Why Security Clearance Holders are Required to Report Contact with Foreign Nationals

Security Clearance

Every individual who enjoys the trust and confidence of the US government through having been granted a security clearance has received the basic counterintelligence briefing in which it is emphasized that foreign national contacts must be reported.  What is lacking in many (but not all) such briefings is why?

why reporting is required

The why is not complex. The Defense Security Service (DSS) has more visibility, experience and resources to determine if an individual in which you are in contact is a member of a hostile intelligence service or acting on behalf of a hostile intelligence service. In addition, a constituency well-educated in the methodology of the hostile-intelligence services is more likely to recognize an anomalous contact.

Carter Page and russian influence

The case of Evgeny Buryakov, a Russian intelligence officer operating under the non-official cover of a banker within a Russian bank in New York percolated to the forefront when Carter Page, a onetime advisor to then candidate Donald Trump, self-identified himself as “Male-1” in the January 23, 2015 criminal complaint from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

While Carter Page had no requirement to report his travels to/from Russia or his foreign national contacts, the methodology used by Buryakov’s colleagues (Igor Soryshev and Victor Podobnyy), who were operating under official cover from within the Russian Trade Office (New York), to attempt to gain Page’s cooperation is worthy of approbation.

Russian Intelligence’s Four Steps to Compromise

The Russian intelligence methodology explained in the Buryakov criminal complaint is not terribly sophisticated.

  • Does the targeted individual have the potential to provide information of interest to the Russian Federation? If (If you have a security clearance, you have access to sensitive information and are of interest to the Russian Federation).
  • Does the individual have a need?  Every relationship has a quid pro quo, what is it the individual needs?
  • Induce the individual to provide, initially, any information.
  • Will the individual accept favors, lavish meals and expensive gifts? And most importantly, will the individual sign a receipt?

Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, like shampooing your hair. With each exchange the expectation increases on both sides. The Russian intelligence officer tasks for information of greater sensitivity, and with each exchange the “gifts” become more valuable. And of course, the signed receipt shows Moscow the individual is compromised to the Russian Intelligence service, even if the individual has no idea their “friend” is a Russian, let alone an intelligence officer.  Here we share a snippet from paragraph 32 of the 26-page criminal complaint.

Foreign National Contacts

Remember, the foreign contact reporting requirement is there to protect both you and the classified information to which you have access. If there is any doubt whether an individual is a foreign nationalor if if any contact’s interest in you morphs from you to your access to information — report it.

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).