2011 Spy Conference Wrap-up
Capturing Bin Laden Discussed At 7th Raleigh Spy Conference
By Rick Smith
The 2011 Raleigh Spy Conference attracted an audience of over 300 attendees from across the United States, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico to hear leading intelligence officers, operatives and authors, including keynote speaker General Michael Hayden â€“ the only person to serve as director of both the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
They range from teachers to entertainers, laborers to students and scientists, even journalists, special people dispatched by foreign governments to spy on the United States and the West. And not to be forgotten are the terrorists trained to assimilate within Western society to carry out missions of destruction.
They are "illegals" â€“ but not in the sense most people think. They are "The Spies Among US", the title of the 7th Raleigh Spy Conference held August 24-26 at the NC Museum of History in downtown Raleigh.
In the vocabulary of intelligence agencies, the use of the word "illegals" has nothing to do with the political hot potato of illegal immigration. Rather, the term refers to professionally trained spies dispatched to foreign countries where they operate outside the realm of diplomatic immunity and embassy cover. And they are not something to take lightly.
So said Brian Kelley, the longtime CIA counterintelligence veteran (who passed away September 20, less than a month after his appearance at the Raleigh Spy Conference) who has helped plan the conference since its founding in 2003 by Bernie Reeves, editor and publisher of Raleigh Metro Magazine.
“This is deadly dangerous business,” said Kelley. “When the KGB ring (later the SVR) was broken in the United States last year, I called Bernie and said ‘This is our theme for the next conference.’ People need to be educated about how serious the threat is.”
Reeves concurs, adding that “illegals have a long and important role in spycraft — and are among the most carefully trained of all spies.”
While some media dismissed the arrest of the 10 Russian illegals as a gang that couldn’t spy straight, Kelley and other speakers at the Spy Conference insisted otherwise. Dating back to the foundation of the Soviet state nearly 100 years ago, Communist governments have used specially trained illegals to carry out espionage – from stealing weapons secrets to executing economic and technological espionage.
“Putin’s fascination with illegals” led to the training and creation of the ring that U.S. counterintelligence managed to uncover”, Kelley added. While the true nature of their assignment remains undisclosed, Kelley said the years spent in training the group and the money invested in establishing them in the U.S. reflected a long-term commitment to undermining the U.S. through enemies within.
The “Precious Assets”
The topic of illegals was close to Kelley’s heart. Before becoming ensnared as the “wrong man” in the Robert Hanssen case, he helped unravel the Soviet method to communicate with illegals. He stressed to the audience that these agents were “trained one-on-one” for several years before being dispatched. The organizations running them were “highly compartmentalized,” and the illegals often “worked under the radar, assimilating themselves as part of American or Western society with jobs and families.
“These illegals are handled as ‘precious assets’ – that’s how they are defined by the Russians,” Kelley stressed. “They look like every day average people.” So highly prized are the illegals that the KGB and SVR people who train them are regarded as “the real heroes” of those agencies, Kelley said.
How much did Russian leader Vladimir Putin value the broken U.S. ring? Kelley noted Putin declared: “Do not doubt that a Mercader has been sent” to find the KGB colonel, a reference to the assassin Stalin sent to Mexico to murder his rival Leon Trotsky.
Michael Sulick, former head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, sought to “dispel misconceptions” about illegals created by films, books and the media. “This is a vast, extensive network that operates under the radar,” he explained in delivering a historical overview about illegals. They maintian a “charade” to disguise their “parallel residences” away from embassies. While the KGB and other foreign intelligence spies are sent home if caught, these illegals know that if they are captured, a life behind bars – or perhaps worse – awaits.
“They go through very intensive training, spend years abroad developing their cover stories and learning the culture,” Sulick explained. “Unlike the United States, Russia is very patient, and they invest a lot of money.
“They have had incredible successes, too, from Richard Sorge who posed as a correspondent in Japan before World War Two and uncovered Japan’s plans not to attack the Soviet Union, thus allowing Stalin to move forces to Moscow from Siberia to beat the Germans. The problem was, Stalin didn’t believe him at first.” Sulick added that illegals helped the Russians gain advanced U.S. radar that ‘saved them hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The threat hasn’t disappeared. Sulick noted that one of the 9-11 masterminds was educated in North Carolina. Plus, he noted the arrests of men living in the Triangle who, while not illegals, were arrested and charged with plotting terrorist acts on behalf of Al Qaeda.
Sulick added that Cuba China, recruit aggressively from students and scientists who come to the U.S. for education or jobs.
They Are Committed Agents
British intelligence expert Nigel West reviewed in detail how the Soviets established and maintained illegal networks throughout the Cold War. He noted that illegals had to be committed to their cause – whether it be terrorism or Communism.
“The work is so dangerous,” he said. “There is no diplomatic immunity.” The danger can be handled only by “remarkable people” who can live a double life. “They are not gray individuals, not analysts living in ivory towers.”
Canada As Staging Ground
Dan Mulvenna, a retired intelligence officer from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said the discovery of illegals not only helps protect the homeland but also can lead to penetration of the country or group that has dispatched them.
“Illegals can lead you to very important sources,” he said.
Controlled from the KGB “Center” in Moscow, Russian illegals were among the earliest involved in atomic espionage. In the Cold War, an illegal was known as “Main Source” within NATO. Many times, illegals used cover stories as journalists. Mulvenna described jobs as reporters as a “favored occupation.”
Today, illegals have evolved in their use of technology from the days of invisible ink and one-time pads to the latest computer thumb drives and use of Internet cafes to avoid electronic monitoring. Illegals still operate within self-contained groups and seek to leave no electronic footprint. But monitoring of electronic communications did help lead to the unraveling of the SVR illegals last year.
Writers David Wise, Douglas Waller and Kent Clizbe participated in an Author’s Roundtable at the conference led by Brian Kelley.
Illegals are not just a threat from Russia, warned David Wise, the acknowledged dean of U.S. spy authors who focused on China in his latest book Tiger Trap: America’s Secret Spy War With China.
Wise recounted the Katrina Leung case involving a Chinese American spy who turned against the U.S. and became the lover of two FBI agents after being “flipped” by the Chinese. “Unvetted” information from her was fed to four U.S. presidents, Wise noted. “She had access to the top leaders in China. That flow of misinformation could have had — or did have — impact on U.S. China policy.”
Chinese agents also managed to steal data to build miniaturized nuclear warheads. A four-year investigation involving 300 people and 11 agencies was unable to figure out what happened,” Wise said. “That’s how effective Chinese intelligence has been.”
Wild Bill Donovan
Author Douglas Waller discussed his new biography Wild Bill Donovan
, a new history drawing on newly declassified information about the founder of the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, the predecessor agency to the CIA.
Waller noted the use of illegals in Donovan’s OSS, and how espionage was institutionalized in the US under Donovan.
The Continuing Threat
Kent Clizbe, a former CIA officer and operative, is author of Willing Accomplices that examines the Soviet influence on Western institutions and culture.
He noted that the 2010 Russian illegals case clearly demonstrated the new Russian government under Vladimir Putin and successor Dmitry Medvedev hasn’t changed much when it comes to spying.
Sidebar — Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, the only person who has led both the National Security Agency and the CIA, delivered a riveting keynote about the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden.
At NSA from 1999 to 2005, Hayden stood firmly in insisting his agency intercept technical communications among terrorist groups in defiance of objections the process would violate their privacy. At CIA he defended the use of information gained from intense interrogation, again in the face of criticism.
Explaining that CIA and the other agencies involved in tracking down Bin Laden chose a “bank shot” strategy by focusing on the al-Qaeda leader’s couriers to avoid tipping him off, Hayden was clear that information gained from interrogation made their efforts succeed.
“There are illegals hiding among us whose intent is to do us harm,” Hayden warned the audience.
A 6-disc DVD set of the talks from the 7th Raleigh Spy Conference will be available soon.
SPECIAL AWARD FOR CONFERENCE FOUNDER REEVES
Also at the event, Bernie Reeves was honored by the Association of Former Intelligence Officers for his work in establishing the Raleigh Spy Conference.
Reeves received the “Association For Intelligence Officers Community Award” from Gene Poteat, who is president of the worldwde organization.The award is a hand-carved and painted plaque featuring the seals of all agencies of the Intelligence Community.
The award has been presented to only two other people: Former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Peter Earnest, who was cited for long service to the AFIO, the CIA and the Spy Museum, which is located in Washington, DC.
“You are in an exalted, small circle, and deserves to join the other recipients for your impressive dedication and performance with the Raleigh Spy Conference,” Poteat said.