The civilian part of the Pentagon alone among U.S. government agencies is taking the threat from China seriously and has begun quietly implementing a so-called “hedge strategy” that involves a build up of military forces in the Pacific and Asia that will better position the United States to deal with a China that in the future drops the facade of friendliness and openly declares its hostility. Our intelligence and security agencies remain woefully unprepared to deal with China’s intelligence assault, as I reveal in Enemies in the case of Katrina Leung, China’s mole in the FBI in Los Angeles, and in the case of Tai and Chi Mak, two brothers who passed valuable defense technology that has helped China’s military.
The chapter on the spies who got away reveals that either gross negligence or a Chinese spy in the highest levels of government, or both, can explain why so many recent Chinese spy cases were mishandled.
Lopez: You say that the best way to deal with North Korea is counterintelligence. Does that mean we’re doomed?
Gertz: No. The current U.S. policy toward North Korea has been announced as “diplomacy,” albeit a feckless effort to try and convince a radical Communist regime in Pyongyang to give up its nuclear-arms program. The diplomatic policy is doomed to failure but that does not mean that the only other option is to begin flying Tomahawks and dropping JDAMs on North Korea. The most effective middle ground between feckless diplomacy and heavy-handed military attacks is an effective, targeted program of regime change. The key to reaching this goal is to organize a major counterintelligence program that will target North Korean intelligence and government officials for recruitment. A targeted campaign would have the effect of creating opponents of the current regime within the power structure and to use those recruited agents to bring down the peaceful fall of the Pyongyang government and its replacement with a democratic regime. It will not be easy but it is the best option available.
Lopez: You have an entire chapter on Cuba — can Cuba really be a big threat (to more than the Cuban people), all things considered?
Gertz: My chapter on Cuba’s mole in the Pentagon is a detailed look at the little-known spy case of Ana Montes, one of the most senior intelligence analysts in the U.S. government who provided vast amounts of classified information to Cuba, whose government in turn then sold or traded those secrets to Russia and China. Montes was an ideological spy for Cuba who worked within the Defense Intelligence Agency and ultimately became the most important U.S. intelligence analyst in the entire government. She spied at first to oppose U.S. policy that supported the anti-Communist contra rebels in Nicaragua because Montes supported the Communist Sandinistas. She later switched her allegiance to Cuba after the Sandinistas were ousted in elections.
Cuba remains a threat because it is spreading its anti-Americanism throughout the region and is now deeply involved in backing the leftist government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, which could cause tremendous harm to U.S. national security by virtue of its oil exports to the United States. Chavez has invited Cuban intelligence and security police into the country in large numbers.
Lopez: How much of a problem for intelligence has media disclosures on that NSA surveillance program and other top-secret operations been?
Gertz: Electronic intelligence by its nature has a limited shelf life as targets are constantly identifying NSA electronic surveillance and shutting it down. It is a constant challenge for NSA to find new links for eavesdropping and certainly media disclosures have limited NSA’s ability to gather intelligence. That said, foreign governments and terrorists organizations know very well that all electronic signals they use to communicate are subject to monitoring so that it would be overstating the case to say we have been crippled by media disclosures. The problem for U.S. intelligence today is an over reliance on electronic eavesdropping and photographic intelligence, and a dramatic lack of human intelligence-gathering. As one intelligence official put it: “The problem with the CIA can be summed up in two words: “No spies.” Our intelligence agencies currently lack any inside sources in the places where we need them most: North Korea, China, Iran, Syria and other places. Thus the government has been forced to rely too much on its formidable electronic eavesdropping capabilities.
Lopez: What makes you so sure you have the full counterintelligence picture?
Gertz: I have interviewed scores of U.S. intelligence and counterintelligence officials and I have been writing and reporting on these issues for over 20 years. I feel very confident that the portrait I paint of a broken counterintelligence system is accurate and full. But the nature of intelligence is that it is secret and there is probably much more that we don’t know about. Just since the publication of Enemies I was able to learn about another spy for China inside the U.S. military who managed to get away without prosecution.
Lopez: What practical things can Congress do? Would they?
Gertz: Unfortunately, the problem of foreign spies and weaknesses in U.S. counterintelligence have been studied by numerous commissions, both administration and congressional, over the years, usually as a result of some of the recent extremely damaging spy cases. Nothing seems to change and bureaucrats in the intelligence community resist needed reforms.
The latest effort was the so-called WMD commission, which called for fixing the broken counterintelligence system.
I recommend creating new joint White House-Congressional panel that would focus exclusively on the counterintelligence failures of recent years and make practical recommendations for fixing the problems.
The problem has been that the CIA is averse to tough counterintelligence, viewing it as an impediment to their offensive spying efforts. The FBI continues to view counterintelligence from a law enforcement perspective, which means that instead of exploiting spy cases for counterintelligence operations against the enemies, they tend to first focus on “putting the cuffs” on spies, when that should only be one option. The better course of action is to find the spies and then turn them to our strategic advantage.
Lopez: Your book is, ultimately, about how bad our intelligence is. Has it gotten any better in the wake of 9/11? What can be done?
Gertz: Enemies in some ways is a follow-up to my 2003 book Breakdown, on the intelligence failures related to the September 11 attacks, but with a special emphasis on counterintelligence, that is, the failures of counterintelligence agencies and the need to fix the problem so that we can defend our nation from spies, saboteurs and terrorists.
U.S. intelligence agencies remain mired in what I call crushing bureaucratization — the loss of focus on national, strategic goals and the overemphasis on protecting bureaucratic turf, budgets and personnel. The problem is seriously undermining our national security.
The intelligence community is bloated, with too many agencies doing to many of the same things. Restructuring is needed to upgrade our intelligence services to the 21st Century. While some reform has been carried out, there is so much more that needs to be done. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in my view, has become another layer of bureaucracy on the overly bureaucratic system. It turns out that what the intelligence community didn’t need was a czar who could make all well.
We need smaller agencies with better people and radically different operating methods and procedures.