MENTION the phrase ``national security'' and many people first think of B-1 bombers, MX missiles, divisions stationed in Western Europe, or treaties that reduce nuclear arsenals. Important elements, all. But the Conrad spy case in West Germany and similar highly publicized cases in the past three years are reminders that individual integrity and moral strength, even in the face of personal or family adversity, are essential components of national security.
At first reading, that may sound naive. But consider techniques East-bloc countries - and presumably the United States as well - use to recruit agents in other countries.
If they are looking for quick access to top-secret material, intelligence services will try to use anything they can for leverage: sexual vulnerability, debts, drinking problems - something that if widely publicized would jeopardize an individual's job, reputation, or family ties.
In addition, they may make an appeal strictly based on greed. Or subtle and not-so-subtle pressure is placed on relatives back in the home country. Quite often the agent trying to recruit such people will ask a target if he or she would like to supplement a meager income by performing some apparently innocent task - such as provide unclassified information to help with a research project. The agent may ask that the person sign a receipt as he or she is handed the check. With the signature, the hook is set.
If the intelligence service is looking for future access, its agents will invest a great deal of time and effort cultivating relationships. Targets are likely to be fairly low-level employees or military personnel - people who can spend a lot of time handling classified documents without arousing suspicions.
East-bloc governments tap a good source of names, occupations, and opportunities for contact by subsidizing package tours of their countries. Western government employees who take such tours are often targets for recruitment by East-bloc intelligence services. Military camp and unit newsletters are another source of names and other personnel information.
The East bloc casts a wide net to recruit agents in the West. That puts a special responsibility on the individual. This is the flip side of the social compact in the West - especially in the US - that places a high priority on civil liberties.
The US government can do more to reduce its vulnerability to espionage. The Pentagon has already trimmed the number of security clearances it has granted from 4 million to 3 million. That number could probably be cut further. And cuts in the Pentagon's Defense Investigative Service budget should be restored.
But the last barrier between classified documents and the spies who want them is made up of the people who legitimately handle those documents. That barrier's soundness depends on the integrity of each human ``component'' of which it is comprised.