We’re in the midst of a spy scare, one of those periodic bouts of paranoia that spreads, like a virus, from Washington on outward. This time, it’s alleged Russian spies, but the scare is already becoming a generalized fear, permeating official Washington and the "mainstream" media like a poisonous fog. Check out Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan), a member of the House intelligence committee, Fran Townsend, CNN’s "national security correspondent," and CNN anchor Suzanne Malveaux in the "Situation Room," bloviating oh-so-knowledgably about this latest "threat":
"MALVEAUX: Well, Congressman, I want you to weigh in on this. How concerned are you that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spying inside of the United States?
"HOEKSTRA: Well, I don’t worry about that whether it is the tip of the iceberg or not. I know it’s the tip of the iceberg. Not only are the Russians involved in this, but the Iranians are involved in these types of activities. The Chinese are very involved in these types of activities. We just had a successful prosecution earlier this year of a Chinese sleeper, and Fran is absolutely right, these countries have invested, you know, significant amounts of time and energy and personnel to get people planted here today so that maybe in five or ten or 15 years, they only need one of these people to pay off and get an important penetration, and provide them with real significant and valuable information. This is the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more of this going on."
How could I have missed that they’d drag in the Iranians? But of course, and if I were one of the hundreds of thousands of Iranians living in the US, I’d be worried. Ditto Chinese-Americans. That’s the idea behind the propaganda of fear: intimidation as a method of rule. And of course be sure to pick on a vulnerable minority – preferably a racial group that has yet to achieve official victim status. Are those pockets of Iranian immigrants ringing the Los Angeles metropolitan area really a ring of giant sleeper cells just waiting for the moment to strike? How about your next door neighbor, the Chinese-American engineer who works for a defense related industry and drives a better car than you? Who’s to say he’s not a sleeper, too?
The uses of the current spy scare are many, and scary: the politicians of Hoekstra‘s ilk are all too ready to extend the paranoia to include their favored targets, and the media loves a story like this, one complete with a compelling narrative – "sleeper agents" in suburbia! Dastardly spies who look like the clean cut couple next door! – and a "flame-haired beauty." What more could cable news ask for?
Playing her role as a megaphone for the War Party to the hilt, "reporter" Malveaux asks Hoekstra the one question he really wants to hear:
"Who are the most dangerous spies? Congressman, you mentioned the Chinese and the Iranians and either one of you jump in here. Do we know who is the most dangerous when it comes to getting our state secrets?
HOEKSTRA: Well, okay, from my perspective, I think both the Russians and the Chinese are very, very aggressive. They are very good. They are not only targeting military and intelligence areas, but they are also targeting our research universities and there is cases where we are well aware of that they have stolen our secrets and stolen our information and they have patented it before we have ever known that they have taken it.
"TOWNSEND: That is right. I agree completely…"
Of course she agrees completely. That’s what she’s paid to do. It’s her job: to validate the War Party’s not-so-hidden agenda. Russia isn’t the point: they’re just the convenient fall guys. Contra Hoekstra, if the activities of the Russian "sleepers," as detailed in the indictment [.pdf], are any indication of the danger posed to the US, then I’d say we can all relax. I don’t think the spy cabal’s research into the prospects for the gold market, for one known example, pose any great threat to our national security. The real point is to extend the spy scare to include the enemy of the moment, in this case Iran. The "expert" Ms. Townsend then goes on to say:
"The other thing I would mention that they target is our commercial, our technology. You know, our American companies invest a lot of money in R&D and we know that the Chinese and the Russians are very aggressive about targeting what in this country is that they can get through commercial relationships or on open sources, but what is restricted from transfer outside of the country, and so that is another one of the benefits that these sleepers can establish commercial relationships that really steal our intellectual property."
At this point, I can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t mention the one country with a considerable clandestine – as well as open – presence in the US, and that is Israel, which the FBI’s 2005 annual report on "Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage" accused of running "an active program to gather proprietary information within the United States." Unlike the Russians, they don’t seem too interested in the gold market: "These collection activities," the FBI continues, "are primarily directed at obtaining information on military systems and advanced computing applications that can be used in Israel’s sizable armaments industry." If the Russkies are using old-fashioned cold war technology like invisible ink and passing bags of cash at train stations, the 2005 report describes Israeli spies as using electronic means and specifically computer intrusion as their primary tools.
If Hoekstra and Townsend are so worried about the alleged danger posed by Russian and Chinese espionage, then surely the considerable Mossad presence ought to concern them as well: after all, when Jonathan Pollard stole priceless secrets from the US on behalf of Tel Aviv, the Israelis traded the information to the Soviets in exchange for the release of tens of thousands of Russian Jews to be sent directly to Israel. According to a 1996 report by the Office of Naval Investigations, the Israelis sold stolen US military technology to the Chinese, and this came out in 2000, again, when Tel Aviv tried to sell China the ultra-secret Phalcon early warning detection system, created in the US.
In 2005, the FBI concluded that these heists posed an effective challenge to US military superiority, and cost us dearly, confirming an earlier report by the General Accounting Office (GAO). The GAO study of the costs of espionage detailed numerous instances of the theft of sensitive technology by Israeli citizens residing in the US, illustrating the key role played by Israeli hi tech companies as intelligence fronts. The GAO flat out declared that Israel "conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally."
The activities of the Russian "moles" are a comic opera next to this kind of sophisticated and fantastically successful operation. Yet we hear next to nothing about it. Why do you suppose that is?
No one doubts that many nations wish to penetrate our national security firewall and steal our secrets. The question is: which nations have had the most success?
I would submit, based on their pathetic performance, that the Russkies are the very least of our problems. As for the Chinese, they already have their boots on our necks: in any conflict with the US, all they have to do is stop buying our debt and they’ll have won. Why bother stealing our secrets when they can buy them – buy us – without going to the trouble to plant "sleeper cells"? (The likeliest recruits to a Chinese sleeper cell are members of the Congress of the United States, which keeps upping the national debt — and handing Beijing the whip they’ll use if we get too aggressive.)
The Russians, you’ll note, concentrated on going after figures with some political influence: i.e. those with access to the President, or other elected officials, rather than industrial or technical targets. In the age of the American empire, with Washington dominating what goes on in many if not most parts of the world, this is a survival mechanism. With the US claiming the "right" of militarily preempting an alleged threat at any time or place, every other nation on earth needs an early warning system. This is part of the price of empire, and as long as the American people are willing to bear the costs the problem will persist.
I only hope – or, rather, wish – our intelligence services are as skilled at tracking down real terrorist cells as they are at scooping up cold war leftovers. Somehow, I rather doubt it.