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
- The country competes with U.S. companies
in the global marketplace for the sale of advanced technologies or
- 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
- 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
1. Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive,
Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial
Espionage - 2005. NCIX 2005-10006,