image Who's Doing What to Whom?

Who's Doing
What to Whom?


America's role as the dominant political, economic, and military force in the world makes it the Number 1 target for foreign espionage. In addition to the intelligence services of friendly as well as unfriendly countries, sources of the threat to classified and other protected information include:

  • Foreign or multinational corporations.
  • Foreign government-sponsored educational and scientific institutions.
  • Freelance agents (some of whom are unemployed former intelligence officers).
  • Computer hackers.
  • Terrorist organizations.
  • Revolutionary groups.
  • Extremist ethnic or religious organizations.
  • Drug syndicates.
  • Organized crime.

Individuals in both government and industry in almost 100 countries were involved in legal and illegal efforts to collect intelligence in the United States during 2004, but the bulk of the activity originates in a relatively small number of key countries.1 These key countries conduct espionage against the United States for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The country competes with the United States for global or regional political and economic influence.
  • The country has a developing economy and sees its economic future as being dependent upon the rapid acquisition and development of new technologies by every possible means, whether legal or illegal.
  • The country competes with U.S. companies in the global marketplace for the sale of advanced technologies or military weaponry.
  • The country feels threatened by a hostile neighbor and seeks to develop or obtain the most advanced military technology. It may also seek information on U.S. policy, and to influence U.S. policy, toward itself and the neighboring country.

Important changes in the international economic environment and technological advances have increased our vulnerability to espionage by insiders with access to classified and other protected information.

  • The increasing value of technology and trade secrets in the both global and domestic marketplaces, and the temporary nature of many high-tech employments, have increased both the opportunities and the incentives for economic espionage.
  • The development of a global economy, with a rapid expansion in foreign trade, travel, and personal relationships of all kinds, now makes it easier than ever for insiders to establish contact with potential buyers of classified and other protected information. It also makes it easier for foreign intelligence officers or agents of foreign corporations to establish personal contact, assess, and sometimes recruit Americans with access to valuable classified, controlled, or proprietary information.
  • The development of automated networks and the ease with which large quantities of data can be downloaded from those networks and stored and transmitted to others increases exponentially the amount of damage that can be done by a single insider who betrays his or her trust. For example, a memory stick, also known as a keychain drive or thumb drive because of its small size, can be plugged into a computer's USB port and be used to download up to 2 GB of data.

What are the spies and other intelligence collectors after? Everything that will help another country, organization, corporation, research institute, or individual achieve their political, military, economic, or scientific goals.

The topics in this module, cover the threats of economic and industrial espionage, illegal export of technology or weapons, and computer attacks. Other topics cover the list of critical military technologies that need to be protected, the FBI's National Security Threat List, and the legal criteria for prosecution for economic espionage.

Methods of operation that foreign countries or organizations use to collect information on the United States are discussed in How Do I Know When I'm Being Targeted and Assessed?, Getting Information Out of Honest People Like Me, and In the Line of Fire: American Travelers Abroad. Technical intelligence collection threats are addressed in a major module on Computer and Other Technical Vulnerabilities.

1. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage - 2005. NCIX 2005-10006, April 2005.




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