Who Is Most Likely to Be Targeted?

The likelihood of your being targeted for initial assessment usually depends upon circumstances over which you have little or no control. Circumstances that increase the chances include the following.

  • The most obvious consideration, but not necessarily the most important, is the value of the information, people, or places to which you have access. The greater the value of your access, the more likely you are to be selected for contact, assessment, and (if you appear susceptible) for recruitment. Your value to a foreign intelligence service does not depend upon rank.  Support personnel such as secretaries, computer operators, and maintenance personnel may be able to provide access to very valuable information. It is easy to overemphasize the extent to which the value of your access determines your chances of being targeted. Foreign intelligence officers are under pressure to recruit agents just as salesmen are under pressure to make sales. Their career advancement depends upon it, but they also need to avoid getting caught. As a result, they may go after the easiest or most available target, rather than take the risk of going after the most valuable target.
  • You are more likely to be targeted and assessed if you are stationed in a foreign country or often travel there. All foreign intelligence or security services have far more resources available in their home country than in the United States. There is much less risk for them when they are operating on their home turf, and they are far more active and aggressive there.
  • Even within the United States, you are more likely to be targeted if you are in an area and in a position where it is relatively easy for foreign nationals to contact and assess you. For example, foreign diplomats, journalists and lobbyists are constantly working Capitol Hill in search of contacts and information. Personnel at industrial sites and national laboratories that have foreign scientists on site and many foreign visitors are more likely to be targeted than personnel at sites with few foreign nationals on site and few foreign visitors.
  • If your cultural, ethnic, or religious background differs from some so-called norm in any obvious way, you are also more likely to be targeted and assessed. Many foreign intelligence operatives have limited understanding of American culture and commonly think in stereotypes. If they put you in any stereotypical category of persons they believe are more likely to be supportive of their interests or to be disadvantaged, bitter, or alienated, you are more likely to be targeted for initial contact and moved quickly into the operational contact phase. Foreign intelligence operatives find it easier to contact, build rapport with, assess, and manipulate individuals with whom they can claim to share a common interest -- including a shared national, ethnic, or religious background. 1

  Personnel in these more vulnerable categories need to be aware of their vulnerability and to be especially prompt in reporting any significant foreign contact. The more attractive you are as a target, the greater the chances that a foreign national who befriends you is an intelligence operative.

There is no reason to suspect that personnel in any of these categories are more susceptible to recruitment than any other American. Vulnerability to being targeted is very different from susceptibility to being recruited.

Lest there be any misunderstanding on this point, there is no evidence that naturalized citizens are more susceptible to recruitment than native-born citizens. Many naturalized citizens have a stronger loyalty to the United States than native-born citizens, who often take their country for granted. There is also no evidence that members of any disadvantaged or minority group are more susceptible to recruitment than other Americans.

Opportunities for foreign intelligence officers and agents to arrange face-to-face meetings to assess targets in the United States have increased dramatically. The openness of the post-Cold War environment, growing global commerce, and increasing espionage by our friends in addition to our adversaries have increased the vulnerability of all of us to assessment by multiple foreign intelligence collectors.

1. Tony Capaccio, "FBI: Ethnic Targeting Common Tactic in Economic Espionage," Defense Week, March 25, 1996. Article is based on presentations at a seminar sponsored by the National Counterintelligence Center, March 11, 1996.