Avoiding and Recognizing
Foreign Intelligence Interest

While traveling abroad, you are on the other country’s home turf where the local security and intelligence services have many resources available. They can monitor and, to some extent, control the environment in which you live and work. You, in turn, may be at a disadvantage, because you are on unfamiliar territory.

bullet Allied as well as hostile intelligence and security organizations use their home field advantage to look for potential sources who can be developed and exploited based on greed, manipulation of psychological or emotional weaknesses, conflicting loyalties, addiction, or coercion. The local services routinely monitor black market activities, dissident groups, prostitution, certain bars, gay hangouts, gambling establishments, and other areas where human weaknesses may be observable.

Many Americans possess personality traits that increase their vulnerability to the classic routines of espionage.

  • Sociability: Americans characteristically want to be liked. In order to gain approval we tend to be social and gregarious even with casual contacts.
  • Candor and Trust: Americans generally place a high value on candor and on trust. We tend to be open and trustful and to accept others at face value.
  • Pride: As Americans, we are proud of our phenomenal accomplishments in science, business, war, and world leadership. We tend to underestimate people from other cultures, including their ability to conduct successful intelligence operations against us.
  • Ambition: Americans tend to be ambitious, oriented toward job advancement and professional recognition. Success is often measured by money and status.

These personality traits make many of us vulnerable to manipulation by people who offer friendship, understanding and flattery, or who offer opportunities for money or professional recognition, but who may have an ulterior motive for doing so.

Avoiding Intelligence Interest

To eliminate, or at least reduce, the possibility of your doing something inadvertent that may mark you as a person of special interest to one of these agencies, here are some DO NOT's to remember:

  • DO NOT do anything which might be misconstrued or reflect poorly on your personal judgment, professional demeanor, or be embarrassing to you, your employer, or your country.
  • DO NOT gossip about character flaws, financial problems, emotional relationships or marital difficulties of any co-workers, or yourself. This type of information is eagerly sought after by those who would like to exploit you or another employee.
  • DO NOT carry, use, or purchase any narcotics, marijuana, or other abused drugs. Some countries have very stringent laws covering the import or use of medications and other substances. If you are using a prescribed medication that contains any narcotic substance or other medication that is subject to abuse, such as amphetamines or tranquilizers, carry a copy of the doctor's prescription for all medications and check for local restrictions and requirements prior to departure. Some countries may require additional documentation/certification from your doctor.
  • DO NOT let a friendly ambiance and alcohol override your good sense and capacity when it comes to social drinking. In some countries, heavy drinking in the form of toasting is quite common, and very few westerners can keep up with a local national when it comes to drinking the national brew. If you are not careful, you could easily embarrass yourself, your employer, and/or your country. An accident while driving under the influence could lead to serious trouble.
  • DO NOT engage in "black market" activities such as the illegal exchange of currency, or the purchase of religious icons or other local antiquities that may be stolen or otherwise not authorized for export.
  • DO NOT accept or deliver letters, packages or anything else from or to anyone you do not know. You have no way of knowing what you are carrying and it could result in your being arrested for illegally importing a prohibited item.
  • DO NOT engage in any type of political or religious activity, or carry any political or religious tracts or brochures, or publications likely to be offensive in the host country, such as pornography or weapons.
  • DO NOT photograph anything that appears to be associated with the military or internal security of the country, including airports, ports, or restricted areas such as military installations.
  • DO NOT ask the local government for any special favors or permits, such as permission to travel to a restricted area or a special benefit for a relative or friend.
  • If in doubt, DO NOT.

Recognizing Intelligence Interest

Recognizing intelligence interest is discussed in How Do I Know When I’m Being Targeted and Assessed? Several scenarios that are particularly common while traveling abroad are mentioned here. The following situations should be closely scrutinized and usually avoided, if possible.

  • Repeated contacts with a local or third country national who is not involved in the business or other purpose of your visit, but who appears at each social or business function to which you are invited. This individual's demeanor may indicate more than just a passing interest in you or your work.
  • A close personal and social relationship with a foreign national of a hostile host government is often unavoidable for business reasons. In these instances, don’t let your guard down. Don’t assume that this is a true friendship.
  • Be skeptical of the accidental encounter with an unknown local national who strikes up a conversation and wants to practice English, talk about your country or your employment, buy you a drink because they have taken a liking to you, talk to you about politics, or who uses any other pretext to begin a "friendly" relationship.

If any of the above or anything else occurs which just does not ring true, be skeptical! It may be innocent, but exercise prudence and good judgment.

If you become aware that you are under physical or technical surveillance, this is a strong indication that someone is interested in monitoring your activities and learning more about you. Physical surveillance refers to following you on foot or by car. Technical surveillance refers to bugging your hotel room, using a concealed camera to observe your behavior in your hotel room, or monitoring your phone calls.

Although obviously worrisome, surveillance is no cause for panic. It may be a routine search for information that can be used against you, initiated solely on the basis of the sensitive information to which you are presumed to have access. You may be followed only because you met with someone who happens to be under surveillance. The bug in your hotel room may be left over from a previous operation, or be a permanent installation that is activated only when the room is occupied by a more important target than you.

If you possess sensitive information, either in your head or in documents on your person, you should ASSUME that you may be followed and behave accordingly. Do not do or say anything that could be used against you or that might increase interest in you as a target. Although you should be alert at all times, DO NOT do anything that suggests you are either looking for or are trying to avoid surveillance. This would suggest that you are engaged in illegal or improper activities and make you an even more important target.

In your hotel room, ASSUME that the room and telephone are being monitored. DO NOT try to play investigator and start looking for electronic listening devices. This again could send the wrong signal to whoever is behind the surveillance. Just act normally and make sure that you do not say or do anything in your hotel room that you would not want to see printed on the front page of the local newspaper. And do not do or say anything that suggests you know or suspect someone is listening. Taunting the local security service is always wrong, as it is definitely counterproductive.

If you have any reason to believe that you are being targeted by an intelligence or security service or any criminal or terrorist group, there is only one course of action to follow. Report your suspicions to the American Embassy or Consulate or to your employer and follow their guidance. Report only to an American citizen, not to a local national. And report only in person, not by telephone, fax, or electronic mail, as such communications to the American Embassy or Consulate may be monitored.

Related Topics: How Do I Know When I’m Being Targeted and Assessed? and Contact with Foreign Relatives.