Frank Wisner, a well-known CIA operations executive said of the autobiography of Director of Central Intelligence Allen W. Dulles, that Dulles "disposes of the popular misconception that counterintelligence is essentially a negative and responsive activity, that it moves only or chiefly in reaction to situations thrust upon it and in counter to initiatives mounted by the opposition" Rather, he sees that can be most effective, both in information gathering and protecting friendly intelligence services, when it creatively but vigorously attacks the "structure and personnel of hostile intelligence services." Today's counterintelligence missions have broadened from the time when the threat was restricted to the foreign intelligence services (FIS) under the control of nation-states. Threats have broadened to include threats from non-national or trans-national groups, including internal insurgents, organized crime, and transnational based groups (often called "terrorists", but that is limiting). Still, the FIS term remains the usual way of referring to the threat against which counterintelligence protects.
In modern practice, several missions are associated with counterintelligence from the national to the field level.
- Defensive analysis is the practice of looking for vulnerabilities in one's own organization, and, with due regard for risk versus benefit, closing the discovered holes.
- Offensive Counterespionage is the set of techniques that, at a minimum, neutralizes discovered FIS personnel and arrests them or, in the case of diplomats, expels them by declaring them persona non grata. Beyond that minimum, it exploits FIS personnel to gain intelligence for one's own side, or actively manipulates the FIS personnel to damage the hostile FIS organization.
- Counterintelligence Force Protection Source Operations (CFSO) are human source operations, conducted abroad that are intended to fill the existing gap in national level coverage in protecting a field station or force from terrorism and espionage.
Counterintelligence is part of intelligence cycle security, which, in turn, is part of intelligence cycle management. A variety of security disciplines also fall under intelligence security management and complement counterintelligence, including:
- Physical security
- Personnel security
- Communications security (COMSEC)
- Informations system security (INFOSEC)
- Security classification
- Operations security (OPSEC)
The disciplines involved in "positive security", or measures by which one's own society collects information on its actual or potential security, complement security. For example, when communications intelligence identifies a particular radio transmitter as one used only by a particular country, detecting that transmitter inside one's own country suggests the presence of a spy that counterintelligence should target. In particular, counterintelligence has a significant relationship with the collection discipline of HUMINT and at least some relationship with the others. Counterintellingence can both produce information and protect it.
All US departments and agencies with intelligence functions are responsible for their own security abroad, except those that fall under Chief of Mission authority.
Governments try to protect three things:
- Their personnel
- Their installations
- Their operations
In many governments, the responsibility for protecting these things is split. Historically, CIA assigned responsibility for protecting its personnel and operations to its Office of Security, while it assigned the security of operations to multiple groups within the Directorate of Operations: the counterintelligence staff and the area (or functional) unit, such as Soviet Russia Division. At one point, the counterintelligence unit operated quite autonomously, under the direction of James Jesus Angleton. Later, operational divisions had subordinate counterintelligence branches, as well as a smaller central counterintelligence staff. Aldrich Ames was in the Counterintelligence Branch of Europe Division, where he was responsible for directing the analysis of Soviet intelligence operations. US military services have had a similar and even more complex split.
This kind of division clearly requires close coordination, and this in fact occurs on a daily basis. The interdependence of the US counterintelligence community is also manifest in our relationships with liaison services. We cannot cut off these relationships because of concern about security, but experience has certainly shown that we must calculate the risks involved.
On the other side of the CI coin, counterespionage has one purpose which transcends all others in importance: penetration. The emphasis which the KGB places on penetration is evident in the cases already discussed from the defensive, or security viewpoint. The best security system in the world cannot provide an adequate defense against it because the technique involves people. The only way to be sure that an enemy has been contained is to know his plans in advance and in detail.
"Moreover, only a high-level penetration of the opposition can tell you whether your own service is penetrated. A high-level defector can also do this, but the adversary knows that he defected and within limits can take remedial action. Conducting CE without the aid of penetrations is like fighting in the dark. Conducting CE with penetrations can be like shooting fish in a barrel."
In the British service, the cases of the Cambridge Five, and the later suspicions about MI5 chief Sir Roger Hollis caused great internal dissension. Clearly, the British were penetrated by Philby, but it has never been determined, in any public forum, if there were other serious penetrations. In the US service, there was also significant disruption over the contradictory accusations about moles from defectors Anatoliy Golitsyn and Yuri Nosenko, and their respective supporters in CIA and the British Security Service (MI5). Golitsyn had exposed Philby, and was generally believed by Angleton. George Kisevalter, the CIA operations officer that was the CIA side of the joint US-UK handling of Oleg Penkovsky, did not believe Angleton's theory that Nosenko was a KGB plant. Nosenko had exposed John Vassall, a KGB asset principally in the British Admiralty, but there were arguments Vassall was a KGB sacrifice to protect other operations, including Nosenko and a possibly more valuable source on the Royal Navy.
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