Focus on Counterintelligence, Part 1
Focus on Counterintelligence
Part 1 of an Interview with FBI Assistant Director Dave Szady
Let's start with the basics. What's counterintelligence?
It's much broader than just espionage—the traditional spy game. It also includes the protection of our critical national assets. And by that, I don't mean the bridges, the railroad stations, the nuclear plants. I mean things like our country's advanced technologies, its weapons systems, its military capacities—classified information and systems that are strategically important to our nation's well-being. Counterintelligence, or CI, also involves protecting trade secrets and guarding against operations or disinformation campaigns that would disadvantage the U.S.
What's the FBI's role in counterintelligence?
We're the lead agency for exposing, preventing, and investigating intelligence activities on U.S. soil. We run our own investigations and coordinate investigations of other agencies. Simply put, we're on point to protect the U.S. from intelligence threats within our country. We've also got the lead on cases overseas involving potential espionage.
Why is counterintelligence the FBI's #2 priority?
Because the threat is incredibly serious. It strikes at the heart of our national security—our political, military, and economic strengths; our position in the world; our future as a country. That's why only terrorism, with its threat of direct attacks and bombings and mass casualties, ranks above it.
How has the threat changed since the end of the Cold War?
In the Cold War, the threat was what we call "symmetric." It was predictable, clear, and geographically limited to the Soviet Union and the bloc countries. Today, the threat is "asymmetric." It's coming at us from a lot of different directions. It's no longer just our traditional adversaries who want to steal our secrets, but sometimes even our allies. And how they go about it has changed. Embassies and consulates are still used as a basis of operations for intelligence services. But now foreign governments are also using students, visiting delegations, scientists, and false front companies to get at our secrets. And the threat is just as severe in places like Alabama, Kentucky, Maine, and Iowa as it is in New York or Washington, because the classified projects, the universities, and the corporations being targeted exist throughout the U.S.
Why is economic espionage now such a serious threat?
Economic espionage attempts to disadvantage the U.S. unfairly without legitimate competition. For example, the U.S. spends billions on research and development, and someone comes in and steals that research and tries to sell it, in some cases back to our own country. Billions of dollars can be lost, and anytime you impact our country's economic viability in such a significant way you impact its national security. There's also a lot of dual use technology or export-controlled technology that can be used for weapons of mass destruction or military systems. So it's vital that the FBI prevent countries from stealing U.S. trade secrets, our proprietary information, and our embargoed technology because those thefts undermine both our economic and national security.