China swims the swamp for America's secrets

The bust of a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency in 2007 for spying for China has drawn attention to a new recruiting pool for for America's enemies: the Washington swamp, which is in part composed of intelligence operatives who have cashed out and now work as "consultants" and "contractors."

In two pieces describing the arrest, the New York Times reports that Jerry Chung Shing Lee, a former U.S. intelligence officer, apparently was picked up by the Chinese for his value as a former agency employee, not a current one.  He apparently gave the Chinese information from his intelligence days that enabled them to roll up and kill dozens of  U.S. agents inside China.  The Times reports that experts think it was the worst breach since Aldrich Ames.  Yet up until now, it has been supposed that such a person wouldn't be all that interesting to a hostile foreign intelligence service, as a sitting one would be.  As such, it was also probably thought that such contractors wouldn't be worth domestic counterintelligence agents' time.  But apparently, just that very setup and the growing numbers of former intelligence officers joining the ranks of contractors have created a pretty lucrative playground for China's intelligence services.  Just the fact that these targets are "former" seems to be why the Chicoms are targeting them.

Lee joined the agency in 1994 and then quit when his career plateaued in 2007, the Times reports.  After that, the disgruntled former officer went to work for a firm in Hong Kong but was lured back to the States by the FBI with the promise of a lucrative CIA consulting contract.

This was believable to Lee because it was Washington swamp stuff.  In Washington, it's getting pretty ordinary to go to work for these national security agencies, whether the Special Forces or one of the alphabet agencies, and, instead of staying on for patriotism's sake, cashing out and selling one's services as a "consultant" or "contractor," in the service of the highest bidder.

Hostile foreign intelligence services like the Chinese have discovered that they can be the highest bidder, at least with some of them, and all it takes is one.

The Times notes that intelligence officials are now worried that the Chinese in particular are targeting former intelligence officials as a strategy, citing two other cases.  There actually could be far more problematic cases than that, given the private contractors out there with intelligence backgrounds, selling their government expertise to the highest bidder.

According to the Washington Post, in a piece that ran a few years ago on the Ed Snowden-WikiLeaks case, there is quite an expansion of the revolving door:

The unprecedented leak of top-secret documents by National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden raises far-reaching questions about the government’s rush to outsource intelligence work to contractors since the Sept. 11, 2001[] terrorist attacks.

Never before have so many U.S. intelligence workers been hired so quickly, or been given access to secret government information through networked computers.  In recent years, about one in four intelligence workers has been a contractor, and 70 percent or more of the intelligence community’s secret budget has gone to private firms.

Booz Allen Hamilton, which hired the 29-year-old Snowden three months ago to work at the NSA, has been a leader among more than 1,900 firms that have supplied tens of thousands of intelligence analysts in recent years, including technologists and field spies.

The Snowden case was not necessarily about Snowden being recruited, but his lack of loyalty in leaking to WikiLeaks was obvious enough.  What's more, it's possible he was recruited by the Russians, given that they have extended asylum to him.  By a strange series of errors, that somehow ensured that he ended up safe in Moscow, where he lives to this day.

If nothing else, it signals a new problem in Washington swamp culture, where private money changes hands for government expertise in the world of former intelligence agents.  It seems to be  an irresistible playground for the Chinese and the Russians.  What a bad setup that has been for us, yet not all that surprising in a world where pretty much anyone can join the CIA and moral integrity doesn't seem to be a job requirement anymore.

Cashing out is lucrative for such people, and some will be tempted to be traitors.  As President Trump seeks to reform the swamp, he might consider looking at this problem before another U.S. spy network is rolled up.

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