Canada needs new breed of spycatchers
Wesley Wark
Special to The Windsor Star

What motivates people to turn to the dark side and risk all by spying for the enemy? We thought we knew. Counter-spy types had an acronym at hand, generated through the experience of many Cold War cases. The acronym was MICE, the assumed motives of the traitor: Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego.

Cold war depictions of the spy/traitor are being turned on their heads. The notion of an underworld in which money was the main factor, sometimes abetted by ideology, twisted egos, and inescapable sexual or financial blackmail traps, may have suited the Cold War. But there is a new spy out there, driven by a new psychology.

Such are the findings of a study by an obscure branch of the Pentagon, the Defense Personnel Security Research Center. Combing through historical evidence from open sources (books, newspapers, magazine articles, trial records) the centre has compiled a database of 173 individuals who, between 1947 and 2007, turned against the U.S. and spied for a foreign power.

The most fascinating subset concerns the post-Cold War, and especially post-9-11, cases of espionage. There are only 11 cases of known espionage in the post-9-11 period, so the sample is small, but the nature of the individuals involved, their motivations, and the means they employed to steal and communicate secrets, all suggest we have entered a new world of espionage.

The post-9-11 spy is a creature of divided loyalties, willing to serve his/her country of birth against the interests of an adopted country. The new spy may have lost his way in the war on terror, and turned to supplying intelligence to al-Qaida or other terrorist groups. The new spy is technically savvy, using computers and the Internet to ferret out information, and to communicate with potential recipients.

The post 9-11 spy is more highly educated than his predecessors. Above all, the new spy does the dirty deed for something other than money. Not one of the 11 known cases of post 9-11 espionage involved money as a primary motive. So much for MICE.

There is wonderful material here for the next generation of spy novels and spy films. But there is worry, understandably, among intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Counter-intelligence and security screening -- catching spies or identifying potential traitors --are the forgotten sides of the intelligence game. Yet they are crucial. Services that are penetrated by moles or that hemorrhage secrets become public laughingstocks and threats to the very idea of national security that is their raison d'etre.

Intelligence services have a twin mandate -- to collect secrets and to protect secrets. Both parts of their job have become exponentially more difficulty since 9-11.

In a post-9-11 world, spy services need new kinds of people to collect intelligence, build the databases and analyze threats at home and abroad. This new generation has to be highly educated, technically savvy, linguistically talented. There is a genuine need to recruit first-generation immigrants with levels of knowledge and language skills about their homelands that cannot be replicated through study. Many of these individuals will be plunged into counter-terrorism work; many will face real or perceived ethical and ideological dilemmas in their work.

Spy services need these new recruits. They will also worry about whether they have welcomed vipers into the nest. Divided loyalties will be the new watchword of counter-intelligence and security screening and will pose immense challenges.

Take the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, for example. It is undergoing a massive recruitment, having added 352 new people to its ranks since 2001. Nearly 15 per cent of th e workforce at CSIS is new hires. The percentage will rise to close to 20 per cent by the end of the decade. This is all good, but poses challenges for managing security.

Bring too great a level of paranoia, or more politely, caution, to security screening and counter-intelligence, and you will deprive the service of needed talent. Bring too little and you risk loss of secrets, effectiveness, and all kinds of dangers.

There is no easy way out of the dilemma. We can hope, and even assume, that divided loyalties will never become a serious problem in the ranks of Canada's spy agencies. But some cases will occur.

Foreign intelligence services, of which the Chinese have been singled out as particularly aggressive, continue to target Canada, on the look out for useful sources. We play a role in the global war on terror. The Canadian public is of two minds about the mission in Afghanistan. It's almost enough to make one nostalgic for the Cold War and MICE.

There are certainly cases in the U.S. files that we would want to avoid in Canada. Consider the soldier who tried to sell information about the vulnerabilities of army vehicles and "how to kill Americans" to insurgents in Iraq; the senior official in the State Department who disliked his government's policy toward Iran and wanted to tilt the field by purveying secrets to Israel; the sailor on board a U.S. warship who wanted to pass information on warships and naval movements in the Gulf to al-Qaida; even the fantasist who offered to sell the names and identities of 60 U.S. spies operating covertly in Iraq after the occupation.

The security challenges are daunting. The only thing that may not have changed in the world of counter-espionage is the lifestyle of the spy catchers.

Here is how author, Thomas Powers, characterized their world: "The business of counterespionage is a Dantean hell with 99 circles, and the men who dare its enigmas without exception have thick glasses, a midnight pallor, stomach ulcers, a love of fly fishing and fretful wives."

On the evidence of the U.S. study, we will have need of such people, alongside the new recruits.

Wesley Wark is a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa. This column first appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

© The Windsor Star 2008


Copyright © 2008 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.
CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.