Do You Know How Foreigners Spy on You?

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By James Lint
Faculty Member, School of Business, American Military University, Senior Editor for In Cyber Defense and Contributor, In Homeland Security

We often hear about espionage and spying conducted against the United States. We have even seen media reports on the arrests of Russian and Chinese agents trying to entice Americans to become traitors. Erroneously, many of us believe we would know when someone was trying to get information from us or asking us to betray our country.

Sadly, overconfidence of our knowledge of foreign collection methods affects our ability to protect ourselves and our country. Some of the tactics used by foreign intelligence entities include:

Simple Requests for Information: A simple request for information sent to your office via telephone or email could be the start of an espionage operation to acquire information about you and your organization.

There are always constant exchanges of information in the academic world. Some countries’ intelligence services take advantage of these exchanges. While there are legal technology exchanges, they are often limited in scope. You must learn the specifics of what can be released before you violate the law.

Suspicious Network Activities: This can be email requests for information or phishing activities to gain entry into your computer system. Such intrusions can provide the foreign intelligence service with background information to assess its ability to recruit you. Hostile intelligence is always looking for ways to blackmail or gain control of you or someone close to you.

Targeting Conferences, Conventions and Trade Shows: Trade shows are open venues for industrial spying by unfriendly nations seeking U.S. technology. A recent In Homeland Security article discussed some of the ways foreign companies and governments conduct illegal collection of information at these shows.

The FBI offers pamphlets and online counterintelligence information free to help companies safeguard their information and personnel. Protecting intellectual property (IP) is important for the future of the United States and American business.

In an annual report to Congress on foreign economic collection and industrial espionage, the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive stated: “Entities from a record number of countries – 108 – were involved in collection efforts against sensitive and protected US technologies in FY 2005, according to evidence amassed by the Counterintelligence (CI) Community. A relatively small number of countries, though – including China and Russia- were the most aggressive and accounted for much of the targeting, just as they have since the CI Community first began systematically tracking foreign technology collection efforts in 1997.”

Solicitation and Marketing/Seeking Employment: Some foreign intelligence organizations try to get their graduate students hired in sensitive U.S. industries during the summer vacations.  It’s a way for the foreign students to pay off their school costs and to do what they consider to be their patriotic duty.

Foreign Visitors: In government programs and information exchanges, foreign officials attend meetings with U.S. and industry officials. Often, an intelligence professional is inserted into these foreign delegations to keep an eye on their own people and also to find ways to exploit the exchange of information to the benefit of their country.

Solicitation and Recruitment: Solicitation often happens in bars because of their relaxed, informal atmosphere. And alcohol loosens tongues. Foreign espionage agents will often ask indirect questions to get information and to gain an understanding of the target’s knowledge and capabilities. These seemingly harmless conversations can lead to a more formal recruitment, and possibly prosecution as espionage against the United States.

Multiple Ways to Be Hooked into Espionage: The FBI and DoD Defense Security Service (DSS) offer free posters and other information to the public.  The DSS Center for Defense Security Education’s webpage states its mission is to support “the security community’s readiness through education, training, and certification.”

The CDSE has many resources to help America’s workforce improve the security of our government information and its personnel and contractors. Much of the available information can help Americans obtain a better understanding of the espionage threat and techniques used against us.

If you witness or experience any of the above activities, it’s crucial that you contact your local FBI office, your facility security officer or your military branch’s counterintelligence organization.

Foreign intelligence entities are equal opportunity “employers.” They will target civilians, government personnel and the military. Do not think you cannot be a target because you are not in the military. The Army has a 1-800-Call-Spy phone line for reporting solicitations and other suspicious activities. There are options for reporting, but if you are in doubt, go to the FBI.

There are many ways to report suspected espionage; there is no excuse not to..”