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Road to Recruitment   

Are you a target? How would you know? Foreign intelligence operatives are not obvious. They don't wear trench coats or have shifty eyes. In today's world, they're usually friendly people who pursue their trade under the guise of activities that appear normal and natural. They want to cultivate you as a "friend."

bullet  The only thing you can be certain of is that you are a potential target if you have access to classified, controlled or sensitive proprietary information. That's why it's important to be careful what you say when talking with ANY foreign national.

Not just careful what you say about your work. Also careful what you say about yourself and your co-workers. Don't talk about the cost of putting two sons through college at the same time, or the cost of medical help for your daughter's leukemia. Don't talk about your stupid boss, how you hate the IRS, problems with your spouse, or your colleague's drinking problem. A foreign intelligence operative may interpret any of these as clues that you (or your colleague) may be worth cultivating.

You already know that you must report anything that suggests you may be the target of a foreign intelligence service or other hostile group. That sounds simple. What you may not realize is this: If you haven't learned how intelligence services operate, you very likely won't recognize when you are being targeted and assessed until the process is pretty far advanced. The purpose of this description of the "road to recruitment" -- is to help you recognize an intelligence operative even before he (or she) does anything overtly suspicious.

Foreign intelligence personnel look for any legitimate activity that lets them meet and gain some assessment of the people who have access to the information they want. They then become a part of this activity. The rituals of espionage like secret meetings and deaddrops are often avoided, at least during the early stages of most cases.

If I’m trying to get information from you, my goal is to make it easy for you, not to give you sleepless nights. We meet over lunch, become friends. I learn what makes you tick, sympathize with your problems, and feed your ego. If it seems like you may be amenable, we talk about information that is easy for you to rationalize talking about. I look for ways to gain one small step of cooperation at a time. To gain your sympathy, I may talk about my country's need for economic development or the threat from my country's enemies. If it’s done right, you may not know its a spy operation until you are so far down the road that you are either afraid to turn back or don't want to turn back.

One of the most succinct descriptions of the spotting, assessment, development, and recruitment process used by all intelligence services was provided by a former Soviet KGB officer. He called it the "road to recruitment." While the terminology he used is typically Russian, the process is similar to that used by all intelligence services.1

1,000 initial contacts leads to

100 operational contacts, which leads to

10 developmental contacts, which leads to

3 trusted sources, which leads to

1 recruitment

Like a sales or marketing plan, the road to recruitment is a guide on how to proceed and what to expect. It is a gradual process of sorting through and winnowing down a large number of possibilities in order to succeed in eventually making just a few small sales (trusted sources) and perhaps one big one (full recruitment as an agent).

The foreign agent's goals at each stage on the road to recruitment are as follows:

  • Initial Contact: If not already known, the goal is to confirm whether or not you have information of value. If you do have information of value, I want to establish some logical basis for continuing contact and obtain your agreement to meet again. This is generally expected to be successful in about one out of ten cases. Scientific conferences, international business development programs, seminars, exhibits, and meetings of all types where networking is encouraged are spy heaven. They offer ideal opportunities for making a large number of initial contacts in a short period of time.
  • Operational Contact: The next goal is to find some indication of exploitable vulnerability or susceptibility. In other words, determine whether it's worth spending time and money developing the contact with you? The faster I accomplish this goal, the more time I have available to devote to promising developmental contacts. Again, the expectation of many intelligence collectors is to be successful in about one out of ten cases. One indicator of success is your willingness to talk about topics or people of intelligence interest. Elicitation of useful -- but not necessarily secret --  information is an interim goal, or way station, on the road to recruitment. Elicitation is discussed in greater detail in Getting Information Out of Honest People Like Me.
  • Developmental Contact: At this point, the goal becomes to establish a relationship of friendship and trust. Get to know what makes you tick as a person. Determine your weaknesses and your unfulfilled goals and ambitions. Give you some sense of personal interest or pleasure in maintaining the contact. Cause you to feel a sense of obligation. Start you down the road of providing information, beginning with easy and innocent requests for professional advice, discussion of developments in your professional field, discussion of your work colleagues and the best way to deal with them, your explanation of the rationale behind your company's policy or American government policy. This may progress to requests for articles from professional journals that are ostensibly difficult to get in your "friend's" home country or technical information about your company's products that is not protected but also not readily available. Anything to establish a regular pattern of your coming to meetings prepared to provide information, no matter how innocuous that information may be. A request for your organization's internal phone book is not innocuous. It's a red flag. For an intelligence organization, a phone book is a basic tool for identifying the names of people who have access to the key information the organization is seeking.
  • Trusted Source: Of each 10 developmental contacts, maybe three can be developed into trusted sources. These are regular sources of useful information. They are trusted in the sense that I believe they are telling the truth and are not reporting the contact to their security office. If a trusted source is providing classified information, it will usually be in oral discussions rather than in documentary form. A trusted source may not know (or not admit to themself) that their "friend" is an intelligence officer. Of every three trusted sources, perhaps only one will become fully recruited as a knowing agent who regularly provides classified documents or who accepts money in exchange for information or other services.

bullet  If you are the target, you should be reporting to your security officer by the time you are classified as an operational contact (being assessed). If you haven’t reported it by the time you’ve graduated to a developmental contact, you may be close to getting into trouble. Your goal is to recognize this process and report it to your security officer. The foreign intelligence operative's goal is to make it so easy for you to get involved, or to put yourself in a compromising position, that you won't want to report or will be afraid to report it to your security officer.

Your main defense is awareness and reporting on your foreign contacts. If you report, we can alert you when you are dealing with a known foreign intelligence operative, or we may identify a foreign intelligence operative as a result of your reporting. That's part of our job -- identifying the few intelligence officers or agents among the many legitimate government officials, businessmen, or scientists you meet. Your reports on your contacts are an important contribution to the data base that makes these identifications possible.

If the FBI or a military service counterintelligence office learns about your contact, it will probably ask your security office if you are reporting on it. If you are not reporting it, they will be obliged to open an investigative case on you. In other words, if you do report, you are part of the solution. If you don’t report, you can become part of the problem.

You should not avoid contact with foreigners or distrust all persons from abroad. Your encounters with foreign colleagues and cultures should be among your most treasured experiences. But you must be aware that among the millions of foreigners who come to our country, or whose countries you visit, there are some who would exploit your trust.

image If you do find yourself in contact with a foreign intelligence operative, there's no need to be afraid -- only careful. You won't be hurt, but you may be manipulated and used -- if you let that happen. You are much more likely to be charmed by a "friend" than blackmailed by an enemy.

If the contact goes so far that you are asked to provide information, perhaps as a "consultant," you should listen carefully, be observant, and remember as many details as possible. Keep all options open by neither agreeing nor refusing to cooperate. Remain calm, be noncommittal, ask for time, and report immediately to your security office.

The following tables examine in greater detail the first three stages on the road to recruitment. They look at it from the perspective of what you might observe as a target and what this means your contact might be trying to do.

Initial Contact

What You Observe What It May Mean
Questions about the nature of your work at first meeting. Trying to determine as rapidly as possible whether you are someone worth spending time on.
Invitation to lunch or any other request for follow-up meeting. Test your willingness to maintain contact.
Make an erroneous statement about an activity or person that you are familiar with. Trick you into providing the correct information, or test your willingness to do so.
Pretending or falsely implying to be a representative of a particular firm, organization or country. A cover story to gain your confidence and make you more comfortable with the contact.
Unsolicited request for information via mail, phone, or Internet directed to you by name, rather than to other appropriate addressee such as corporate marketing department. Collection of openly available information. Or testing your willingness to be helpful by responding to such a request, especially if request comes from a foreigner with the same national, ethnic, or religious background as you. If you respond, you may then be targeted and assessed by other means.

Operational Contact

What You Observe What It May Mean
Discussions that lead in the direction of sensitive or classified topics. Testing your willingness to talk about sensitive topics.
Inquiries about your own job satisfaction or professional rewards. Looking for exploitable weaknesses, such as bitterness or alienation.
Talk about his/her country's need for economic development or threat from foreign enemies. Elicit sympathy for his/her country's problems and motivate you to be helpful.
Requests for technical explanations from a person who, because of his or her alleged credentials, should already know the answer. Getting you accustomed to responding to questions. Testing whether you respond to flattery about your knowledge or have a need to feel important. Or maybe the alleged credentials are not real.
Disclosure to you of what you would consider to be sensitive information. Provoking you to verify facts or findings. Make you feel that it's okay to talk about such information. Trying to put contact on a "confidential" basis.
You are treated royally during foreign visit. Developing a sense of obligation to somehow reciprocate. Setting the stage for relaxed discussion and further assessment.
Your advice is sought on subjects of common interest. Setting the precedent for you providing information, no matter how innocuous it may be. Test whether flattery and making you feel important makes you more open and talkative.

Developmental Contact

What You Observe What It May Mean
Offer of a consulting fee on a private basis, even for providing innocuous information. Developing your financial motivation, getting you into the habit of providing information for money.
Request for introduction to another person, or to provide innocuous information such as unclassified reports from your library or an organizational telephone book, with no mention of compensation. Testing your inclination to be helpful, or establishing a pattern of your providing information.
Attempts to get you inebriated while engaging in a technical discussion. Trying to elicit privileged information, or testing whether you can be led into a compromising situation while drunk.
You receive expenses paid invitation to visit foreign country to attend conference, share technical expertise, or for sabbatical. The invitation may be entirely innocent, but if the intelligence service arranged it you may be in an advanced developmental stage. The goal may be to reward you for your assistance, create a sense of obligation, or get you on their home turf where they can try to compromise you by heavy drinking, black market currency exchange, or sexual provocation.
Attempts to gain inside or privileged information by offering favors or money. This is past the assessment and development stage, moving toward recruitment.

If you are targeted and assessed by a foreign intelligence officer, this certainly does not mean that you have done anything wrong. It does not in any way reflect on your reliability. You are a natural target because of your access to protected information, and because your job or other circumstances brings you into contact with foreign nationals. You have done nothing wrong unless you start maintaining a regular contact without reporting it to your security officer.

Related Topics: Reporting Foreign Intelligence Activity, The Insider Espionage Threat, The Insider Threat to Information Systems.

1. Many ideas in this topic came from a NRO foreign intelligence threat awareness briefing.