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12 May 2007

Death to spies

Let there be no mistake – issues of operations security and counterintelligence are very serious, and very real. We do not usually comment on such matters, but the recent case against the Chi Mak network illustrates well the severity of the threat the intelligence community faces from hostile services and serves as an excellent teaching case for those that may not yet realize the full extent of the efforts directed against US interests.

It is significant to note that the case apparently involves a family-based network based around a twenty year active operation (the culmination of over forty years of preparation and access attempts.)

It is also significant that the convicted agent apparently passed materials which included otherwise publicly available open source information – even if it could be considered gray literature due to its usually limited circulation due to the narrow range of its audience. We would wager that this would not be the first time in history that an agent attempted to pad out his take with less valuable (and less difficult to acquire) materials. We note this with wry amusement, despite the fact that the broad based nature of many hostile collection efforts often include requirements for commercial and academic information (as outlined in a number of the annual public reports published by the National Counterintelligence Executive). Perhaps, in the PRC service's case, also not the first time in history an office has padded its requirements list in order to show successful metrics.

Nonetheless, their successes depend upon the treachery of those in trusted positions. That betrayal is not just institutional – it is a personal affront to everyone that ever served alongside the convicted agent and were deceived. Regrettably, this is becoming a far too common occurrence given the long list of cases which are presented before the courts in recent years.

While the strategic value of a convicted and imprisoned spy may be in the later potential for an agent exchange (especially given family connections in the hostile country), we still feel that the appropriate sanction remains the same as dealt out through history to spies, saboteurs, guerillas, and the other lawless brigands operating outside of the laws of armed conflict.

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