FORGING A NEW COUNTERINTELLIGENCE CAPABILITY
and the newly established Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive
) just released the new National Counterintelligence Strategy of the United States
. Of all the domains that come under the rubric of " Intelligence" none have been historically more beset by controversy and bureaucratic infighting than Counterintelligence operations.
From the days of the OSS
to the CIA CI program under James Jesus Angleton
to the Aldrich Ames
and Robert Hanssen
spy scandals, considerable, even paranoid, CI procedures failed to stem the tide of Soviet penetration of America's intelligence community. The operational need to practice compartmentalization within the IC to limit the damage caused by Soviet moles combined by CIA - FBI rivalry, left the CI community badly fractured institutionally and to a considerable extent, blind compared to the perspective of their KGB opponents. The fall of the USSR did not result in a relaxation of compartmentalization within the IC to acheive greater CI security, instead security procedures were themselves relaxed in response to the political perception of diminishmed threat. In short, by September 11, 2001 American Counterintelligence had probably reached its nadir.
Fortunately, the Bush administration is taking steps in the right direction with the NCIX, though these steps should be, in my view, a preliminary transition
to an institution with a more formidible national CI capability. Policy changes underway include:
- Proactive Posture: The NCIX will seek to disrupt foreign systems - " neutralize and exploit" in their words - and are correctly viewing the problem as not merely formal intelligence services but also NGO entities like transnational criminal and terror organizations that are now exhibiting intelligence tradecraft. This will force opponents to drain away their relatively more limited resources and get the US " inside their decision cycle".
- Recognition of the Importance of Economic Espionage: The Soviets, Romanians and East Germans stole a lot of technology during the Cold War. While troubling, the Soviet bloc was falling so far behind by 1989 that the Russians reached a point where they lacked the ability to even effectively apply the knowledge they had stolen. Their vacumn cleaner approach also left them suceptible to ruinously expensive disinformation programs. Nor could the Soviets use their stolen goods to become stronger commercial rivals of the United States. Today " 90 countries target sensitive US technologies " seeking a free ride on our proprietary R&D investments to enhance their market share as much as to develop their military prowess.
- Emphasis on CI Analytical Products: Developing an institutional analytical capability from a counterintelligence perspective that becomes a standard part of the policy maker's intel consumption will help mitigate the spread of disinformation, manipulation, stovepiping and old-fashioned " spin. It is a very healthy check and balance and one I would hope is kept separate from being thrown in and watered down in IC consensus documents.
Suggestions for Further Reforms:
Looking at what seems to be a very good start to remediating long-standing, decades-old, institutional culture and operational problems there are some areas that I would like to see aggressively developed. The Bush administration really has only about two years to ram through dramatic CI changes that can stick and take on a life of their own before everyone's eye shifts to 2008. Priorities must be decided upon so I've selected two:
Counter Foreign Strategic Influence in the American Political Process:
One of the useful media contributions during the series of Clinton fundraising scandals was highlighting the degree to which foreign entities, including agents of unfriendly regimes, transnational gangs and various shadowy operators solicited influence in the American political process. Given the preponderant influence in world affairs possessed by the USG and our multiplicity of interests across the globe, a " stakeholder" mentality has developed in the minds of foreign governments, corporations, political movements where they deem it vital to influence our leaders directly, openly or in secret. None of this is going away and it is going to creep further and further down the " political food chain" as foreign entities target rising young politicians of both parties for cultivation.
Establish a Foreign Counterintelligence Agency:
What CI needs is an independent and standardized operational capability to " go on the offensive" abroad in terms of network disruption at their " source" and to become an institutional center to develop and implement CI tradecraft. NCIX is a major step forward but it lacks ( at least as I am reading it) true operational authorities and to the extent that NCIX can corral,cajorle and coordinate operational teams from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies they are draining away assets from those agencies.
Secondly, as a practical matter establishing a foreign CI agency avoids the hair-raising political brawl over trying to establish a domestic counterpart with the attendent constitutional and legal implications. While we need something on the domestic side of the ledger it is better to work out the kinks overseas and identify some of problems to be avoided before attempting the much more delicate task of fitting CI into an open society.
ADDENDUM: I intended to link to this yesterday but Blogger being Blogger was unusable last night - check out Whirledview's deconstruction of the Silberman Report.