The road back...

By Notra Trulock
web posted November 13, 2000

Where to begin dismantling the Clinton legacy? How about national security? Military readiness became a hot button issue during the campaign and rightfully so. Downsizing the military did indeed begin late in the first Bush Administration; the Cold War was over and there was simply no good reason to maintain large number of U.S. forces on the front lines of the decades-long confrontation with the former Soviet Union.

President Bush's reduction of U.S. nuclear forces was more troublesome; true, we probably didn't need large numbers of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, but why remove them from South Korea, where we still were facing communists who wanted to fight? Bill Clinton and his advisors increased the angle of decline, but also embraced the role of world policeman with gusto. "Deployments" increased dramatically at the very time that manpower and procurement went into a nosedive. From Mogadishu to Aden, U.S. military personnel were put into harm's way for suspect foreign policy objectives and goals. Assuming a George W. Bush win and with such as Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Paul Wolfowitz at the helm, the military will likely be put back on its feet.

But there is another element of American power that has suffered grievously over the Clinton years. America's "intelligence readiness" has garnered far less attention, but has declined dramatically in recent years. In many respects, political interference and increasing ineptitude has made the U.S. Intelligence Community something of a joke. For example, the bombing of the Chinese embassy during the Kosovo operation was attributed to faulty CIA maps. This gave rise to jokes such as the following: "Know why Moses wandered in the desert for 40 years? He was using CIA maps." The Washington Post recently revealed that a defector provided to the CIA nearly 13,000 pages of secret Chinese documents detailing Chinese acquisition of U.S. missile and nuclear weapons secrets in the mid-1990s. Yet the documents languished for at least four years before efforts were made to translate them. Why? Not enough resources...or a predisposition not to look too closely at Chinese espionage?

Khobar Towers
Khobar Towers

But nothing compares to the state of America's counterintelligence (CI) capability after eight years of Clinton-Gore. It's easy to dismiss this as nothing more than spy vs. spy, but the public should know that CI is a, maybe the, most important ingredient of "force protection." The "force protection" mission is what is supposed to prevent tragedies like the terrorist attack on the USS Cole, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, the embassy bombings in Africa, and the list goes on. Counterintelligence agents are supposed to ferret out these threats and prevent such terrorist attacks. Intelligence Community spokesmen claim successes in the on-going war with terrorists, but the failures speak for themselves.

And what about the threat to America's technological prowess from foreign intelligence services? By any measure, the past eight years have been a disaster. Counterintelligence is a tough sell in the US under the best of circumstances. As Paul Redmond, former head of CI at the Central Intelligence Agency notes, there was any number of key spy cases at the height of the Cold War. Ideology, money, disaffection all played a role in motivating Americans to betray their own country's secrets; these betrayals cost dozens of lives and, had the Cold War ever turned hot, could have resulted in the deaths of thousands of U.S. servicemen.

The most common refrain at the start of the Clinton Administration was "the Cold War is over." True, it ended in 1989 - certainly not later than the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. One quick result was the dismantling of some of our counterintelligence resources. For example, Director Louis Freeh "downsized" the FBI foreign counterintelligence capability dramatically.

Agents were reassigned to street crime and the war on drugs; many CI experts retired. Recently, the FBI has engaged in a public relations campaign to illustrate its "renewed" commitment to counterintelligence, but at a critical time the FBI just didn't have the assets to devote to CI. Likewise, after a long drought, the Pentagon is now reported to be hiring some 350 new CI specialists. Impressive, but insiders know that these are "billets" or personnel slots and not live, breathing CI experts. But did the threat from foreign intelligence services end with the end of the Cold War? Certainly not; in fact, it increased and the job of foreign intelligence collectors became much easier.

First, U.S. technologies and expertise have been and remain the envy of the world. The innovations of Silicon Valley and other high technology centers became key targets for our economic competitors, such as France, South Korea, and Japan. Access to this class of corporate secrets could save foreign competitors millions of dollars in research and development. U.S. industries also sought to take advantage of the reservoir of scientific talent in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

The Russians, for example, had developed a number of innovative approaches to solving problems of applied sciences or computer modeling, most of which were applied to military or spy technologies. And, oh yes, the Russian labor came very cheap. Common sense would dictate, however, that there are risks involved in such cooperation, but surely corporate security officers would be clued into the potential downsides of such relationships. Or maybe not. Wen recently learned that one such arrangement between Lockheed Martin and the Russians may have compromised our top secret Stealth technology. The Russian end of this equation had military and KGB contacts; the potential damage could either accelerate Russia's development of Stealth aircraft or render U.S. Stealth aircraft more vulnerable.

Likewise, the Energy Department's National Laboratories were in the forefront of applied science in any number of areas: computational sciences, the human genome and biotechnology, new manufacturing techniques, and materials sciences. Washington policy makers and their congressional allies strongly encouraged the labs to expand their reach beyond government markets to develop industrial clients. This led to the ill-fated CRADA experiment, in which the labs tried to "convert" closely guarded technologies and expertise to commercial uses. Worse yet, the labs were encouraged to "engage" their counterparts in Russia, China, India and elsewhere. Engagement generally took the form of bringing scientists from these countries to our labs, assigning them work in unclassified areas, giving them access to unclassified computer networks, and turning them loose.

All of these countries are on the "sensitive country list", that is, countries that have or are developing nuclear weapons. The unclassified computer networks are the same ones that Wen Ho Lee stored our most precious nuclear weapons design secrets for at least six years. These foreign scientists are allowed unfettered access to our own scientists can attend unclassified symposia and roam the lab campuses at will. All this assumes that the labs take the appropriate security measures to prevent compromises of classified material, right? By now, of course, we know that is a bad joke.

For a time, the situation got so bad that the Congress prohibited any further visitors from sensitive countries. The labs and their congressional supporter cried like babies over this "unfair" limitation on the conduct of science. The truth is that lab managers use these foreign scientists because the associated labor costs are much cheaper than using U.S. post-doctoral students who could easily find employment elsewhere. For all the high-minded talk about international scientific cooperation, what it really comes down to is saving a few bucks on research. If the price is jeopardizing our own nuclear secrets, well so be it.

And who can forget the "declassification project". Before the Congress finally woke up to the nuclear secrets going out the front door, Energy bureaucrats dumped thousands of declassified nuclear secrets onto its web site and out into the public domain. It took years to persuade these bureaucrats and their political masters that just because a "secret" is old and considered obsolete by U.S. scientists, such a "secret" could be the missing ingredient for a foreign nuclear program in an early stage of development, like Iraq or Iran. In other words, the DOE labs could have become a prime source for the proliferation of nuclear secrets at the very time that the Administration is declaring non-proliferation to be one of the gravest threats confronting U.S. national security. Ironic...or just plain stupid? It was profitable for the bureaucrats involved, however; cash awards, including at least one $20,000 Presidential award, were distributed to those most zealous in putting classified materials into the public domain.

But the Energy Department is not alone. Nearly every other federal agency with a national security mission has been the victim of espionage that resulted from laxness and a bias against routine security procedures and policies. In the name of "openness" these agencies threw open their doors to an assortment of suspect individuals. The State Department allowed Russian "journalists" to roam its hallways unescorted. "Journalism" has been a standard "cover" for Russian intelligence agents for decades. The Pentagon, at the insistence of the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, allowed Russian military intelligence officers to wander around the premises unescorted. It's harder for U.S. citizens to get into the Pentagon than for Russian military intelligence officers. At the Energy Department, Chinese or Russian intelligence agents under surveillance by the FBI could shake off their surveillance by entering the Department Headquarters in Washington and announcing their intention to visit the Freedom of Information library. The guards were instructed to allow them to pass, but would stop the FBI agents, demand identification, and then await the approval for their entry into the building. In the meantime, the Chinese or Russian agents could roam the Energy hallways and slip out another entrance unchallenged. Unbelievable...you bet, but true.

John HuangAnd what about the Commerce Department? Former Commerce official John Huang took the Fifth Amendment when asked if he had spied during his tenure at Commerce. Other Clinton appointees carried thousands of pages of classified materials out of the Department on a routine basis. "Security there is a joke," reports a recent article in the World Net Daily.

But that seems to be the most common assessment of security under the Clinton Administration. "Security at (fill in the agency) is a joke." But the only people laughing are employed by the intelligence services of our most intense rivals and perhaps our bitterest enemies.

Notra Trulock is Director of Media Relations at the Free Congress Foundation.

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