The enemy within

Has America's lone superpower status made it an elephantine target in the global spying game?

Published April 7, 2005 7:55PM (EDT)

Though it hasn't gotten a whole lot of attention in the media, a report published last month by the Silberman-Robb commission raised fears that a substantial number of foreign spies -- al-Qaida operatives included -- may be infiltrating U.S. national security agencies. Paul Redmond, a former CIA official who spoke at a conference on counterintelligence last month at Texas A&M University, warned that infiltration was an "actuarial certainty." Because of efforts since Sept. 11 to more widely share critical intelligence as part of broader reforms, Redmond said, the danger of espionage has been growing. "I think we're worse off than we've ever been," he said.

The Christian Science Monitor picks up on the story today, pointing to a major shift in the game of global espionage: America's status as king of the hill. This is not your father's Cold War any more.

"Because the U.S. has reached such lone, superpower status, government officials say, at least 90 countries -- in addition to Al Qaeda -- are attempting to steal some of the nation's most sacred secrets. It's not only foes, like members of terror groups or nations that are adversaries of the U.S., but friends as well. The top five countries trying to snoop on U.S. plans and cutting-edge technology, according to an official who works closely with the FBI on this issue, are China, Russia, Israel, France, and North Korea. Others running close behind: Cuba, Pakistan, and India.

"'With the end of the Soviet Union, people stopped taking counterintelligence seriously,' says Patrick Lang, former head of Middle East intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency. 'Not enough attention has been devoted to keeping people from getting into our secret store of knowledge.'"

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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Al-qaida Cia Espionage Terrorism War Room