image Who's Doing What to Whom?

Who's Doing
What to Whom?



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:

  • Foreign or multinational corporations.
  • Foreign government-sponsored educational and scientific institutions.
  • Free-lance agents (some of whom are unemployed former intelligence officers).
  • Computer hackers.
  • Terrorist organizations.
  • Revolutionary groups.
  • Extremist ethnic or religious organizations.
  • Drug syndicates.
  • Organized crime.

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:

bullet Here's an Eye-Popper
During the past 20 years, Americans have been arrested and convicted of spying for South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Israel, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, El Salvador and Ecuador -- in addition to Russia, the former Soviet Union, China, and the various formerly communist countries.

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.

  • The development of a global economy, with a rapid expansion in foreign trade, travel, and personal relationships of all kinds, now makes it easier than ever before for foreign intelligence officers or agents of foreign corporations to establish personal contact with and assess Americans with access to valuable classified, controlled, or proprietary information. As international contacts have become more common, it has become easier for foreign intelligence officers and agents to contact, assess and develop targets without arousing suspicion.
  • Computer networks and other developments in the information revolution increase exponentially the amount of damage that can be done by a single insider who betrays his or her trust.

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.

1. FBI Director Louis Freeh, "Threats to U.S. National Security," Statement for the record before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, January 28, 1998.
2. Information from unclassified espionage data base maintained by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center.




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This page was last updated on: November 28, 2001