What is the most effective type of counterintelligence (CI) for the United States Intelligence Community (USIC) to use against espionage threats against the United States? There are essentially two base types of counterintelligence operations, defensive and offensive.
Defensive CI operations in the United States largely consist of reactive and preventative measures which begin by looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in an American organization that could easily be exploited, and finding ways to build defenses for those disadvantages. This is done by first conducting assessments that analyze data from numerous intelligence sources and disciplines in order to create and set up effective deterrent systems against organizations or people that are a threat to the United States. Defensive CI also consists of investigations that follow up on security breaches and track the activity of government employees; looking for activities or issues that may indicate that they are a security threat such as a high level of debt, compromising family relationships, psychological disorders, or association with potentially dangerous groups. This process takes very careful and skilled analysis and a substantial amount of time.
With offensive counterintelligence—also known as counterespionage—the proactive collection of information about enemy intelligence operations is what separates it’s methodology from defensive counterintelligence. Offensive CI operations go beyond being reactive by pre-emptively compromising a hostile intelligence organization’s personnel and resources. The operations are focused on actively collecting intelligence on these organizations by recruiting agents within their service that have information, acting upon that information, and disrupting or undermining their operations. These efforts may also consist of discrediting important members of the hostile intelligence organization or the diversion of the organization’s funds or other material resources. The key points are disrupting and undermining, as in preventing the operation from ever taking place.
In my opinion the decision on which type of counterintelligence operation is more valuable, be it defensive or offensive, is based on three different criteria. First, the most valuable method for counterintelligence has to be the type that is acceptable in relation to American political philosophy and culture, and that will give personnel working in counterintelligence the ability to accept a possible change in attitude and function without conflicting with their core personal beliefs or values. Next it will have to be the type of operation that has proven to function the most effectively against foreign intelligence collection operations. Finally, the most valuable method must be the most cost effective to implement within the United States government and infrastructure.
For the first part of this article series, I will look at the type of counterintelligence method that is the most acceptable in relation to American political philosophy and culture, and that will give personnel working in counterintelligence the ability to accept a possible change in attitude and function without conflicting with their core personal beliefs or values.
In politics and culture the USIC inherently (and obviously) will parallel the core politics and culture of the United States and her people. The United States holds freedom, human rights, Individualism, and privacy in very high regard, and even most left-leaning Americans would never support a Statist and Collectivist government such as the one that ran the Soviet Union. That consisted of the Soviet security state, where there was infiltration of the KGB into every institution of Soviet society. According to Russian spymaster Oleg Kalugin, at the height of the Cold War there were nearly five hundred thousand KGB agents in Russia, in stark contrast to the tens of thousands of FBI and CIA agents in the United States. Therefore the large majority of Americans would not support the covert security state that the Soviet Union had, the kind of state that created the Iron Curtain.
According to many theories that have gained wide acceptance among anthropologists, culture demonstrates the way that people interpret their own lives and their environment. According to this point of view, culture becomes such an integral part of a person’s existence that it actually becomes the person’s environment, and most cultural change will often be attributed to human adaptation to historical events. Moreover, given that culture is seen as the primary adaptive mechanism of humans and takes place much faster than human biological evolution, most cultural change can be viewed as culture adapting to itself. In other words American security culture cannot be instantly changed and reformed, it must slowly adapt to the world and situations around it in accordance to the values and beliefs of earlier generations and American core philosophies. Americans can no more immediately change their mindset concerning security then they can change the very culture of America, their biological environment. Therefore, by America’s very culture and political philosophy, defensive CI will always be prone to fail. Nearly all spy cases in America involved failed security and defensive programs. Many spies found that stealing secrets was so easy in this country that they actually went for classified documents outside their normal areas of access.
As has been mentioned, the large majority of Americans would not support the covert security state that the Soviet Union was infamous for, demonstrating that by America’s inherent culture and political philosophy, defensive CI will be hindered and have difficulties unless there is a collective change in the American mindset concerning security. Furthermore, good defensive counterintelligence programs also call for efficient interagency coordination and operations, which has often proved elusive in American bureaucracy.
In contrast, the American public by and large would not have difficulty supporting ad hoc operations that go after the people or organizations deemed important for national security, getting information from them about internal spies, and then going after those moles and spies by following up leads with investigations or undermining the operation entirely. This type of operation touches on Individualism, which stresses independence and self-reliance. In addition, our dependence on technological collection methods has proved to actually be a significant asset for these operations, often augmenting already competent personnel. The United States has shown that it is very good at this type of clever, proactive, outside-the-box problem solving, which frankly allows the U.S. to actively involve itself in the business of foreigners instead of the privacy of most American citizens. And that is always going to be the preferred option for most that live in American society.
 Joseph Masco. “Active Measures: How a KGB Spymaster Made Good in Post-9/11 America.” Radical History Review93 (Fall 2005): Page 285.
Kottak, Conrad Phillip. Cultural Anthropology. 10th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Page 91-93.
Stein, Jeff. “The Mole’s Manual.” New York Times, (July 5, 1994): sec. A 17. May be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/1994/07/05/opinion/the-mole-s-manual.html?scp=1&s…. Paragraph 8.