Cleared personnel are so valuable that we watch them carefully.

Americans value privacy so much that we zealously guard that as well.

But how do we balance one with the other, while avoiding it eventually becoming problematic? The reason we must hover over the tightrope of security and independence of action is that we stand to lose all our freedoms if we do not.

The ‘Secret’ World

Why do we have a ‘secret world’ to begin with?

We do so because that is sometimes the only way to counter adversaries who want to destroy our rule of law, fair elections, and free-press-rooted democracy. Our allied countries, who must deal with similar threats often much worse than those directed at us, combine with us to make for a united defense.

Our obligations to NATO, together with our cooperation with democratic governments in the Indo-Asian region and other international accords are many and varied. They demand we consider our allies’ difficulties along with our own.  For instance, we all benefit by watching and sharing information about espionage.

Today, we all attempt to support Ukraine. That democratic government was invaded and is now partially occupied by the Russian dictatorship under Putin. Long before the invasion, subversion against that government was practiced, the easier to make the combat invasion which came later.

Cloak and Dagger

To subvert good order and discipline, we now know that Russia inserted spies aplenty throughout the Ukrainian government, armed services, and industry. Not all of these attempted to sabotage Ukraine once the war started. Some of these spies attempted to undermine resistance in the government, preparations for war, and international cooperation that would hinder the upcoming Russian invasion. These were ‘agents of influence’.  These types of spies have been used throughout history, in and out of conflicts.

A member of the European Parliament is under investigation for having contacts with the Russian Federal Security Service, formerly known as the KGB. Likewise, a member of the German Government is under investigation for similar reasons. Indeed, the latter case is so dramatic as to show constant contact with an identified FSB officer over various social media platforms.

Why should such contacts cause concern? In the case of the German, his influential speeches and papers presented to German government officials were first ‘vetted’ in Russia by sending them to be pre-read by the Russian spy handler. The consequences were not far off. Delays in delivering promised German heavy tanks to Ukraine came because of lawsuits filed by this politician’s party. Further debates, arbitrary concerns, and a host of other foot-dragging resulted in the tanks arriving ever so slowly. They were considered critical to the success of the 2023 Ukrainian offensive. They did not arrive, however, and the offensive was unsuccessful in liberating captive regions of Ukraine.

Who cleared who?

What can we do? Who must watch our cleared personnel and their associates for possible compromise?

Knowing who to contact is the key and it can be done immediately by reminding staff members that they must update their clearance forms to list known foreign contacts.

This applies not only to official contacts but to private colleagues as well. It is a violation not to do so. General inquiries can go out to your company, asking who your employees who they have regular contact with from abroad.

If your company is located overseas, it goes without saying that all contacts must be vetted as best as possible. That is the only way to ensure reliability. In various countries using lie detectors, or other such devices is illegal, or attenuated. So, before you check out your colleagues be sure you know the laws governing what you can do.

For instance, vetting new hires overseas requires not only American records checks but local agency checks as well.

Additionally, verify you know all your contacts outside the company. It is well known that the ‘shoehorn’ method is still alive and functioning. This is the method whereby a spy will compromise someone without a clearance who might know everyone who does. Then, he can be used by the spy handler as a ‘shoehorn’ to access the cleared person who is the actual target.

We need only remember the Marine guard recruited at the US Moscow embassy who knew all the Americans, their positions, and access. The Russians needed only his information to know how to properly orient their further targeting actions.

Know your employees. Know their friends and colleagues. It could be the best time you spend in observation.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.