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In FBI-KGB spy war, prevention is the key

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 6, 1985


In the murky, unpublicized tug of war between Soviet spies and United States counterintelligence agents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is employing a special weapon: prevention. It is aimed at undermining what the FBI maintains is a dedicated Soviet effort to recruit Americans as spies. And it is relatively unglamorous.

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``Most of the work in foreign counterintelligence is prevention,'' an FBI official says.

He notes that all government employees, as well as workers at about 14,000 US defense contracting companies, have been briefed by FBI and other security officials in recent years on the threat posed by Soviet espionage.

During the same period, the official says, there has been a ``steady increase'' in funds and manpower for counterintelligence efforts. The FBI has primary responsibility for domestic counterintelligence. Following the period of d'etente in the early 1970s, the Soviet intelligence presence in the US is said to have been greatly expanded, and the FBI stepped up efforts to counter it.

US officials cannot predict how many Americans might already be working for the Soviets. But the recent disclosure of the espionage ring allegedly managed for some 20 years by former Navy communications specialist John A. Walker Jr. has heightened concern within the defense and intelligence communities as well as in Congress. They wonder who is winning the KGB-FBI battle for those few Americans who might be vulnerable to recruitment as Soviet spies.

Intelligence experts say the days are gone when the Soviets primarily sought out American communists or socialists who had become disenchanted with the US government. Today, they note, the Soviets often need only play a covert version of ``The Price Is Right'' to lure some Americans into betraying their country.

``It must give the Soviets a very cynical view of the [US] society -- that they are able to find so many people who are willing to sell them the country's secrets for cash,'' Adm. Bobby R. Inman, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), told a television interviewer recently.

Adm. Stansfield Turner, CIA director in the Carter administration, says he is also troubled by another factor that has led some Americans to spy for the Soviets. He calls them ``people who spy for kicks . . . people who read John le Carr'e and want to become [Ian Fleming's fictional Agent] 007.'' He notes that it's much harder for US counterintelligence agents to spot such James Bond fantasists.

Admiral Inman and others have suggested that the US makes it too easy for the Soviets here. He has recommended, among other measures, increasing further the number of FBI counterintelligence agents assigned to watch the roughly 1,000 Soviet and East-bloc diplomats known or suspected to be spy recruiters. He says this would be more practical than attempting to watch closely the estimated 4.3 million Americans with regular access to classified information.

Admiral Turner says the country's classification system -- in which documents are labeled confidential, secret, or top secret -- ``is in absolute chaos.'' He says a more rigorous declassification system is needed to help officials protect true secrets. He also advocates cutting the number of government officials with security clearances by 40 percent.