Friday, April 08, 2005

The CIA and the newly established Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX) 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:

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.

My dad once asked me the question (when I was an avid reader/conisseur)of the intel game: "which is more important; intelligence or counterintelligence?" After thoughtful reflection I came to the conclusion of counterintelligence because you can't always know what the other guy is doing, it doesn't matter as long as he doesn't know what you're doing. Great post. As for me, I'd also like to see a concerted effort at a propaganda/marketing campaign. Hey, it worked for the Soviets. Look at how many hippies, journalists and leftist politicians they fooled. (not that we'd have to fool anybody into the superiority of the American way of life;)
Hi Nem

Thanks much. Trying to get the USG to take strategic influence seriously as an aspect of intel seems to be akin to trying to teach a pig to dance.

So far the pig just seems to be annoyed ;o)

Great post as always.


Good points. I wonder exactly how intelligence/counterintelligence plays into a "fog of war" and a "fog of peace." Is it more valuable to increase the enemy's fog of war or decrease your fog of war?
Ideally, it would be best to have both. Of course in the real world it seems you get the most bang for your buck with increasing his "fog of war" as you put it. Keeping him off balance is a good second place to knowing exactly what he's up to (which is impossible 100% of the time.) Also, CI pays dividends with catching your foes agents and turning them, allowing traps to be set and victories to be won (of course this is most effective if you know they are believing you which can only be verified by your own sources so it's a double-edged sword so to speak and we're back to the beginning of this comment.) To sum up, remember, the one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind.
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