COLLEGE STATION, Texas — The Bush administration has adopted a new counterintelligence strategy that calls for “attacking” foreign spy services and the spy components of terrorist groups before they can strike, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday.
National Counterintelligence Executive Michelle Van Cleave said in a speech here that the past policy of waiting for intelligence threats to emerge “ceded the initiative to the adversary.”
“No longer will we wait until taking action,” Miss Van Cleave said during a conference hosted by the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. “To meet the threat, U.S. counterintelligence needs to go on the offensive, which will require major but achievable changes in the way we do business.”
The new mission for counterintelligence is to identify foreign spies and terrorist threats, and then develop “a counterintelligence doctrine of attacking foreign intelligence services systematically via strategic counterintelligence operations,” Miss Van Cleave said.
The offensive counterintelligence strategy is part of the Bush administration’s policy of pre-empting strategic threats. It is also part of President Bush’s announced plan to promote democracy and freedom and undermine global tyranny, she said.
In the past, counterintelligence often was limited to “catching spies.” Previously captured spies, including CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, a Russian mole in the FBI, “caused stunning losses,” Miss Van Cleave said.
In the battle against terrorists, new counterintelligence activities will target the intelligence services of state sponsors of terrorism, such as Syria and Iran.
“The intelligence services of state sponsors may represent the key links in the global terrorist-support network,” Miss Van Cleave said. “Terrorist groups perform traditional intelligence activities in the way they gather information, recruit sources and use assets.”
Under the new strategy, U.S. intelligence agencies will more aggressively work to disrupt terrorist operations by targeting their intelligence links.
The strategy was approved March 1 by the president, and formal guidance to the CIA, FBI and other security agencies involved in counterintelligence work will be issued in the next several weeks, a U.S. intelligence official said. A formal report on the strategy also will be made public and sent to Congress, perhaps as early as this month.
The national counterintelligence executive is a White House-level office that was placed under the control of the new director of national intelligence as part of the recently enacted intelligence-reform legislation.
Miss Van Cleave’s comments came as FBI and CIA officials at the conference said the threat from foreign intelligence services — specifically, Russia and China — is growing.
Barry Royden, a veteran CIA official, said Russian intelligence services are targeting U.S. troops in the Middle East for recruitment as agents, as well as seeking recruits among Americans in Russia.
Russian intelligence officers are using “very aggressive actions and operations,” including blackmail, extortion and entrapment “to try to get people to commit espionage,” Mr. Royden said.
He also said the Russians are conducting “very aggressive operations against our troops in the Middle East.” He did not elaborate.
“We get continued reporting about very aggressive actions and operations against Americans of all types and stripes” in Russia and other parts of the world, Mr. Royden said.
Tim Bereznay, a senior FBI counterintelligence official, said Chinese intelligence activities are a major threat — specifically, Beijing’s covert targeting of U.S. weapons technology.
Counterintelligence against Chinese spying “is our main priority,” Mr. Bereznay.
He said he fears his 4-year-old grandson might one day have to go to war in the Taiwan Strait against a Chinese military armed with stolen U.S. weapons technology.
“I would hate for my grandson to be killed with U.S. technology,” Mr. Bereznay said.
Lisa Bronson, a Pentagon technology security director, told the conference that China’s government conducts large-scale activities aimed at gathering American high-technology secrets through front companies.
“China has somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 front companies in the U.S., and their sole reason for existing is to steal, exploit U.S. technology,” Miss Bronson said.
It is difficult to assess what technologies China already has obtained illicitly from the United States, she said.
China has “an aggressive military modernization program and we’re concerned about that aggressive military modernization program, and that’s probably going to be one of the biggest challenges in the combination of the counterintelligence and technology security world in the next five or 10 years,” Miss Bronson said.