Townhall Magazine: Spies Like Us

Chris Field
Posted: Sep 02, 2010 10:55 AM
From the feature piece, "Spies Like Us," in the September 2010 issue of Townhall Magazine. To make sure you get the full report, order your subscription today.


Russian "illegals" aren't alone in trying to steal our secrets.

Just when you thought the bumbling Boris Badenov and his side-number Natasha Fatale had retired to a secluded dacha, the FBI uncovers the largest spy ring in the United States in post-Cold War history this summer.

For more than a decade, Mother Russia had been running a dozen, deep-cover “illegals” posing as ordinary Americans (but using assumed names and identities, some of them of the deceased) right under our noses.

The rolled-up Russians were charged with being unregistered agents of a foreign government and with money laundering, but interestingly, none was charged with espionage -- likely due to the lack of success of their clandestine efforts.

While the would-be cloak-and-dagger cabal did not seem to provide much in terms of “intel” booty to their Russian SVR (the KGB’s successor) handlers since 1999, this spy bust did unearth some troubling issues.

There’s a lot more to this botched spy ring than some Russian Austin Power-skis run amok. There are some serious national security matters here that must be addressed to protect our interests, including seeing Russia with a sober eye.

People are wrong to think that espionage ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall some 20 years ago. Ain’t so. But that is what foreign spymasters would like us to think about the world’s second-oldest profession, lulling us into complacency.

In fact, on the contrary, spying is at all time highs and is not limited to TV and Hollywood blockbusters.

According to the U.S. government, in any given year, about one-half of the world’s nearly 200 countries conduct intelligence collection operations against the United States. Of course, that is what is known, the number may actually be higher.

And as it turns out, Russia is not our biggest counterintelligence problem -- it is China that is the greatest threat to America’s secrets. In February, then-Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair, testified to Congress:

“During the past year, China’s intelligence services continued to expand and operate in and outside the United States. Its human collection services enhanced their collection and processing capabilities directed against the United States.”

But Beijing reportedly tends to opt for the less-traditional spook modus operandi such as trying to recruit Chinese businessmen, students and scientists traveling here on study and work visas -- even pressuring Chinese-Americans-to collect information that will aid the Middle Kingdom’s rise.

The DNI also told Congress that the Iranians and Cubans are both active against the United States. Both reportedly share their ill-gotten intelligence loot with America’s enemies, resulting in additional harm to U.S. interests.

The time to tackle this growing threat to our national security is now.

Read the entire spy-vs-spy feature story in the September issue of Townhall Magazine.