The discovery of a Russian "mole" at the highest levels of US intelligence came as a shock. But it wasn't as great a surprise to those who play the spy-vs.-spy game.
In fact, according to experts in spying and counterintelligence, such activity is likely to increase.
"Never in my experience ... has American intelligence had to deal with such a dynamic set of concerns affecting such a broad range of US interests," says CIA Director George Tenet. "Never have we had to deal with such a high quotient of uncertainty."
Whether it's terrorism, missile proliferation, narcotrafficking, or rapidly advancing technology, the United States is entering a period when it not only needs to protect its secrets better, but it also must improve its ability to find out what Russia (and many other countries) are doing.
The post-cold-war period also means many more players are involved, including multinational drug dealers and those spying on behalf of terrorist organizations not affiliated with any particular country. "It's a crossword puzzle rather than two halves of a chessboard," says Stanley Bedlington, a former CIA counterterrorism official who spent 36 years in US and British intelligence agencies.
This makes moles all the more important - to the US as well as to its adversaries.
With regard to Russia in particular, industrial espionage is likely to increase. So is the possibility that Russian spies could inadvertently (or on purpose) reveal US counterterrorism methods to those who would do this country harm.
At the same time, intelligence officials expect more efforts to acquire data on the US arsenal so that Russia can improve its weaponry - to bolster its own defenses, have better arms and equipment to export for the income it badly needs to improve its faltering economy, and improve its global influence.
"Russian intelligence is not only spying against the US and America's friends and allies now, but is much more active and aggressive than it ever was during the hottest days of the cold war," says Stanislav Lunev, a former colonel in Russia's military intelligence unit who defected to the US in 1992.
"Hundreds of these spies, who are pretending to be diplomats, experts, journalists, and other 'legal' Russian representatives, are operating from Washington, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and other stations," Mr. Lunev wrote last week in his regular online column for NewsMax.com.
Thinking outside the box
Meanwhile, Mr. Tenet told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence earlier this month, the US "must constantly push the envelope on [intelligence data] collection beyond the traditional, to exploit new systems and operational opportunities to gain the intelligence needed by our senior policymakers."
And, since the Russians know this, they no doubt will increase their own intelligence efforts and seek more moles like Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent alleged to have spied for Russia for 15 years.
How to prevent this? At the least, the FBI needs to keep much closer track of its agents, say insiders, former intelligence officials, and outside experts.
"There are only two safeguards," says Paul Redmond, former chief of counterintelligence at the CIA. "Very good compartmentalization and good counterintelligence."
Compartmentalization means limiting access to highly classified information strictly to those who have a "need to know." This controls the flow of information and makes it easier to find the source of leaks.
One of the most controversial reforms is likely to be increased use of polygraphs, or lie detectors. Until now, the FBI has used them less frequently on its employees than has the CIA.
"The FBI made a tremendous mistake in not requiring polygraphs," says a US intelligence agency veteran.
"Sure, they can be beaten," says this source. (CIA official Aldrich Ames, who spied for Russia, successfully passed lie-detector tests.) "Nevertheless, they're a tremendous deterrent."
FBI agents also need to be made more aware of attempts to recruit them, says Mr. Redmond, who set up the CIA's counterintelligence center. "We need to make sure they know that they can always be targeted.".
In Mr. Hanssen's case, this might not have mattered. The FBI alleges that he volunteered to spy for Russia without being asked. Those who worked with him say he frequently voiced strong anticommunist sentiments and that he was a member of the same conservative church as FBI Director Louis Freeh.
The FBI's motto is "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity." And in announcing the Hanssen case last week, Mr. Freeh said, "At the end of the day, what we rely on are honest people." In other words, new agency employees bring a lifetime of values and beliefs to the job which the FBI can only hope to identify and mold to what Freeh calls the organization's "core values."
"The best day you have to sell yourself [as an organization] is their first day on the job," says Lee Colwell, former deputy director of the FBI.
William Webster, former director of the CIA and of the FBI, will be looking at these and other ways to prevent future spying within US intelligence agencies.
But in the end, says Mr. Redmond, "The lesson that Americans should take away from this is that there is no way to say there will never be another spy. No way."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society