- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Early this month President Clinton issued an order intended to reorganize American counterintelligence. Normally a story of this kind would have received more than a one-day treatment: What's all this counterintelligence business right out of a clear sky? Why let the targets of counterintelligence even know something's afoot? A one-day wonder; gone and forgotten? How come?

Yet Mr. Clinton's order, CI-21 (for Counterintelligence for the 21st Century) supported by the FBI and CIA, is as important as if he were to sign on for a missile defense system. Something must have moved Mr. Clinton to issue a directive calling for creation of a National Counterintelligence Executive "charged with bringing a forward-looking, post-cold-war mentality in counterintelligence," as the New York Times reported. And something must have moved the FBI to back Mr. Clinton's directive, even though normally the agency resists anybody looking over its shoulder.

Just what is counterintelligence (CI)? Its tasks are fourfold:

(1) To protect U.S. intelligence operations.

(2) To uncover deception and disinformation.

(3) To detect secret political operations directed against the U.S.

(4) To prevent spies and terrorists from being successful.

In a sense CI is the most important branch of any intelligence agency. As Richard Helms, CIA director from 1966 to 1972 put it:

"Counterintelligence is terribly important, because without an effective counterintelligence program both in the CIA and the FBI the problem of double agents and infiltrators is insurmountable."

Without a secure CI section there can be no trustworthy operational intelligence system because we cannot be sure that the other parts of the intelligence community can be trusted that is, those sections which deal with covert operations, clandestine collection, analysis and estimates. To put it bluntly: the job of the counterspy is to root out the traitors in the intelligence community. What made possible the many triumphs of the Soviet KGB was that it was able to penetrate the CI establishment in Britain, thanks to Kim Philby and in the U.S., thanks to Aldrich Ames. There have, of course, been other penetrations notably that of David H. Barnett who pleaded guilty in 1980 to spying for the Soviet Union in Indonesia from 1976 to 1979.

In the fall of 1950, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith was testifying before a congressional committee on his nomination by President Truman to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was asked by a member of Congress: "General, how do you know that the CIA is not penetrated by the Russians?" Smith replied: "Senator, I work on the assumption that it is."

The job of the counterspy is one of the most unpleasant in any intelligence agency because he must constantly question the bona fides of sources and the validity of information which is usually hard-won, often startling. Frequently the counterspy is questioning the judgment of officials of much higher rank than his own.

The need for an effective CI section is especially great today because America, the world's only superpower, has been targeted by well-financed and highly motivated terrorist masterminds like Osama bin Laden. And the pressure to infiltrate U.S. intelligence agencies will inevitably increase as the U.S., under President-elect George W. Bush's leadership, undertakes a missile defense system. With a KGB colonel now president of Russia and Communist China seeking the secrets of American technology, effective counterintelligence is the order of the day.

Among Mr. Bush's top priorities, therefore, will be an examination of Executive Order CI-21 to see whether it will actually meet the needs of U.S. security.

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