We are a permissive society. We are lax, we are easy-going, and the
situation is out of hand. Enemies are out there: aggressive
dictatorships who want to spy on us, to steal from us, to inflict
humiliation and loss on us. And to prevent this we need discipline and
order; we need tough laws and reliable enforcement. We cannot afford to
be lax or permissive. We need a competent counterintelligence
establishment. But this we do not have.
The West is made up of democracies — like America, Britain and
Germany. These countries have freedom, but can they protect it? Can
these countries keep a secret, prevent infiltration of sensitive
departments, or successfully penetrate an enemy security service?
Consider the following incident:
A British intelligence officer recently lost his laptop computer,
which was loaded with classified information. How did he lose it? On
March 3 the officer went to a London bar and got so drunk he could not
remember anything the next day. And that’s when he noticed the laptop
John Kay, the journalist who covered the story, said that the missing
laptop had the names of British agents on it. But that was only the
half of it. The very next day, on March 4, a sneak thief nabbed the
laptop of an MI5 operative at Paddington Tube station. The laptop
contained vital secrets having to do with Northern Ireland.
Britain’s desperate security chiefs ran an advertisement to recover
the laptop lost by the drunken agent. On page 59 of the London Evening
Standard there was an item that read: “Academic urgently seeks
information leading to recovery of Phd vital research notes stored on
Toshiba 4000 series CDS laptop computer in black carrying case lost in
London on evening 3 March 00.”
The computer was recovered on March 16. But security officials were
worried that its encryption had been compromised. Whether
coincidentally or not, on March 15 the Russians announced they had
arrested a Russian national for working as a British spy.
In the United States the security situation is equally dismal, but
the incompetence is more systemic. Earlier this month the FBI turned
down a request by the Department of Defense to help in identifying
Chinese front companies. According to an amendment of the fiscal year
1999 Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon is obligated to produce a
list of Chinese-controlled companies operating in the United States.
But the FBI refuses to lend a hand. If this, in itself, is not
outrageous, then consider the fact that the Pentagon does not —
apparently — know how to comply with the law. It does not have a
counterintelligence capability worthy of the name. And that is why it
went begging to the FBI.
Actually, the Pentagon was supposed to publish the list of
Chinese-controlled companies by Jan. 15, 1999. Now it is 15 months
later. Ultimately the blame rests with President Clinton. The White
House could have intervened to get FBI cooperation for the Pentagon, but
no intervention took place. Representative Chris Cox, in a Sept. 24
statement, noted, “The Clinton-Gore administration’s failure to obey the
law is knowing, willful and longstanding.”
There is, in fact, a colossal chain of negligence mixed with
incompetence in our security establishment. The president is merely at
the top of this chain. The Cox Report, which was the unanimous and
bipartisan report of the House Select Committee on the China security
problem, said, “The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has stolen
classified information on all of the United States’ most advanced
thermonuclear weapons, and several of the associated reentry vehicles.”
The Cox Report also says that significant Chinese espionage was
discovered in 1995, but “the President was not briefed about the
counterintelligence failures until early 1998.”
Even more shocking, the FBI and Justice Department bungled the
government’s case against a nuclear scientist accused of transmitting
sensitive information to the Chinese. Having confessed to a crime that
warrants life imprisonment or the death penalty, Peter Lee of the
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, was allowed to enter a plea
bargain. Consequently, he received three years probation, one year in a
halfway house and a cash fine.
At a hearing last Wednesday, Sen. Arlen Specter was concerned about
this light sentence. After all, Lee confessed to disclosing U.S.
nuclear weapons secrets to Chinese scientists. He also gave the Chinese
critical information on U.S. submarine technology.
But harsh punishment, which is an essential ingredient in a
well-ordered security system, did not appear in this case. Why not?
The FBI’s Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Los Angeles field office,
Dan Sayner, said the deal was made with Lee in order to guarantee Lee’s
continuing cooperation. But Lee’s cooperation was equivocal, and he
later failed a polygraph examination. The FBI had been tricked.
And FBI fumbling doesn’t stop there. A senior immigration official
named Mariano Faget was arrested by the FBI in February and charged with
“communicating national defense information to an unauthorized person.”
An FBI surveillance team had allegedly observed Faget meeting with Cuban
intelligence officers on more than one occasion.
Curiously, after charging Faget with a crime, the FBI failed to
produce evidence in court showing that a crime was committed. According
to Terry Nelson, an FBI spokesman, the bureau’s February press release
on the Faget case created a misleading impression. According to Nelson,
spying and espionage are not the same thing. Faget’s case is therefore
complicated — perhaps too complicated for the FBI.
The FBI, however, is no match for the CIA when it comes to
incompetence. Consider what the former Director of Central Intelligence
did: According to the report of the CIA inspector general, John Deutch
copied 17,000 pages of classified information — including
ultra-sensitive Pentagon information — onto his home computer after he
resigned as head of the CIA in 1996. By logging onto the Internet with
that same computer, and by accessing unsecure sites, Deutch exposed the
information to theft.
It is also of interest that Deutch’s successor at the CIA, George
Tenet, waited 18 months before notifying Congress about the security
lapse. Is this a case of misbehavior, or is it simple bungling?
Misbehavior should not be ruled out. Last month we were treated to a
sad revelation. An ex-CIA operative named Edwin Wilson, stuck behind
bars since 1982 for smuggling explosives into Libya, was apparently
convicted because of false statements made by a leading CIA official.
According to a March 21 Houston Chronicle story, Justice Department
attorneys convicted Wilson with an affidavit they admittedly knew to be
false. Wilson was then given a 52-year sentence. In other words, the
prosecutors knowingly used perjured testimony taken from the Executive
Director of the CIA.
What does this say about the quality of our intelligence services —
and the Justice Department that works with those services?
Back in the 1960s there was a television comedy about an American
secret agent named Maxwell Smart. With the latest technology and the
best of intentions, agent Smart couldn’t help bungling. He was well
financed, he was defending freedom, but he was a fool. When things
would go badly he’d say to his boss: “Don’t worry chief, it won’t
Maxwell Smart’s adventures were so impossibly stupid that his
superiors would not believe the truth about them. But Smart knew enough
to fish around for what they would believe. Smart’s famous line was:
“Would you believe… ?”
In each case, the ridiculous truth was lost behind a plausible
Today we have a Maxwell Smart mentality in the West. Our
intelligence stupidities are becoming legendary. It seems, as well,
that we are willing to accept any excuse — and no consequences ever
seem to follow, except the
one sure consequence: the ongoing collapse of the West’s security