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Inside the Ring: Counterspies hunt Russian mole inside National Security Agency

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

NSA mole hunt

The National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting a counterintelligence probe at its Fort Meade, Md., headquarters in a top-secret hunt for a Russian agent, according to a former intelligence official close to the agency.

The former official said the probe grew out of the case of 10 Russian "illegals," or deep-cover spies, who were uncovered last summer and sent back to Moscow after the defection of Col. Alexander Poteyev, a former SVR foreign intelligence officer who reportedly fled to the U.S. shortly before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited here in June.

Col. Poteyev is believed to be the source who disclosed the U.S.-based agent network.

NSA counterintelligence officials suspect that members of the illegals network were used by Russia's SVR spy agency to communicate with one or more agents inside the agency, which conducts electronic intelligence gathering and code-breaking.

One sign that the probe is fairly advanced is that FBI counterintelligence agents are involved in the search.

"They are looking for one or more Russian spies that NSA is convinced reside at Fort Meade and possibly other DoD intel offices, like DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency]," the former official said. "NSA is convinced that at least one is at NSA."

Some of the 10 illegals who were posing as U.S. citizens helped service Russian agents working inside the U.S. intelligence community, the former official said.

No other details of the investigation could be learned.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said in e-mail: "I don't have any information to provide regarding your query."

An FBI spokesman had no immediate comment.

NSA has been the victim of several damaging spy cases dating back to the 1960s, when two officials defected to the Soviet Union.

In 1985, NSA analyst Ronald Pelton was caught spying for Moscow. He had provided the Soviets with extremely damaging secrets, including details of an underwater electronic eavesdropping program on Russian military cables called "Operation Ivy Bells."

China in Kyrgyzstan

A confidential State Department cable made public this week highlights China's role in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

The U.S. ambassador in far-off Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, confronted China's ambassador about a covert attempt by Beijing to bribe the government there to shut down the strategic U.S. military transit base at Manas in exchange for $3 billion in cash.

The Feb. 13, 2009, cable signed by Ambassador Tatiana C. Gfoeller revealed that Chinese Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Zhang Yannian "did not deny categorically" the covert cash offer to close the base, which is a major transit and refueling point for U.S. troops and supplies heading into northern Afghanistan.

"After opening pleasantries, the ambassador mentioned that Kyrgyz officials had told her that China had offered a $3 billion financial package to close Manas Air Base and asked for the ambassador's reaction to such an allegation," the cable stated.

"Visibly flustered, Zhang temporarily lost the ability to speak Russian and began spluttering in Chinese to the silent aide diligently taking notes right behind him. Once he had recovered the power of Russian speech, he inveighed against such a calumny, claiming that such an idea was impossible, China was a staunch opponent of terrorism, and China's attitude toward Kyrgyzstan's decision to close Manas was one of 'respect and understanding.' "

The cable highlights what observers say has been China's behind-the-scenes, anti-U.S. strategy of seeking to undermine U.S. global counterterrorism efforts.

Mr. Zhang insisted that China's interest in Kyrgyzstan, which shares a border with China's restive Xinjiang province, is purely commercial. He then said China rejected calls by "some Kyrgyz" for China to set up a military base there to counterbalance Russian and U.S. influence.

"We want no military or political advantage. Therefore, we wouldn't pay $3 billion for Manas," Mr. Zhang was quoted as saying.

Chinese intelligence personnel, however, are another story, according to U.S. officials who have said Beijing's intelligence presence is very large in the country.

Mr. Zhang advised the U.S. ambassador on how to keep the base. "Just give them $150 million in cash [per year, and] you will have the base," he said.

The Chinese official also said several times during the meeting that a "revolution in China" is possible if the economy failed to improve and millions remain unemployed.

"In our experience, talk of revolution at home is taboo for Chinese," the cable said.

However, observers have noted that Chinese diplomats used similar language in meetings with U.S. officials as scare tactics, warning of a coming Chinese collapse as a way to stave off political pressure for democratic change.

Braced for attack

Amid high tensions, U.S. and allied militaries are braced for another North Korean attack - more artillery shelling, missile test launches or possibly another underground nuclear blast.

The next incident is expected in coming days after U.S.-South Korean joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea that ended on Wednesday, said intelligence sources familiar with the region.

North Korean military forces remain on heightened alert, as do South Korean forces, and the sources said the South Korean military is set to counter any further artillery strikes.

One possible target being watched closely is the northernmost of South Korea's five northwest islands, called Baengnyeong Island, a major intelligence base that has been a safe harbor for North Korean defectors fleeing the communist state in the past.

South Korea's military is prepared to carry out aggressive counterattacks against any new strikes.

Intelligence analysis of the Nov. 23 artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, which killed four people and wounded 17, indicates that the surprise bombardment is connected to the ongoing leadership succession of Kim Jong-il's third son, Kim Jong-un, as well as to the recent disclosure by the North Koreans of a covert uranium-enrichment program.

Kim Jong-un was recently promoted and has aligned himself with North Korean generals involved in artillery forces, according to the intelligence sources. Reports from North Korea indicated that both Kims visited the 4th Corps, whose unit carried out an artillery barrage before the Yeonpyeong attack.

Gay training

The Pentagon working group on open gays in the military sets out an ambitious training program to ensure that troops treat their colleagues, gay or straight, with dignity.

The group, led by Army Gen. Carter Ham and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, appears to shy away from what some might call "sensitively training."

The report's implementation plan states that "service members are not expected to change their personal religious or moral beliefs; however, they are expected to treat all others with dignity and respect, consistent with the core values that already exist within each service."

But objections to homosexuality are not grounds to request a transfer, reports special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

Says the report: Service "members do not have the right to refuse duty or duty assignments based on a moral objection to another's sexual orientation. Service members remain obligated to follow orders that involve interaction with others who are gay or lesbian, even if an unwillingness to do so is based on strong, sincerely held, moral or religious beliefs."

And it states that "harassment or abuse based on sexual orientation is unacceptable. All service members are to treat one another with dignity and respect regardless of sexual orientation."

Gay survey

While the Pentagon working group concluded the negative impact on the force would be "low" if gays serve openly, its survey results present a different story.

Republicans likely will cite some of these numbers in arguing in the Senate, where a vote on repeal is pending, that now is not the time to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, as two wars are being fought.

The most striking number is that nearly 60 percent of combat soldiers and Marines believe open gays will hurt unit readiness.

There are other similar findings, reports special correspondent Mr. Scarborough.

Of respondents who said they served under a leader they believed to be gay, 46 percent said it had a "mostly negative" effect on the unit's performance. Only 8 percent termed it "mostly positive."

Of all troops asked how repeal will affect their future, 23 percent said they will either leave the military sooner than planned or think about leaving. For Marines, the percentage was nearly 40 percent.

If the figures are accurate, repeal would result in a surge of troop departures and leave the military scrambling to fill the ranks.

A quarter of those surveyed also said they would shower at a different time if someone they believed to be gay were using the facility.

Gay-rights advocates cite the survey's most publicized result: Seventy percent of all troops - support and combat - say repeal will have a positive, mixed or no effect on the force.

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