SOFREP recently reported  on a few of the problems that the CIA encountered while spending upwards of 3 billion dollars on a program designed to get our CIA officers to serve in successful non-official and deep cover roles abroad.  These problems are evident not only in the CIA but across the entire intelligence community, especially when considering today’s demanding fiscal climate and disproportionate emphasis on technical collection capabilities and not traditional human intelligence tradecraft.

Listing a few reasons for the CIA’s failure as “inexperience, bureaucratic hurdles, lack of language skills, and other problems,” the most disconcerting issue was that “only a few of the [deep cover] officers managed to recruit useful intelligence sources.” This revelation, while not a major issue when compared to the impressive technical collection capabilities the US intelligence community wields today, is still indicative of a weak intelligence discipline that requires much more emphasis by the US.  While this was recognized by the CIA several years ago and followed by a multi-billion, multi-year effort, its failure warrants further investigation and a quick re-attack.

Anna Chapman, one of the more noticeable Illegals busted by the FBI in 2010, courtesy of the Telegraph

While relatively little information is reported in the mainstream media regarding CIA activities abroad (as well it should be), the ongoing efforts of Russia and China, among many other foreign intelligence services, can offer prime examples of the continuously developing recruiting and human intelligence collection capabilities. This continuously-developing capability is a consistent threat to US national security and difficult to counter.

Going to great lengths to conceal their true identifies, deep cover officers often enter into marriage with their partners, have children, obtain degrees from prestigious US universities, and maintain fluency in multiple languages. This is in addition to maintaining and operating in a legitimate cover role such as a businessmen, real estate executive, or journalist, etc. It is clear that while the CIA works to resolve its budget woes and regain its footing against the seemingly more capable US technical intelligence capabilities, other foreign governments and intelligence services are not lacking.

Russian sleepers Vladimir and Lidiya Guryev aka Richard and Cynthia Murphy, and their children, courtesy of NYDailyNews

The most renowned foreign intelligence event in recent US years is the infamous Anna Chapman spy ring (the “llegals Program”) that was busted by the FBI in 2010, an investigation made possible only after an alleged double agent fed information about the group to US authorities in exchange for safehaven after he fled Russia for treason. In addition to Russia’s consistent and experienced attempts to infiltrate deep cover operatives into the US, occasional reports of Chinese honeypot operations are also not infrequent, as foreign governments rely on various sources and methods to steal classified national security information.

The Russian Illegals Program, courtesy of the US Marshals

As the CIA learned through their attempt to overhaul their human intelligence capabilities in recent years, working with human sources is a complex business, and “requires a great deal of time and resources to gather assets and analyze information.”  As the work precludes, the training alone is very resource and time-intensive, with officers requiring training in “foreign languages, conducting, detecting, or evading surveillance, recruiting skills and other…aspects of tradecraft, the ability to handle various types of communications equipment, weapons training”, etc. The time and resources required to sufficiently train officers is one of the largest limiting factors to human intelligence collection capabilities, and is also a costly one at that. However, given the cost of the various technical collection means currently in operation, the cost of preparing a deep cover officer pales in comparison.

In addition to the resources required for a successful deep cover training program, the human intelligence discipline and the collection itself is “susceptible to [a variety] of deceptive tactics, [namely] any concurrent counterintelligence operations.”  Working with human sources is a complex endeavor and therefore presents a difficult challenge in attempting to extract classified information about a foreign government on behalf of another, especially given any foreign influence to counter it.

One of the primary benefits of human intelligence, despite its naturally complex nature, is the fact that the information being provided comes from (ideally) trusted and vetted sources who possess the most accurate ground picture of the intended target.  Human intelligence “provides analysts with a perspective that ‘puts their fingers on the pulse’ of a situation…’bringing…material that cannot be obtained by technical sensors or developed by other [methods].'” It is for this reason that the CIA works to maintain a successful human intelligence collection capability, due to the excellent returns providing “inside information from a well-placed source.”