Intelligence: The Importance Of Hostages


November 29, 2015: In October a U.S. court sentenced an American citizen, Mozaffar Khazaee to prison for sending data on the F-35 fighter’s engine to Iran between 2009 and 2013. Khazaee, a mechanical engineer, had a security clearance and had worked for three different American defense contractors from 2001 to 2013. Khazaee is also a citizen of Iran. Khazaee was caught as he sought to flee to Iran along with a large quantity of documents on the engines for the F-22 and F-35. Khazaee is believed to have made several hundred thousand dollars for information he had already supplied.

American citizens who still have connections in the “old country” (where they came from) have always been a prime target for foreign intelligence agencies. That situation has gotten worse. For the first three decades of the Cold War (1947-79), about two Americans a year were caught spying for a foreign country. In the decade after September 11, 2001 that went up to about ten a year and continues to rise. This jump had a lot to do with things falling apart in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe after 1989. More communist intelligence organizations were compromised, and spies in the U.S. revealed, or discovered. As the communist governments collapsed, their intelligence services got sloppy. On the down side, it was dispiriting to see how much communist spy agencies had penetrated the United States. But now those Cold War era foreign spy agencies are back in business and successfully using their Cold War era techniques.

 Since the end of the Cold War, China, Cuba, Iran and Islamic radicals have replaced the Soviet Union as the major espionage threat to the United States. The post-Cold War spies are older and more ideological. Most are foreign born and more do it for free because of ideological commitment or family ties.  During the first three decades of the Cold War, 53 percent of U.S. spies had friends or family in communist countries, while since the end of the Cold War, 58 percent of American spies had "people in the old country." It's much easier to get someone to spy for you if you can hold some kin hostage. This approach also saves money as you don’t have to pay your reluctant spy.

The Internet has made it easier to be a spy, and easier to get caught. Electronic files have figured in most post-Cold War espionage cases. CDs, hard drives and memory sticks are now a convenient way to ship the secrets out. The Chinese have also capitalized on the fact that there's a lot more information leaking out to where anyone can pick it up and ship it back to China. This is called the "thousand grains of sand" approach, and it makes just about every Chinese citizen (and many Chinese-Americans with kin back in China) potential sources for innocent (or not-so-innocent) bits of information. All this stuff can be stitched back together in China, to produce some very useful stuff.

During the Cold War, the Russians used very well trained KGB and GRU agents to recruit and supervise spies. Not as much of that anymore. Since the Soviet Union disappeared, it's mostly amateur hour. But there are now more spies, operating at lower levels and are thus harder to detect and catch. Many former communist countries are learning how to exploit the new conditions to their advantage.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close