Target USA

How the Russians and Chinese Target America and American Interests

For the Russian intelligence services in their various forms, “target” United States is enticing and relatively “soft.” It may be hard to grasp, but while it is exceptionally easy to penetrate the American political apparat, the same does not apply to the U.S. security structure. Nonetheless, one can be assured the Russian intelligence services (and others, namely China) work hard to redress this imbalance.

Their broader aim is to turn their access to the U.S. political scene into a device relative to security matters. This requires a forceful development of political entree in such a manner as to arrange this access into the higher priority security targeting. To follow this intelligence thought process, one must first begin with the point of entry – the initial penetration vulnerability.

From a Russian analytical perspective, the American civilian structure is built on a strong ethos to succeed personally that can take many forms, but remains essential to the American character. This is particularly true in the business and political spheres. Thus, if one desires to influence and/or gain advantage from either field, benefits must be made available to selected individuals. These advantages can be either material, such as valuable gifts, or simply cash carefully concealed as payment for a legal service. The action in itself may not be overtly corrupt, and it is essential it does not appear so. Some form of cover story would usually be required. This is nothing new and has been going on for years. The United States is not the only country in which this system works. It is just that it is a method of influencing decisions much utilized by foreign governments and their agents. The question as to whether this is buying assistance or just renting it is irrelevant.  

In more specific terms, American businessmen who already have developed domestic political contacts are prime targets for foreign intelligence development. This has been particularly true with the Russians. Of course the businessmen on their own are looking for economic advantages. From an intelligence standpoint it is a traditional point of leverage and assistance both in terms of information gathering as well as political action taking.

Obviously, American businesses that have a commercial/financial interest in Russia – or China – are of particular importance to the respective security services. In turn, individuals in these firms will be evaluated and if chosen, targeted for possible utilization and eventual recruitment. However, the targeted subject may be quite unaware of their status as a person of possible intelligence utility. The decision to utilize the target in a witting or unwitting capacity depends on the specific operational needs and the suitability of the ”candidate.” In any case, the issue is situation determinant.

This does not mean that all individuals with business interests and connections with Russia or China are useful targets of opportunity. The circumstances that place one possible candidate above another in priority have to do with such things as technical background, political connections and even possible military/intel security access – even if tangential. In other words, from an intelligence standpoint the real goal is selecting those of interesting potential and subsequently ”developing” them accordingly.

Perhaps the easiest targets are those individuals in the academic professions. The Chinese have been particularly adept in penetrating the Western (particularly U.S.) academic communities. Additionally, the Russians have had a long-term interest and involvement with elements of the scientific and technological ranks. While most attention is drawn publicly to writers and journalists who appear particularly liberal in their views, their utility is limited to the field of political affairs. This is far less important in intellligence terms than the more specialized fields.

One of the higher priorities of foreign intelligence services is to target individuals and instruments that may create an opening to U.S. intelligence and security services. These are pursued with far greater subtlety and long-term development. In years past, political sympathies could be played upon, but that has tended to change toward more financially advantageous inducement. This latter situation can be viewed as more vulnerable to exposure and eventually counter action – and that is well understood by all concerned.

Ultimately, the United States is a truly enticing target. As recent publicized cases have revealed, however, the American security operations work hard to track and  penetrate opposition activities on both a technical and ”humint” (human intelligence collection) basis.

The covert war in the late nineteenth century between the British Raj in India and Imperial Russia for domination of the region was well characterized by Rudyard Kipling as The Great Game. Another Great Game, differently sited and structured exists today.  It is nonetheless challenging, for it is closer to home.