October 29, 2002

Post-Cold War American Spy Older, More Diverse

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Selling U.S. secrets to foreign governments is no longer the domain of young white men, as diversity infiltrates the post-Cold War espionage game.

Americans who started spying for another country during the 1990s were older, more ethnically diverse, and included more women than their predecessors, a defense agency report said on Tuesday.

The median age was 39 and more women and ethnic minorities became spies during that decade than in the four previous decades, the Defense Personnel Security Research Center said.

The report, "Espionage Against the United States by American Citizens 1947-2001," was dated July 2002 but only recently distributed.

"Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, some 20 Americans have attempted or committed espionage, but characteristics of American spies have changed," the report said.

The recent crop of American spies were more successful in passing on secrets to another country than predecessors, and more likely to volunteer than be recruited.

They were also more likely to hold lower-level security clearances or no clearance at all, be naturalized citizens rather than U.S-born, and to have foreign attachments and cite divided loyalties as motive, the report said.

"We're seeing a more diverse group," said Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

"It's not clear exactly what the reason for that is, but it does make it a little bit harder to combat, because there is no longer one single profile that fits most spies," he said. "That means you have to consider a lot more potential candidates."

Fifteen percent of the spies in the 1990s were women compared, with 8 percent in the previous decade and 45 percent were white in the 1990s, down from 83 percent in 1980s, according to the report.

The Soviet Union was the predominant recipient of information from American spies, but 17 other countries also received U.S. secrets, it said.

The report analyzed the characteristics of 150 known American spies over half a century from publicly available material. Most of the spies were white men under age 30 and almost half of them had a high school education or less.


One-fourth of them had a personal crisis such as divorce, death of someone close or love affair gone bad in the months before they decided to try espionage.

"Very few people apply for access to classified information intending to commit espionage," the report said. So the best use of security resources would be to focus on periodic reevaluation of personnel with security clearances, it said.

"Personnel security vetting is not designed to identify ongoing espionage and it has not done so: at least six Americans were screened and then maintained their security clearances during periods when they were also committing espionage," the report said.

The most successful spies as measured by the damage inflicted and duration of their espionage included people who had the highest security clearance down to no clearance. They included former CIA employee Aldrich Ames, former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, and former Navy employee Jonathan Pollard.

Money as a dominant motive was cited more often by military personnel than civilians. Disgruntlement with the workplace was a significant motive for those who volunteered to spy compared with those who were recruited, the report said.

But many spies were poorly paid, and nearly half received nothing for taking the risk of espionage usually because they were uncloaked before they could transmit the secrets.

During the 50-year period, only four individuals may have received $1 million or more, the report said.

Copyright 2002 Reuters Limited