is that espionage is all around us.
It’s widely assumed that foreign espionage is focused solely on the U.S. military and State Department to gain insight on military actions and foreign policy. Sadly, that thinking is also incorrect.
Foreign espionage agents not only target the military’s current actions and future movements, but also military research and development (R&D) to learn what emerging technologies are a potential threat to their hostile countries. R&D information is stolen to protect or strengthen the countries that steal it.
Spying Is a Way to Understand Foreign Politics and Increase Wealth
Espionage is also a way for nation-states to understand the current geopolitical situation and to prevent wars. Some countries, however, commit economic espionage to increase their wealth by targeting information that can expose national or industrial intentions and capabilities.
The FBI reports that “as a result of a string of high-profile espionage arrests by the FBI and its partners, the press dubbed 1985 as the ‘Year of the Spy.’” With a string of apprehensions, hostile nations were put on notice that espionage against the United States would not be tolerated; spies who were caught would be sentenced to long prison terms or deported.
The string of arrests in 1985 was a blow to those hostile countries – mainly China and the Soviet Union – because the apprehensions shut down some of their intelligence gathering into U.S. intentions.
At the same time, it is often counterproductive to arrest espionage agents because U.S. intelligence agencies then have the always difficult task of identifying and capturing their replacements. It’s no wonder that U.S. counterintelligence agents often prefer to leave foreign agents in place and provide them with false intelligence or, even better, turn them against their own country.
The “Year of the Spy” was a good reminder to the public and to our enemies that we know espionage agents operate against the United States. The publicity surrounding the spies’ arrests helped educate the next generation of homeland security, military and intelligence professionals and provided memorable case histories for instructors to use as real-world espionage examples.
What Is the Current Espionage Situation in the US?
In a March 2016 speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, Mike Rogers, former head of the House Intelligence Committee, stated that there are more spies in the United States today from foreign nation-states than at any time in our history — including the Cold War. “And they’re stealing everything. If it’s not bolted down, it’s gone,” Rogers said. “And if it’s bolted down, give them about an hour — they’ll figure out how to get that, too.”
In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine reported that several thousand foreign intelligence officers operate openly in Washington, D.C., from dozens of embassies and international organizations.
What few people realize is that we have little privacy or rights from foreign intelligence agencies. The Russians have targeted U.S. political and military intelligence organizations for many decades. Chinese spies target intellectual property in addition to political and military intelligence. While the Russians send skilled intelligence officers, China often relies on people untrained in espionage, but who have access to targeted information or to those who know how to gain that access.
Recent Successes in Hostile Espionage
The Chinese intelligence service created what is known in spycraft as a “honey trap” for 59-year-old Benjamin Bishop, a married defense contractor with a top-secret security clearance. Bishop was a retired lieutenant colonel working at the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii when he met a 27-year-old Chinese national in the U.S. on a student visa. Bishop provided her with numerous classified documents during their three-year affair.
“In court, Bishop’s attorney, Birney Bervar, characterized the couple’s exchange of secret information as an act of love, not espionage,” Foreign Policy reported.
But in 2014, a military court in Honolulu sentenced Bishop to more than seven years in prison “for passing national defense secrets to his Chinese girlfriend and illegally keeping numerous classified documents at his home,” according to the Reuters news agency.
Similarly, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning conducted espionage or participated in the loss and distribution of classified information to non-cleared actors, including foreign intelligence services. Distributing classified information to the public or anyone without proper security clearance is a crime. Some people call this action the “insider threat,” but it mostly falls under theft and espionage.
This article was adapted from my article, “The Espionage Threat Is Real: Strategies for the Next Insider Task Force.” That article placed second in the Military Writers Guild 2017 Competition.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 45th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016 “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017 “Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”