Jim Kouri
U.S. officials must not overlook counterintelligence mission
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By Jim Kouri
February 23, 2011

During the last few months, there have been news reports of intelligence leaks that have demonstrated the inability U.S. security officials to protect the nation's secrets. The Wikileaks saga continues to reinforce the notion that America's leaders are incapable of protecting important information. The U.S. scorecard on counterintelligence is — to put it simply — abysmal, according to current and former intelligence officers and analysts.

The counterintelligence function involves protecting the country, as well as intelligence agencies, from the activities of foreign intelligence services. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has principal responsibility for countering the activities of foreign intelligence services within the United States in order to protect both classified US Government information and proprietary information held by US industry.

The CIA is responsible for coordinating US counterintelligence activities abroad. Each of the military departments also has a counterintelligence element that operates domestically and overseas.

These elements have offensive and defensive missions. Offensively, they attempt to recruit agents within foreign intelligence services to ascertain what, if any, operations are being undertaken against the United States; they monitor the activities of known or suspected agents of foreign intelligence services; and they undertake operations to ascertain the targets and modus operandi of foreign intelligence services.

Defensively, they investigate cases of suspected espionage and prepare analyses for government and industry concerning the foreign intelligence threat. The FBI has principal jurisdiction to investigate suspected espionage within the United States, although all intelligence agencies maintain internal capabilities to undertake preliminary inquiries of their own employees. Military counterintelligence elements have concurrent jurisdiction to carry out counterintelligence investigations of their respective military personnel.

Counterintelligence, as a function of intelligence agencies, however, goes well beyond detecting and monitoring the activities of foreign intelligence services and investigating employees suspected of espionage. Counterintelligence is an integral part of the entire intelligence process.

All agencies that undertake intelligence collection, whether through human or technical means, must be constantly on guard that what they are collecting is genuine. This requires continuous evaluation of their sources as well as the information gathered from them. Intelligence analysts who are familiar with the totality of information on a particular topic are often in a position to detect anomalies.

Historically, intelligence agencies have not performed this crucial function very well. Virtually all have suffered severe losses due to a failure to recognize anomalous behavior on the part of their own employees. Some have also had problems recognizing anomalies in the behavior of their sources or in the appearance or actions of their targets. The Aldrich Ames spy case revealed serious shortcomings in both categories.

In the wake of the Ames case, the Intelligence Community made sweeping changes to its counterintelligence infrastructure. A new policy board, reporting to the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, was established to coordinate counterintelligence activities and resolve interagency disagreements, and a "national counterintelligence center" was created to share and evaluate information regarding foreign intelligence threats. In addition, the CIA made numerous improvements to its counterintelligence and security posture.

Perhaps more than any other function of intelligence, counterintelligence has undergone the most significant change over the last two years. The question is whether these changes will have a long-term positive effect.

Because counterintelligence is so crucial to the success of the entire enterprise, the Intelligence Community must sustain the renewed emphasis recently placed on this function. Counterintelligence must be viewed not as an annoying intrusion but rather as an integral part of the intelligence process. It must focus not only on protecting our own sensitive information, but equally on efforts to manipulate our collection and analysis, through double agents or other means.

This requires a certain openness of mind and a willingness continually to balance the conclusions drawn from intelligence with the possibility of deliberate deception by a target.

Sources: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Institute, American Federation of Police, National Association of Chiefs of Police

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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