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Counterintelligence Still Secondary as Our Secrets Are Taken
A vitally important description of one of the nation's vulnerabilities-the failure of counterintelligence- was buried in the Washington Post's Outlook section yesterday. It is worth revisiting.

The author, Michelle Van Cleave, headed the Bush administration's first congressionally mandated national counterintelligence executive, a vital mission, she writes that today, "is on life support."

It is a problem that spans the recent administrations, and one the Obama administration should address forcefully as it looks to reshape the intelligence community. The litany of reasons for the current situation, however, are familiar, including:

-lack of centralized thinking and action on the issue
-stovepiping of information
-lack of coherent policy

The lack of attention is borne out by the fact that Van Cleave was the FIRST national head of counterintelligence, appointed only in 2003.

Counterintelligence has to have true national leadership, and is too important to be left to the hodgepodge of agencies that currently carry out bits and pieces of the policy.

Why? As Van Cleave correctly notes, the Chinese have managed to steal EVERY nuclear weapons design the U.S. has, allowing them not only to leapfrog generations and billions of dollars in development, but also to identify every vulnerability in the current systems.

Russia no longer needs to rely solely on KGB thugs to carry out much of its espionage. It simply carries out the best business intelligence gathering operations through front companies, and hires lobbyists to collect other information of interest.

Most tellingly, the Islamist world is heavily invested in the United States through shell corporations and the governments that host and sponsor terrorists, from Hezbollah and al Qaeda.

As Van Cleave wrote:

But in America today, there are thousands of foreign-owned commercial establishments, hundreds of thousands of exchange students and visiting academicians, and countless routine trade and financial interactions. Hidden beneath these open and legitimate activities can be darker purposes. With our open, rich society as cover, intelligence officers and their agents can move about freely, develop contacts and operate in the shadows -- a point no more lost on foreign spies than it was on the 19 hijackers that September morning in 2001.

This is dangerous on many levels. The fact is that our counterintelligence is not close to where it should be. Some of the best counterintelligence is carried out by private firms protecting themselves in the absence of government capabilities, and the public and private sector will have to work together to make any significant dent.

But first the problem has to be acknowledged and defined. Only then can the new administration begin to take remedial action.

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