America's role as the dominant political, economic, and military force in the world makes it the Number 1 target for foreign espionage. As FBI Director Louis Freeh has reported to Congress, foreign intelligence activities against the United States have grown in diversity and complexity since the end of the Cold War.1
In addition to the intelligence services of friendly as well as unfriendly countries, sources of the threat to classified and other protected information include:
The intelligence services of friendly and allied countries are now more active in intelligence operations against the United States than during the Cold War. Espionage by friends in addition to adversaries has long been more widespread than generally realized. For example:
In many cases, foreign targets in this country have not changed. "There is still a deadly serious interest in 'traditional' intelligence activities such as penetrating the U.S. intelligence community, collecting classified information on U.S. military defense systems, and purloining the latest advances in our country's science and technology sector."1
In a world that increasingly measures national power and national security in economic terms, foreign countries and corporations are placing increased emphasis on the collection of scientific, technical and economic-related information of all types. The increasing value of trade secrets in the global and domestic marketplaces, and the corresponding spread of technology, have combined to significantly increase both the opportunities and the incentives for conducting economic espionage, as discussed in Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage. The illegal export of controlled technology is a related but somewhat different offense discussed in Illegal Technology Transfer.
Important changes in the international economic environment and technological advances have increased our vulnerability to some types of foreign intelligence operations.
Methods of operation that foreign countries or organizations use to collect information on the United States are discussed in How Do I Know When I'm Being Targeted and Assessed?, Getting Information Out of Honest People Like Me, Risks During Foreign Travel,and In the Line of Fire: American Travelers Abroad. Technical intelligence collection threats are addressed in Computer and Other Technical Vulnerabilities.
The National Security Threat List guides the FBI's counterintelligence strategy for protection against these threats.