On his deathbed in 1801, legend has it that the infamous American Continental Army Gen. Benedict Arnold, a hero of the battles of Ticonderoga and Saratoga who defected to the British Army, uttered his regret: “Let me die in this old uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another.”
But while scholars have debated the prevailing historical wisdom that Arnold’s treasonous conversion was motivated by his frustration at having been passed over for promotion and outraged that others took credit for his achievements and military victories, a congressional investigation indicted his motivation was purely financial — he was nearly penniless, having spent much of his own money on the American war effort. But when he joined the British Army as a brigadier general, the Red Coats gave him what was then a very generous pension and a £6,000 signing bonus.
It’s a familiar story, though: money, or ideology; sometimes both.
For American traitor Navy communications officer John Walker, Jr., his motivation for nearly two-decades of spying for the Soviets (which included providing “enough code-data information to alter significantly the balance of power between Russia and the United States”), was purely financial, prosecutors said.
Heavily in debt and bitter that his brilliance had gone unrecognized, veteran CIA Soviet counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames — among other things — sold to the KGB the identities of the CIA’s agents secreted throughout the Soviet spy agency.
FBI Soviet counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen spied for Soviet, and then Russian, intelligence services for 22 years also partly due to the same frustrations that tormented Ames, but also partly, it seemed according to prosecutors, because of the tastes of an expensive mistress. The Justice Department’s Commission for the Review of FBI Security Programs said Hanssen "possibly [was] the worst intelligence disaster in US history.”
Whilethese turncoats spied against their country during an espionage boom when the Soviet’s were quite willing to cut CEO-equivalent paychecks for such big fish, they were the exceptions rather than the rule. In today’s austere espionage market economy, brought on by sequester and furloughs, foreign intelligence services are far more likely to ensnare a broke and bitter GG-13 with access to secrets for a bargain basement price.
Foreign Intelligence Security Services (FISS) still keep a keen eye out for the Walkers, Ames, and Hanssens, but they’re also spending a great deal more time assessing the vulnerabilities of the many lower level military and Intelligence Community (IC) employees who have access to valuable secrets.
For decades, the US military, IC and contractors have been required to not only continuously evaluate their workforces for eligibility to access classified information, but also to be on the lookout for signs and indicators of potentially treasonous espionage from within their ranks. This includes the criminal leaking under the nation’s espionage laws of the nation’s most closely guarded foreign intelligence collection operations — — espionage operations former National Security Agency (NSA) and CIA director, AF Gen. (Ret.) Michael Hayden, recently pointed out that all nations’ intelligence services engage in.
Consequently, the failure of the early warning system to alert what NSA contractor Edward Snowden was up to has provoked an intensive investigation into whether there were, in fact, signs and indicators that someone had observed that weren’t properly reported. Former NSA official John R. Schindler recently remarked that Snowden’s security clearance background investigation was "clearly flawed."
The threat of penetration by FISS is ever-present, and the Army trains its soldiers as well as civilian employees to always be vigilant. Training and awareness efforts are clearly articulated under US Army Regulation 382-12, Threat Awareness and Reporting Program (TARP), revised by the US Army on Oct. 4, 2010.
Formerly known as Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the US Army (SAEDA), TARP outlines the policy and responsibilities for threat awareness and reporting within the US Army. Specifically, it requires Department of the Army (DA) personnel to report any information to counterintelligence offices regarding known or suspected espionage, international terrorism, sabotage, subversion, theft or illegal diversion of military technology, information systems intrusions and unauthorized disclosure of classified information, among other required security and espionage concerns.
As the revised directive states: “The primary focus of this regulation is to ensure that DA personnel understand and report potential threats by foreign intelligence and international terrorists to the Army. Threat awareness and education training is designed to ensure that DA personnel recognize and report incidents and indicators of attempted or actual espionage, subversion, sabotage, terrorism or extremist activities directed against the Army and its personnel, facilities, resources and activities; indicators of potential terrorist associated insider threats; illegal diversion of military technology; unauthorized intrusions into automated information systems; unauthorized disclosure of classified information; and indicators of other incidents that may indicate foreign intelligence or international terrorism targeting of the Army.
Following the digital data dump of roughly a quarter-million State Department cables — six percent of which were classified “Secret” and the rest were either “Confidential” or unclassified — accessed via classified Internet networks and downloaded onto thumb drives by low-level, but sufficiently cleared 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst, Private First Class Bradley Manning, President Obama on October 07, 2011, issued Executive Order 13587 that required government-wide “structural reforms to improve the security of classified networks and the responsible sharing and safeguarding of classified information.”
The order applies to “all agencies that operate or access classified computer networks, all users of classified computer networks (including contractors and others who operate or access classified computer networks controlled by the federal government), and all classified information on those networks …”
All of these security efforts are not without justifiable reasons. Cleared personnel can become the target for recruitment by foreign spies and hostile intelligence services by no fault of their own. It is simply the reality and consequence of having access to classified information and sensitive US government secrets.
Not access alone
It is not only access to classified information that makes one an inviting target, however, there are other activities that increase the desirability. In fact, any Army team member/employee and or soldier can be targeted because of where they are stationed, where they travel or even because of an ethnic or cultural background of particular interest.
It should be noted and emphasized that being a target for recruitment does not necessarily reflect poorly on an individual. The opposite also applies, especially if the reason a specific person is targeted is because of his or her susceptibility to recruitment or exposure to compromise. Even so, just being a target does carry with it embedded risk factors, as it clearly increases the potentiality that a weakness or pressure point can be discovered and exploited by foreign intelligence collectors.
Targets of convenient opportunity
The historical record clearly demonstrates that US personnel with security clearances are regularly targeted. ‘By hook or by crook,’ foreign counterintelligence agents have repeatedly been able to entice Americans to commit treason. The question then quickly becomes, what is it that makes America and would-be patriots such inviting targets of opportunity?
Prominent and well-publicized instances of Americans turned traitors shows that monetary reward and financial gain are very often a major driving factor in the equation. In turn, it should come as no surprise that foreign intelligence agents seeking new, well-placed assets often examine the financial circumstances and standing of identified potential targets.
Financial difficulties provides an initial and eventually lucrative ingress of potential exploitable temptation to facilitate the evolution of an individual’s compromise – and eventual treason. But it is generally not the only factor that’s in play in the targeting and recruitment effort.
Win, place or show: An espionage trifecta
Another and sometimes more nefarious element to recruitment can include exploiting personal feelings of disillusionment, anger, frustration and disappointment. These emotions can exist for a multitude of reasons, and can run the gamut from being passed over for a promotion, feeling underappreciated at work, disgruntled with the Army … or even America itself. These beliefs– indications of which can openly manifest as attitudes of anger and resentment — are recognized by foreign intelligence services’ case officers as openings to manipulate a potential target into justifying his or her espionage.
This can all add up to a desired trifecta of opportunity for a foreign counterintelligence case officer – a potent, readily exploitable human Petri dish seething with psychological, financial and other stressors that make the person a target ripe for recruitment.
An individual who possesses a security clearance, has financial problems and is disgruntled poses a dangerous triad … and a compounding problem for counterintelligence interdiction efforts. In the end, a counterintelligence target that embodies the aforementioned trifecta is one that has two more levers to pull, and two more pressure points than is required for an FISS to target.
This trifecta, in essence, can define the elements required for the low-hanging fruit of an American traitor that’s ripe for the picking.
Catch more flies with honey
With the current budgetary environment, furloughs the talk of the town, and sequestration the topic of water cooler chatter, low-hanging fruit that bear the elements of trifecta targets are sure to abound. Just a superficial reading of “Letters to the Editor” in various magazines and publications widely read by federal employees and members of the military makes the case for a target-rich environment for foreign agents. The problem is compounded by a growing segment of government personnel — many of whom likely hold security clearances — venting their frustration and anger in Internet blog comments, making them identifiable potential targets for recruitment.
Disgruntled individuals that publicly voice their justifiable concerns make easy work for foreign intelligence operatives who seek potential turncoats of opportunity. In many respects, it would appear as though potential opportunities for penetration are being served up on a silver platter at an all you can eat buffet where the chow line stretches around the proverbial corner!
We could even say that we are ensuring job advancement prospects for foreign intelligence agents and providing the very fodder for enemy promotions with such a perfect storm for motivating espionage from within our own ranks.
Consequences of context
Currently, sequester and current furloughs are expected to impact soldiers with great effect. Stress and greater work scrutiny, coupled to an increase in regulations, and some early outs will cause worry among all ranks of the Army. Inevitably, this will extend into the civilian workforce, particularly with an estimated 20 percent pay cut caused by the recent start of 11 weeks of furlough.
While 99.9 percent of the individuals who are likely to be the hardest hit are loyal and dedicated American patriots, there nevertheless will be a small percentage whose financial hardships and other life stresses become so overwhelming that the resulting discontent and dissatisfaction will make them vulnerable to persuasion by foreign intelligence operatives, whose efforts to entrap these susceptible and exposed targets will require little effort at all.
The certainty of maybe not today
As accurate and apropos as the adage, “if you play with fire you will get burned,” is, it is vital to understand that if you commit espionage, you will be caught.
The Army’s military intelligence and counterintelligence organizations are designed to protect soldiers and employees from espionage threats and FISS espionage overtures. These entities and their work remains key to protecting the technological advances that give American soldiers the edge on the battlefield. Army counterintelligence have partnered with the FBI and have taken down important foreign recruitment operations. While trifecta targets may, in turn, be a target rich environment for FISS recruitment, one should assume that Newton’s thirdlaw of motion applies to counterintelligence: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
To be specific, Army counterintelligence units have, and continue, to partner with the FBI on very important espionage investigations. Disgraced former US Army National Security Agency SIGINT analyst David Sheldon Boone’s 24 year and four month sentence for espionage on behalf of the former Soviet Union is proof positive that treason will be dealt with. Boone was arrested following a successful sting operation by the FBI in 1999 that was supported in large part by Army counterintelligence. According to press reports at the time, Boone decided to become a Soviet spy in order to alleviate “severe financial and personal difficulties” — a familiar refrain sung by many other American traitors in financial trouble.
Remaining true to the core values
It is not by accident that loyalty is the first word cited in the Seven Core Army Values. It is also isn’t accidental that the US Army is composed of both solders and civilians who know the importance of the mission at hand, and therefore go well above and beyond what is expected of them in their service to their country.
Nevertheless, because of current operating environments, tempos and the resulting pressures, there should be no doubt that there’s a well-trained cadre of highly proficient foreign intelligence professionals out there who are operating in overdrive. Like barbarians breaching the gate, or a pack of hungry wolves surrounding a campfire, we have no alternative other than to remain more vigilant than we’ve ever been, especially given that our enemies today have far better knowledge and understanding of the stresses that are on America’s Army workforce. This is why supporting your battle buddies, knowing your left and right flanks and having your six covered will get us through this time of seemingly unprecedented tribulations with our core security values intact.
It’s easy to imagine especially hostile foreign governments and their intelligence services plotting and rejoicing as they undoubtedly regard our furloughs and sequestration as a euphemism for discount espionage.
And a “discount espionage” opportunity almost assuredly is apparent in the minds of our avowed adversaries, as they understand that it’s now far cheaper to buy not just one, but perhaps many, Benedict Arnolds today than it was during, say, the Cold War era of President Ronald Reagan. The return on a foreign intelligence service’s investment has been made inherently worth the risk because of the cut-rate prices they can get away with paying today to comprise disgruntled, financially overextended and security cleared individuals. Like it or not, these individuals are perceived as virtually undemanding targets for espionage recruitment operations.
It is for this reason we must aggressively boost our awareness, redouble our vigilance and steadfastly support our fellow co-workers. The Army has a series of vitally important programs in place to take care of our people, yet they’re often underutilized. And they’re not new programs — many were launched more than half-a-century ago. But over time, they’ve become overlooked, underappreciated and underutilized. For those in uniform who may be experiencing a financial crisis, the Army Community Services, Employee Assistance Programs and organizational Chaplains are there to counsel and provide spiritual guidance. Financial counseling and assistance is also available.
Your Army, as well as those who lead it — are ready, willing and able to do their part. But it’s also the duty and responsibility for all government employees, uniformed or civilian, to be vigilant and help your fellow soldier and office worker. It is one Army, and one team — and we are dependent on that more today than ever before.
Remember, inaction begets targeting. Targeting invites compromise, and compromise precipitates contrition. But forgiveness for treason remains unattainable.
James R. Lint served in the United States military for over 20 years, in both the US Marine Corps (7 years) and US Army (14 years). He spent three years in Marine Infantry, four years as a Marine Counterintelligence specialist, and nearly 15 years as an Army Counterintelligence Special Agent. Lint has expertise in counterintelligence, cyber intelligence, security, information assurance, terrorism studies, counterterrorism, human intelligence collection and low-intensity asymmetric warfare.
Previously, Lint served as Deputy Director for Safeguards & Security, Office of Science, at the Department of Energy. And prior to that, he served at the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, where he was initially the lead cyber intelligence analyst and later the Chief of the Collection Analysis Team.
His military assignments include Korea, Germany and Cuba in addition to numerous CONUS locations. He currently serves as an Adjunct Professor at American Military University.
Timothy W. Coleman is a writer and security analyst who has co-founded two technology startup firms. He has a Masters of Public and International Affairs in Security and Intelligence Studies, and a Masters of Business Administration in Finance.
The views expressed in this article are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect official policy or the position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense or any other department or agency within the US Government.