American intelligence agencies have been busy collecting information on
terrorists, their counter-intelligence departments, which try to disrupt enemy
spying efforts, have been swamped. Espionage efforts by Russia are back to Cold
War levels, and increasingly active Chinese spies exceed the Russian efforts.
In addition, there are powerful new spying tools, like Internet hacking, or
simply making good use of Internet search tools to vacuum up all manner of
useful information. Some would not consider that spying, but experienced spies
will tell you that, for gathering information in the West, the many open
sources there are excellent targets for uncovering "secret information."
So what's the overwhelmed
counter-intel crew to do? Setting priorities, and going after the most
dangerous spying efforts, is the text-book solution. The problem is deciding
which secrets are most valuable, compared to which ones the enemy are going
after, and what it will cost to add some effective protection. In practical
terms, a lot of money is being spent on Internet security, and the FBI (which
is the lead organization for traditional counter-intel) is doing some highly
visible prosecutions of spies that do get caught. Sort of like a warning to the
others. This is not having much impact on the Chinese, who are using the
"thousand grains of sand" approach. This means that China tries to get all
Chinese going overseas, and those of Chinese ancestry living outside the
motherland, to spy for China, if only a tiny bit. This approach to espionage is
nothing new. Other nations have used similar systems for centuries. What is
unusual is the scale of the Chinese effort.
Backing it all up is a Chinese
intelligence bureaucracy back home that is huge, with nearly 100,000 people
working just to keep track of the many Chinese overseas, and what they could,
or should, be to trying to grab for the motherland. It begins when Chinese
intelligence officials examining who is going overseas, and for what purpose.
Chinese citizens cannot leave the country, legally, without the state security
organizations being notified. The intel people are not being asked to give
permission. They are being alerted in case they want to have a talk with
students, tourists or business people before they leave the country. Interviews
are often held when these people come back as well.
Those who might be coming in
contact with useful information are asked to remember what they saw, or bring
back souvenirs. Over 100,000 Chinese students go off to foreign universities
each year. Even more go abroad as tourists or on business. Most of these people
were not asked to actually act as spies, but simply to share, with Chinese
government officials (who are not always identified as intelligence personnel)
whatever information they obtained. The more ambitious of these people are
getting caught and prosecuted. But the majority, who are quite casual, and,
individually, bring back relatively little, are almost impossible to catch.
The Russians are using their
traditional methods, using people with diplomatic immunity to recruit spies,
and offering cash, or whatever, to get people to sell them information. Not as
effective as the Chinese methods. But note that the Chinese are using the
"thousand grains of sand" against Russia as well, in addition to just offering
bribes for secrets. The Russians do not like this at all.