The year has largely been a year of counterintelligence and counterespionage successes by the United States and European nations in thwarting and neutralizing nation-state espionage and influence operations. That’s not to say there hasn’t also been the oddest inexplicable headscratcher case, as one of those did make the top five. Throughout the year the need for more robust attention to insider risk management was continually evident as data hoarding, stealing and unauthorized sharing continued to percolate up to the surface, as regularly as Yellowstone’s “Old Faithful.”

The top 5 for 2022

In years past, we’ve picked specific cases to include in the top five espionage cases of the year. This year, we included specific cases, as well as specific countries’ activities. No surprise, you’ll encounter Russian and Chinese espionage activities resident in the top five espionage cases of 2022.

5. Is it espionage or cosplay?

The case of Walter Glenn Primrose and Gwynn Darle Morrison is frankly bizarre, and we close out 2022 with our heads as fuddled as they were when the duo was arrested and arraigned. Primrose and Morrison had changed their identity in 1987 from their true name to that of deceased infants – Bobby Edward Fort and Julie Lyn Montague.

The State Department noted that passport applications in both pairs of names, in the case of Primrose, five passports had been issued in the name of Fort and Morrison had three in the name of Montague over the years since their adoption of the “new names.” While the pair clearly broke a ton of laws, the inclusion of a photo of the pair in what appeared to be KGB uniforms without any explanation set the speculation mill aflame.  “Cosplay or KGB: The Weird Story of a Coast Guard Vet and His Wife Who Stole Dead Infants’ Identities

4. Russian intelligence and the U.S. elections saga continues.

The indictment of Alexandr Viktorovich Ionov (aka Alexander Ionov aka Sasha) a Russian citizen and founder-president of the Anti-Globalization Movement of laid bare for the U.S. public the Russian intelligence playbook on active measures and election influence.

There is nothing new within the indictment with respect to the modus operandi of the Russian FSB (Ministry of State Security). The Department of Justice, presentation of the indictment is exceptionally clear, and this will assist many in wrapping their head around how the Russian intelligence apparatus works, funds, and fuels actions in various countries to achieve their singular goal: To create turmoil in the United States and subversion of global democracy.

Russian active measures will continue, we must ensure that we don’t have event amnesia and are well prepared to stymie the Russian efforts.

3. U.S. nuclear engineer goes to prison.

Greed. Plain and simple, greed drove Jonathan and Diana Toebbe in their efforts to parley stolen U.S. Navy nuclear documents and designs into millions in cryptocurrency. Their efforts were stymied when the Brazilian government, to whom Toebbe had offered the nuclear submarine secrets turned over his offer to sell the information he had been squirreling away to the U.S. government. The FBI orchestrated a robust sting operation and the couple proceeded to self-incriminate, and ultimately, provide enough clues and actions to permit the FBI to positively identify them.

Interestingly, their first guilty plea was rejected by the Federal Judge as being too lenient and she pushed them to either renegotiate the plea or go to trial. They renegotiated the plea and were sentenced to prison. Interestingly Diana Toebbe received a longer sentence than her husband Jonathan who was the insider who stole the nuclear secrets. The judge’s rationale for increasing the recommended sentence on Diana stems from her attempt to get her husband to disavow her role and to shoulder the responsibility. The Judge wasn’t having it and noted how Jonathan had shown genuine remorse for his crime, while Diana was manipulative and in the opinion of the judge, showed no remorse. She described Diana’s efforts as “That’s obstruction, plain and simple. It’s encouraging a co-defendant to lie to save the other co-defendant’s rear.”  “U.S. Navy Engineer and His Wife Get Long Prison Sentences for Trying to Sell Classified Information

2. Europe’s takedown of Russian intelligence operations.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed European nations off center as nation after nation reduced the footprint of the Russian espionage apparatus in their various countries through expulsions and PNG actions. All told, between February and June 2022, 556 Russian intelligence officers and diplomats were sent packing back to Mother Russia (plus another 12 from the United States). This action served to disrupt Russia’s on-the-ground influence operations and their ability to support and handle assets (their spies and illegal officers).

What followed was case after case of neutralization of espionage or attempted espionage operations. Illegal Russian intelligence officer and their operations were disrupted in Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Arrests and prosecutions of those who had been recruited by the Russian intelligence organizations, be they military or civilian, took place throughout Europe. 2022 will go down as one of the most successful counterintelligence years for European nations in their efforts to neutralize Russia’s espionage operations.

1. Chinese espionage in the United States (and elsewhere) continues (abated).

Since the turn of the century, the one constant has been reinforced, annually, China is playing the long game in the world of espionage and is fleecing the west with technological know-how; becoming evermore bold in attempting to quiet the voices of dissent from the Chinese diaspora, and use of wolf-diplomacy and hostage politics to achieve their goals.

The #1 case of the 2021 Top Five was that of Yanjun Xu, an MSS intelligence officer who was arrested in Belgium, extradited, tried, and convicted on espionage charges of having targeted the U.S. aerospace sector. In 2022, we saw him sentenced to 20 years in prison.  A related case saw the effort to seed the U.S. Army MANVI program thwarted and the Chinese candidate pleading guilty in 2022. We then saw the U.S. Army helicopter pilot, also previously arrested and sentenced to prison for trying to provide China with aviation information (and lying on his SF-86).

The UK saw their former fighter pilots being actively courted by China to provide air combat strategy and tactics training via third-country cutouts. The UK Defence Ministry issued an advisory to their former military personnel that their responsibility to keep State secrets secret remains in place even after leaving service.

The Chinese operation “Fox Hunt” targeting the Chinese diaspora in the United States and elsewhere took a hit when indictments and arrests took place following the neutralization of Fox Hunt efforts targeting a U.S. citizen.

FSO takeaway for 2023

The takeaway for every Facility Security Officer never changes. China and Russia are the nation’s adversaries. They are and will continue to use all the arrows in the operational quiver to fire away at our collective defenses in hopes of snagging a source of classified information for the long term. Your insider is the still target. They may self-select or be induced by a foreign adversary. FSO’s efforts to educate, engage, and train personnel on how to deflect and report foreign national pitches to spy are paramount. Of equal, some may say more importance, is to invest in a robust insider risk management program built on trust and not assumed guilt, where every employee is a collaborative team member in the efforts to ensure the motivations to self-select and to break trust are reduced. When one does break trust, the “see something, say something” training takes over and the threat posed by the malevolent individual is neutralized quickly.

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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