Friday, November 21, 2014

"Caught Any Spies Lately?"

"Caught Any Spies Lately?"

by Robert Booth

   I recall using that phrase with less than collegial tone for over 20 years when encountering fellow agents assigned to the Counterintelligence Office who, under the acronym SY/SAS, were first located on the 2nd floor of Main State, then the basement and finally the 7th floor of (currently) SA-3. I remember how they would gently (or not so diplomatically) try to steer the conversation towards more mundane topics or would provide vague replies which, of course, would only entice me to turn up the needling one more notch.

    After almost five years of working in the Counterintelligence Division (DS/ICI/CI), I have come to appreciate the "need-to-know" doctrine and understand why counterintelligence officers are hesitant, even resistant, to discuss their work. It's not a reluctance to talk about the contact reporting policy, the travel to threat countries, or the potential counterintelligence threat that Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs) represent.

   Rather, it's a hesitancy to talk about what really intrigues people, about what they really want to know-not counterintelligence issues, but spies. A discussion surrounding the question of human betrayal and purchased loyalty fascinates us all and could go on for hours especially if you worked with the suspect employee at some embassy some years back.

   Over the last decade, the State Department has, unfortunately, had a fair number of its employees who have admitted or have been convicted of spying against the United States. For years, the DS/CI staff toiled away in self-imposed obscurity because that was the way it had to be. The Intelligence Community (IC), which} assists State with the counterintelligence programs, demands it from SY/SAS to DS/CI, the need to protect sensitive sourcing has not changed.

   Allegations that an employee is engaged in espionage activities do not come from tips to the Office of the Inspector General's hotline, anonymous letters to DS, or during update interviews with co-workers. The mere suggestion that a State Department employee may be the target of an FBI/DS espionage investigation is not something to be hinted at lightly. Inadvertent leaks, at a minimum, may improperly bring into question an employee's suitability, compromise the integrity of the investigation or, more seriously, put a source at risk.

   In 1989, the premature revelation in the press that Felix Bloch was suspected of being a Soviet spy reinforced the notion in some IC circles that the State Department was incapable of handling sensitive counterespionage information. The Gusev case demonstrates otherwise. Do we catch spies? Yes we do, but more routinely DS/CI stops espionage. The staff's daily activities are actively directed at identifying and neutralizing "at risk" employees. For example, DS/CI SA Bruce Bennett traveled to a European country to conduct refresher briefings for U.S. Government employees and to review the intelligence assessment and development cycle with embassy personnel.

   At the conclusion of one of his briefings, an American citizen U.S. Government employee approached Bruce. The employee stated that he had been dating a local national who had introduced him to her uncle, who in turn wanted to pay the employee for English language lessons. Eventually, the uncle asked the employee for unclassified commercial reporting from the embassy. The employee obtained the requested information and continued to receive payment for English lessons to the tune of $6,000.

   The employee, now sensitized to potential CI indicators, acknowledged that he had never participated in any comprehensive employee counterintelligence awareness briefings. His assignment was curtailed and. Ill' is currently undergoing investigative scrutiny.

   In Africa, two Embassy FSNs, who were working with the local security service, were attempting to assess and develop a State Department employee. DS/CI agents, assisted by intelligence community elements, monitored the situation for two years in an attempt to better understand the methodology and goals of that service. Eventually, DS/CI agents interviewed the employee, who acknowledged providing sensitive operational and personal data concerning U.S. Government employees assigned to that embassy to one of the suspect FSNs. The two FSNs were fired and the employee is now more sensitive to CI indicators that may exist in a social relationship.

   In another case, a Department employee assigned overseas, who because of past Foreign Affairs Manual transgressions, had been curtailed from his assignment in a former communist country. Apparently, this employee continued his relationship with a suspected asset of a hostile intelligence agency. Special Agents monitored his activities for over a year before his clandestine meetings with the asset in the former communist country and other nations were documented. The employee was curtailed from post and subsequently resigned. For his outstanding work in this case, Bob Davis was the recipient of an award from the FBI during a ceremony in Director Bergin's office in October 1999.

   In early 1999, Stanislav B. Gusev, a line officer assigned to the Russian Embassy, was detected routinely parking his American-made vehicle (dubbed "the Malibuski"), sporting YR diplomatic plates, on the streets in close proximity to the Main State Department building. He would exit the car carrying bags, proceed to one of several park benches in the area, sit down, and spend time manipulating the unknown contents of the bags. After FBI personnel spotted and documented Gusev's activities, DS and FBI special agents initiated a discrete monitoring of public spaces surrounding Main State.

     It became evident that Gusev's visits to 21st, 22nd, 23rd Streets and Virginia Avenue were centered on his parking his car so that it faced the north facade of Main State. The Intelligence Community quickly surmised that Gusev's presence  was consistent with technical  collection and that a listening device had most probably been installed inside the State Department. DS/CI Agents surveilled the suspect area around the clock while technical countermeasures were initiated to locate the device.
Shortly thereafter, a listening device was discovered in the chair rail molding attached to the wall of the OES 7th floor conference room.   Eventually,  all the investigative agencies involved decided to detain Gusev and remove the device from the conference room.

     DS/CI Special Agents Kent Trogden and Jon Norsworthy were assigned to the arrest/vehicle team, SA Ollie Ellison was stationed at the FBI Command Post, and SA Elizabeth Murphy was responsible for coordinating all of the joint FBI/DS interviews of State Department employees. SAs Kevin Durnell, Kurt Rice, and Keith Swinehart were identified to help with the damage assessment interviews.

     On December 8, 1999, Gusev departed the Russian Embassy and parked his car on Virginia Avenue across from the CVS drug store in full, unobstructed view of the DS/CI office. It took Gusev almost 15 minutes of jockey­ ing around in the parking space to find the exact position for his car to align the back seat antenna to be 'in sync' with the listening device in the conference room.  A civic-minded person, Gusev inserted numerous quarters into the appropriate parking meter and proceeded for a walk around the George Washington University area. CI Chief John Tello, working in close conjunction with DS/CI Analysis Chief Fran Saunders to ensure that conference room conversations were of potential legal record up to the last moment, directed the. entry of the FBI forensic team into the conference room. The device was isolated and removed while the State employee interviews started up in SA-3. Gusev was declared persona non grata and departed the United States shortly thereafter.

     The successful resolution of this case was a direct result of the excellent coordination between the FBI and DS and the professional  discretion of those involved.

     To close, those of us currently in Cl tip our hats to our predecessors, particularly those who worked anonymously but so effectively in the old SY/SAS. Jim Lannon, Gordon Harvey, Lance Putney, and all the others who quietly built relationships with the Intelligence Community and thwarted espionage attempts directed at the Department deserve belated thanks for the strong foundation they set for our CI programs.

(SA Robert Booth is Deputy Chief of the DS Counterintelligence Division.)

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