Common sense tells us human intelligence (HUMINT) sources of foreign governments are handled by their intelligence officers, and that unless the source volunteered their services to the foreign government (and sadly some do) the source was approached at least once to cement the relationship.

Perhaps the most well-known spy in American history is Aldrich Ames, a CIA intelligence officer who became a spy during the Cold War and who wasn’t taken down until 1994. The story of the investigation to uncover moles in the CIA is portrayed in a new ABC mini-series. The second installment begins tonight at 10 PM ET.

For security-cleared personnel today the idea of spies in America seems like just that – a mini-series fit for television. But for those in sensitive national security positions, it’s safe to assume that human intelligence collection is more than fiction. Keep in mind it’s not just you they’re after – it’s the information you can get access to. In today’s digital age, the risks are greater, and the volumes of information that a single individual can access are much bigger.

You are a target

While we might think that we are below the threshold of interest of a foreign intelligence service, if you enjoy the trust of your government by having been granted a security clearance and thus access to classified information, you are a target.

None of us have the luxury of taking ourselves out of the target pool of the foreign intelligence service. Their government is generating reporting requirements for their national purposes and there are only so many individuals who have access to the desired information. So whether you are working on the development of a widget which is included in the new Zumwalt class destroyer or handling the logistics of records storage, your access to classified information may be on the foreign intelligence service shopping list.

In the 2006 book Fair Play, The Moral Dilemmas of Spying, James M. Olson, former head of CIA counterintelligence, and Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal recipient, writes on how US intelligence services recruit individuals as sources, within the context of the moral dilemmas encountered. He offers up the reality, that foreign intelligence officers may indeed invest in seeking out a vulnerability of a potential source and attempt to exploit it, be it a romantic dalliance or illegal activity, but more often than not he notes, “the hostile service was simply pitching cold, without any indication of vulnerability, as an act of harassment or in the remote hope of getting lucky.”

Often times the foreign intelligence service is simply awaiting unfettered access to you. This is known to the US counterintelligence entities and is one of the primary rationales surrounding the travel reporting regime followed by all cleared personnel.

What to do if you are approached?

Report it.

In the Defense Security Service (DSS) brochure, Elicitation and Recruitment, personnel are reminded that Presidential Decision Directive NSC-12, requires government employees report all contact with individuals of any nationality, either within or outside of the scope of the employee’s official activities, in which:  Illegal or unauthorized access to classified or sensitive information is sought or the employee is concerned that he/she maybe the target of foreign entity exploitation. The brochure goes on to not this reporting should begin with your facility security officer, DSS industrial security representative, and the DSS field counterintelligence specialist. As Olson notes, “All CIA case officers know that one of the worst things they can do is to get pitched and not report it. This is a cardinal counterintelligence sin and will definitely have serious consequences…” This is excellent advice, as not reporting the pitch, allows the event to hang over you like the Sword of Damocles.

Do I really need to be concerned?

Yes, in the 2013 DSS report, Targeting U.S. Technologies covering FY2012, the DSS cataloged over 657 investigations which the DSS conducted as a result of industry reporting.  DSS states unambiguously, “U.S. defense-related technologies and information are under attack from foreign entities: each day and every hour.

Related News

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of