Counter Intelligence – Travel Awareness
In a world that increasingly measures national power and security in economic as well as
military terms, U.S. citizens aboard are targets for foreign intelligence activities.
Although you may not possess a specific piece of technical information, you may not
possess a specific piece of technical information, what you may possess is operational,
organizational or personnel data that can be used by foreign collectors to identify and
pursue other targets. What types of information are these foreign collectors seeking? It
runs the full gamut of U.S. political, economic, industrial, and military interests. And
yes, it extends to academic and research interests too.
Foreign collection operations may be conducted by the intelligence services of a foreign
government, nonintelligence-associated ministries, agencies and research institutes,
government-sponsored industry and nonstate actors such as private companies or terrorist
organizations. Although the professional intelligence officer is still out there collecting
information, it is more likely that the intelligence collector sitting next to you in a
seminar or symposium is someone associated with your field of expertise. They will
have solid professional credentials and be able to ask the right questions and make correct
How can we protect ourselves?
First we have to know the methods they employ then we can determine what strategies
we can use to thwart the collection efforts. Collection efforts logically balance mission
accomplishments with a minimal expenditure of resources and provide a high degree of
security to the operation. An intelligence collection activity directed against you will
probably be conducted in an unobtrusive and nonthreatening fashion. However there are
the instances where more aggressive tactics are used such as excessive questions by
border control officials, hotel room searches, and theft of electronic equipment.
Elicitation – A ploy where seemingly normal conversation is contrived to extract
information about individuals, their work, or their colleagues. Elicitation works
very well as it exploits several fundamental aspects of human nature;
o Most of us want to be polite and helpful, so we answer questions even
from relative strangers.
o We want to appear well-informed about our professional specialty, so we
may be tempted to say more than we should.
o We want to be appreciated, and feel that we are doing something
important and useful. As a result, we often talk more expansively in
response to praise about the value or importance of our work.
o As open and honest people, we are often reluctant to withhold
information, lie or be suspicious of other’s motives.
Elicitation is subtle and should not be confused with direct questioning by
government or industry representatives.
o Puts someone at ease to share information.
o Difficult to recognize as an intelligence technique.
o Easily deniable by an adversary.
Eavesdropping – Listening to other people’s conversations to gather information.
This can range from the strategic positioning of an unobtrusive bystander to the
use of concealed audio and visual devices.
o Frequently used in social settings. People feel secure and are more likely
to talk about themselves or work.
o Venues include public or host-provided transportation, restaurants, bars
and meeting facility rooms.
o Concealed devices are cost efficient, low risk and can be used in
conjunction with overt devices such as traffic or pedestrian monitoring
o Can occur in a radius of 6 to 8 seats on public transportation or 10-12 feet
in other settings.
Intrusion Operations – The physical entry into a room, security container or piece
of electronic equipment to steal, make reproductions of documents, magnetic or
audio media and/or the installation of eavesdropping equipment. Most intrusion
operations are surreptitious; you will never know or suspect it has occurred.
There are also the instances where intrusion operations are not so subtle, actually
discovering individuals searching your belongings or conducting unnecessary
maintenance activities, electronic equipment showing signs of use/tampering or
even damage, packages left open or have been resealed, locks on luggage or
briefcases show signs of forced entry or even missing.
o Intrusion ops are conducted by the host government, foreign intelligence
service of another government, or even foreign business operatives. The
host government may not even be aware of the operation of the third
government or party.
o Frequently accomplished with cooperation of hotel staff.
o There are entities that can overcome commercial computer intrusion
protection software & hardware.
o When reported the intrusion can be explained away as criminal activity.
Electronic Interception – The legal or illegal interception of electronic
communications. Increasingly conducted against telecommunications systems,
personal electronic devices such as cell phones, PDAs, laptops (WiFi networks)
and home wireless networks (technique known as wardriving to locate accessible
o Foreign telecommunication networks very vulnerable because most are
o Office, hotel, portable phones are key targets.
o Fax, telex and e-mail can be electronically monitored.
o Some countries can intercept and possibly break commercially available
Surveillance – Following to determine your contacts and activities.
o Labor intensive if done correctly. Not usually done unless you are
suspected of improper activity or a target of great interest.
Theft of Information – Stealing documents, briefcases, laptops or other electronic
o Laptops are especially vulnerable as they may contain a treasure trove of
o Laptop theft from hotel rooms and while transiting airports is common.
o Foreign service has plausible denial as the laptop may have been stolen for
the item value rather than the value of the information it contained. You
may never know if the information was compromised or not.
Common sense, basic security measures and threat awareness are the ways to protect
Do not take anything that you can not afford to lose.
Provide travel arrangers and hotel staffs with only the information necessary to
conduct your transactions.
You should feel free to expand your professional and personal horizons by meting
with foreign colleagues, as long as you keep in mind that not everyone you meet
has the best intentions.
o Do not divulge unnecessary information. Protect your personal
information and information about your colleagues and your work.
o Never talk about your personal problems or the personal problems or
weaknesses of colleagues to others.
o If the conversation is moving to a sensitive area, change the subject or
simply ignore the improper question. You are not obliged to tell anyone
any information they are not authorized to know.
o To discourage someone who seems to be too pushy about discussing
sensitive information, arranging a private meeting with you or anything
else that does not seem right, state that you will have to clear this with
your security office(r). This is the last thing an intelligence operative
wants to hear. It will usually cause them to back off immediately, as no
intelligence operative wants your security personnel to become aware of
their contact with you.
Utilize removable storage media for your laptop or pda. This way you can carry
the information with you.
Be careful of where you discuss information.
Use a privacy screen on your laptop to prevent “shoulder surfers”.
Try to maintain the lowest profile as possible.
Observe local laws.
Be alert for entrapment schemes.
o One of which is a “Turkey Drop”. An individual, a local, passes you
while walking and by chance happens to discover a container of money on
the ground usually a few steps ahead or behind you. The individual then
asks if it is yours as it is not his. When you say it is not yours he suggests
that we divide the found money. That is the hook, if you accept, once the
money is placed in your hands others instantly appear. They are
associates of the individual who “found” the money, which was actually in
his hand all along. They are all either police or government intelligence
agents. This was a favorite ploy in one of the former iron curtain
countries and was quite successful in entrapping foreign teachers who had
gone to the country to teach in the schools.
If you detect that you are under surveillance or being followed act normally. If
you are not doing anything that is illegal then you have nothing to worry about.
Do not confront the personnel following you, they are doing their job.