The Bush administration is preparing to restructure counterspy agencies to focus more on offensive operations and better interagency communication, a senior intelligence official says.
Michelle Van Cleave, the national counterintelligence executive, said in a speech that U.S. intelligence agencies are working on a new counterintelligence (CI) doctrine “for attacking foreign intelligence services systematically via strategic CI operations, including strategic CI annexes to support war plans.”
Miss Van Cleave said that in the past the U.S. government failed to adopt a strategic or comprehensive view of counterintelligence — the job of using spies and other intelligence techniques to find and stop foreign spies and terrorists.
“The near 60-year history of [counterintelligence] has been one of having no one in charge of the enterprise,” she said in a speech to a conference held last month by the National Security Institute, a Massachusetts-based security firm.
“The CI community is not organized or integrated to accomplish a national mission,” she said. “Rather, the various CI elements are part of a loose confederation of independent organizations with narrower and varying responsibilities, jurisdictions and capabilities.”
Counterspy work has focused on individual cases with little connection to overall security goals, she said.
“Many previous counterintelligence mistakes have been the result of this systemic failure in the architecture of the CI community,” she said.
The new focus will include more offensive operations — targeting foreign spies and terrorists through double-agent operations and other detection and disruption activities.
Additionally, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, which was established by Congress after the spy scandals of the 1990s, will set up a system for better communication among agencies.
Miss Van Cleave said her office is working on a plan to “establish facilities for cross-agency and cross-disciplinary work” that will improve the “integration, information sharing and coherence that connects the dots and closes the seams.”
The FBI carries out domestic counterintelligence, and the CIA conducts counterintelligence abroad. The military services and other elements of the 14-agency U.S. intelligence community also have counterspy roles.
The office also will work on doing better damage assessments — the often politically difficult task of identifying spy failures and their causes.
Foreign intelligence activities directed at the United States include stealing secrets from government and industry, and launching policy and public influence operations.
“Collectively, [foreign intelligence operations] present strategic threats to the nation’s security and prosperity,” she said. “The United States requires a national, systematic perspective and coherent policies to counter them.”
Counterintelligence efforts must be directed at identifying and halting the intelligence activities of foreign power and terrorist groups, a process that requires “more than catching spies,” Miss Van Cleave said.
Miss Van Cleave stated that CIA agent Aldrich Ames, who pleaded guilty to spying 10 years ago, disclosed more than 100 covert operations and betrayed more than 30 sources.
“He was responsible for the loss of virtually all of the CIA’s intelligence assets targeted at the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War,” she said.
FBI turncoat Robert P. Hanssen, who also spied for Moscow, and Defense Intelligence Agency Ana Montes, a Cuban spy, also caused tremendous damage to national security, she said.
“During the Cold War, with the possible exception of the Coast Guard, virtually every one of our national security institutions was penetrated by the Warsaw Pact, most more than once,” Miss Van Cleave said. “These losses imposed grave damage in peacetime; they could have had catastrophic consequences had we found ourselves at war.”
As the United States is at war, “the potential consequences of intelligence failure are far more immediate, putting in jeopardy deployed forces, ongoing operations and the lives of troops abroad as well as Americans at home,” she said.