“In For a Penny, In For a Pound” Implications of Post-Cold War Changes in U.S. Citizens’ Motivations for Espionage
“In For a Penny, In For a Pound” Implications of Post-Cold War Changes in U.S. Citizens’ Motivations for Espionage
Espionage is ostensibly the second oldest profession in existence, and joined at the hip to the human condition: spies’ abilities to persuade and deceive, coupled with their efficiency in accessing and transmitting relevant information to their handlers have saved untold lives, and correspondingly wrought incalculable damage upon their adversaries. It is not an understatement to profess that espionage, while at times obscure and nuanced in technical application, produces deeply tangible impacts upon societies at the strategic level. It should not come as a surprise that the spotting, assessment, development, and recruitment of spies by governments (and private sector entities) against their competitors receives considerable investment in terms of time and resources.
This paper is not intended to discuss the act of spying, per se; rather, it is directed towards understanding the motivations (or justifications masquerading as professed motivations) of individuals who have committed espionage in prior generations, and how the motivations of the newer generation of people who commit espionage may differ. For the sake of clarity, this paper will extensively reference PERSEREC’s 2015 study regarding spies who were successfully detected, apprehended, and prosecuted for espionage. Building off of the 2015 PERSEREC study’s generational demographics and motivations for committing espionage, this paper will attempt to provide further discussion related to important “so what?” questions about the implications of the PERSEREC data as it relates to U.S. citizens’ motivations for spying.
This paper will also offer further supporting evidence to the 2015 PERSEREC study’s findings that, while money continues to be the largest, most statistically relevant motivator across generations from 1947 to 2015 (Herbig, 2017), ideological and ego-driven motivations are a growing factor for those who engage in espionage following the end of the Cold War. According to Terrence Thompson, Ph.D., the impetus to commit espionage is rarely monolithic in its motivation, but rather a decision influenced by a number of compounding factors (Thompson 2009). Correspondingly, divided loyalties, ingratiation, perceptions of allegiance, and perceptions of relative control are beginning to play ever-growing roles in motivating individuals to commit espionage (Herbig, 2017; Thompson, 2009, 2014, 2018).
Throughout the course of the discussion there are opportunities for significant confusion; this paper will therefore focus on providing definitions to specific phenomena—at times substantially narrowing the breadth of discussion within examples given to a narrow-enough breadth to avoid confusion. This paper will also discuss motivations for spying within two cohorts: those who committed espionage during the Cold War, and those who committed espionage following the end of the Cold War. In conclusion, this paper will provide a high-level overview of the strategic implications for the United States vis-à-vis the growing trend.
In truth, such a discussion will not even begin to provide a definitive or authoritative perspective on why U.S. citizens commit espionage; however, it may serve an additional purpose in offering a wider perspective to the 2015 PERSEREC report’s hypothesis that there appears to be a growing paradigm shift away from the “classic” motivators of espionage during the Cold War towards a complementary set of motivators that may be more difficult for CI practices to mitigate.
Out of respect, it is important to note the gravity of the subject of discussion: for every individual that engages in clandestine activities, they commit themselves—wittingly or unwittingly—to be “in for a penny, in for a pound.” The same is true for those who commit espionage and especially so for those who knowingly betray those who entrust them with secrets: for the rest of their lives, they will be pursued by those whose secrets they disclosed and whose trust they violated. So why then, if espionage is such a serious and reprehensible crime, is the United States experiencing an uptick in certain types of cases of spying today as compared to during the Cold War? This question will likely unearth more uncomfortable realities to the IC than it will bring definitive guidance in their mitigation.
As a pretext for further discussion and analysis, it is imperative to address issues found within the 2015 PERSEREC study’s methodological approach: The PERSEREC data spans a period of 68 years, over which time 209 persons were charged with committing espionage (Herbig 2015). This number represents, at face value, only the individuals who were caught, and does not take into account the changes in the types of resources leveraged by CI professionals to bring them to justice, nor the fluctuation in the amount of resources (budgetary or otherwise) available to CI professionals over the 68-year period. In this way, the PERSEREC study’s numeric data commits an error prevalent in social science research based on comparisons between ethnographic accounts recorded at different time periods. Each account is, metaphorically speaking, akin to a still photograph of the environment, a moment of near-infinite complexity that is captured within the confines of its preservation method. While such wider-scale contextual data may be difficult to integrate into a report, it would be extremely useful in providing valuable situational color in parallel with the existing dataset.
Additionally, the 2015 PERSEREC dataset is based on information that is acquired through what the United States Government chooses to provide to PERSEREC following spies’ arrests and confessions, which PERSEREC then chooses to release into an unclassified environment. The importance is twofold: it is central to understanding that the PERSEREC data is inherently less accurate due to how the PERSEREC dataset derives spies’ motivations for committing espionage through what the spies confessed were their motivations for spying—after they were caught and placed into an adversarial environment to elicit a confession. This factor alone questions the credibility of spies’ motivations for committing espionage as portrayed in the PERSEREC study as being genuine, with their professed motivations possibly being closer in reality to a justification of their actions as weighed against more or less severe familial, moral, and judicial penalties. It also forces readers of the PERSEREC study to recognize an unavoidable truth: all forward-looking insights derived from the PERSEREC data are limited in scope, and are based on the analysis of prior events as witnessed against the backdrop of unprecedented global and technological change (Weinbaum et Al. 2016; Olson 2019).
The 2015 PERSEREC study’s dataset is an extraordinarily rich resource - in certain cases too much so for the confines of this paper. In an attempt to preserve relative clarity, this paper will not distinguish between the study’s breakdown of espionage cases between classic, foreign agent, and export control, and will instead address espionage as a whole, given that the author acknowledges that “the predominance of classic espionage in the 209 cases is apparent” (Herbig 2017, 67), and, even though there are nuanced differentiations when compared with other types of espionage, classic espionage remains a generationally consistent phenomenon (Ibid, 67). The author chooses to treat all cases discussed within the confines of this paper as “classic espionage” cases, justifying abstracting the data into a macro-group by offering that, regardless of the type of espionage committed, it is still substantially similar to espionage in the classical sense within the Definition of Terms, and is still immensely damaging to the United States under any name. To quote J. Patrick Rowan, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the National Security Division of the Department of Justice:
“As you know, the clandestine intelligence collection activities of foreign nations include not only traditional Cold War style efforts to obtain military secrets, but increasingly, sophisticated operations to obtain trade secrets, intellectual property, and technologies controlled for export for international security reasons. Accordingly, these activities and others implicate a wide array of Federal criminal statutes. But no matter what form of espionage is being used, or which statutes are implicated, there is one common denominator: our national security is always at stake” (Rowan, quoted in Herbig 2017, 68).
This paper will also rely on case studies of spies to provide examples of generational changes between Cold War and post-Cold War spies. While the PERSEREC study delineates motivations for espionage and breaks them down into a number of categories (Herbig 2017, 48-49), this study will combine the categories into three macro-groups: money, ideology, and ego-driven motivations. Such a recategorization is the author’s attempt to streamline the PERSEREC study’s datasets into an instrument that allows discussion of a perceived paradigm shift from Cold War to post-Cold War motivations for spying.
A number of case studies of spies who committed espionage against the United States, as well as those who committed espionage on behalf of the United States, will also be presented within the paper to illustrate how Cold War and post-Cold War espionage amongst citizens (American and foreign) has changed, and while this paper is primarily concerned with U.S. citizens who commit espionage against the United States, the motivations of citizens who have chosen to spy for the United States throughout history are also pertinent to discussing their counterparts working for America’s adversaries. In this manner, this paper hopes to encourage critical discussion regarding a wider set of motivations as indicators – not only of who may be deemed at risk for recruitment by a foreign intelligence or security service, but also of how such factors might be identified and mitigated within the current and future workforce.
Perhaps the most cumbersome task when discussing such a topic is agreeing upon standardized terminology. As prominent intelligence community member Michelle Van Cleave notes, “Across the profession, there are vast differences in understanding what counterintelligence means, and how it is done, and even the basic terminology it employs” (Van Cleave 2008, quoted in Redmond, 539). Van Cleave’s words are especially relevant regarding many terms and definitions found within the IC; undoubtedly, many IC professionals have inadvertently “talked past” each other due to differences in terminology. Within the scope of this paper, the author will attempt to precisely define key terms within the context of the discussion.
Different countries’ intelligence services define the scope and breadth of counterintelligence in different manners: In the eyes of the United States government, CI is defined as “information gathered and activities conducted to identify, deceive, exploit, disrupt, or protect against espionage, other intelligence activities, sabotage or assassination conducted for or on behalf of foreign powers, organizations or persons or their agents, or international terrorist organizations or activities” (Executive Order 12333, quoted in Redmond 2010, 537). For other nations, particularly Great Britain, counterintelligence also includes countersubversion and “protection of national security against threats from espionage, terrorism and sabotage from the activities of foreign powers and from activities intended to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political industrial or violent means” (British Security Service Act of 1989, quoted in Redmond 2010, 537). To further complicate a definition of CI, some professionals divide CI into tactical and strategic subcategories, wherein CI operations are addressed vis-à-vis different levels of national security policy objectives and agency mission sets (Van Cleave, 2007). Within the confines of this paper, CI will be limited to discussion without specific distinction between tactical and strategic CI and will rely on the definition found in Executive Order 12333.
Equally germane to the CI discussion is the definition of espionage, as one cannot grasp the importance of CI activities without a clear understanding of what in fact constitutes espionage. COL (USA Ret.) Reagan offers a number of definitions within the “Terms & Definitions of Interest for CI Professionals.” However, one particular definition from William R. Johnson stands out: “Espionage is the theft of information in contravention of another nation’s laws by a person known as an ‘agent.’ This act of theft may be direct, as in the secret copying of a classified document, or the indirect, as in hiding of an eavesdropping device, or merely oral, but is done by an agent and it breaks either a foreign law or the internal regulation of an alien organization” (Johnson 1976, quoted in Reagan 2014, 131). While there is a multitude of definitions—including the legal definition of Espionage underneath the Espionage Act of 1917—within the context of this paper, the definition of espionage will focus on those who choose to operate as agents of a nation and steal information in violation of the relevant nation’s laws. These agents’ actions are tactical in nature, but the implications of their actions are strategic in that the information that they illicitly convey to their handlers, when used by a foreign nation, may effect wide-scale change on a much wider scope. Such an example can be found within the defection of Edward Lee Howard to the KGB, whose betrayal of the United States caused substantial damage to American espionage efforts within the Soviet Union, particularly within active operations in Moscow (Hoffman 2015).
Counterespionage is “the offensive, or aggressive, side of counterintelligence. It involves the identification of a specific adversary and a knowledge of the specific operation he is conducting. Counterespionage personnel must then attempt to counter these operations by infiltrating the hostile service (called penetration) and through various forms of manipulation. Ideally, the thrust of the hostile operation is turned back against the enemy” (Senate Report # 94-755 Book I 1976, 166, quoted in Reagan 2014, 55). CE follows the identification of espionage activity by CI, and, in certain cases, can be leveraged to incredible advantage by CI and intelligence services. An exemplary case of CE work can be found within the story of Operation SOLO, where the FBI sustained a successful penetration of the Soviet Union for nearly thirty years (Barron 1996).
As defined herein, the term will encompass a number of different components involving finance, including debt and acquisitiveness. In his 2009 book, Why Espionage Happens, Thompson provides a detailed analysis of money as a motivator in that “need and greed”, at least on the surface, drive money as a motivator for espionage (Thompson 2009, 10). Money is, in practice, relevant in that appearing to possess material wealth is also associated with success within certain cultures:
“While most deny that money is a primary manifestation of success, it surely is. In fact, it may not be money per se that is so important but the relativity of wages that is most important... What was noteworthy is that people whose incomes were higher than average tended to report higher levels of happiness (Scitovsky, 1986) … money is inextricably and unfortunately tied to our notion of self-worth and success—at least self worth for the externally motivated worker” (Lindgren, 1991) (Thompson 2009, 22-23).
Within the confines of the money definition, the author will attempt to reconcile the complexity of “money as a motivator” with a definition that delineates between individuals who received a form of monetary compensation for espionage-related activities, and those who did not, outside of receiving nominal financial support to finance the logistical aspects of their espionage activities. The author acknowledges that money can also be expressed by other means, such as through non-monetary logistical support, but chooses within the confines of this paper to avoid combining the two within a definition.
Ideology, similarly to money, requires careful definition to avoid confusion. In concert with the 2015 PERSEREC report, this paper will combine ideological motivation and divided loyalties into the same category.1 Thompson notes that “During the Cold War, ideological espionage motivation was relatively easy to define; either you identified with Communism and the Eastern Bloc, or your loyalty lay with democratic capitalism and the West” (Thompson 2009, 199). To this end, ideology and loyalty appear to be complementary, intertwined factors, especially when juxtaposed against the background of interpersonal relationships which remain the backbone of successful HUMINT operations. Thompson also identifies the importance of ingratiation as it relates to ideological motivations and the powerful subtext that ingratiation can elicit from an individual in the form of perceived obligation (Ibid, 211). These factors, when manipulated, serve to create and reinforce ideological priorities and loyalty at micro and macro levels, hence the amalgamation of the two for the sake of discussion within the paper.
Ego, as defined within the confines of this paper, also combines several motivational categories in the 2015 PERSEREC report. Recognition as a motivation for espionage falls underneath ego, as:
“Recognition refers here to a desire to be recognized and rewarded for one’s accomplishments or talents... Recognition does have elements of a motive labeled in typical discussions of espionage as ‘ego,’ since recognition involves gratifying the sense of self, but recognition is a more specific idea and better captures how this motive plays out in recent espionage-related offenses: as ambition for advancement in job or career, or striving to exert more influence and make more of a mark in the world” (Herbig 2017, 59).
In this capacity, recognition and ego appear to serve the same end-state for the spy, self-advancement in a manner that is advantageous to the spy. For similar reasons, it is also important to conjoin the 2015 PERSEREC report’s definition of helping and ingratiation underneath the blanket term of “ego:”
“In addition to the theme of spying to help another country or cause from divided loyalties, and spying to help in order to ingratiate oneself with someone, there is often a personal exchange of helping in an espionage case. When a spy offers or is recruited to supply information, typically the recruiter becomes the spy’s first handler and serves as his or her link to the consumer of the information. The role of handler is a demanding and delicate one, requiring management of the spy’s anxieties, responding to crises that may interrupt the smooth course of the espionage, and encouraging the spy to continue in a perilous activity. Because he or she is in a vulnerable position, the spy becomes dependent on the handler and may want to help him or her in return for care and protection” (Herbig 2017, 60-61).
Other subcategories that will be combined under ego are disgruntlement and a desire for revenge, which, while significant motivators as identified on their own, also play contributory factors within cases of individuals who commit espionage, such as in the case of Edward Lee Howard (Barron 1996) or Jeffery Charlton (Herbig 2017, 27). Thompson provides ample reason, from a strategic viewpoint, to treat the definition of ego as a more holistic term that is culturally defined,2 rather than a unidimensional term as defined within the 2015 PERSEREC study. For the sake of this paper’s discussion, ego is more accurately described as a motivator of espionage related to stimuli that influence “a group of functions that enable us to perceive, reason, make judgments, store knowledge, and solve problems. [The ego] has been called the executive agency of the personality, [wherein the ego’s] many functions enable us to modify our instinctual impulses (the id), make compromises with demands of the superego (conscience, ideals), and in general deal rationally and effectively with reality” (N 2018).
Justification and Motivation
Justification and motivation are nuanced terms as they relate to the 2015 PERSEREC report, and are intertwined terms due to how the PERSEREC report data utilizes only openly published data stemming from the PERSEREC Database. While the database itself is restricted FOUO, information derived from the database is allowed to circulate unrestricted to a public audience via the PERSEREC reports. (Herbig 2017, v).
Neither term should be confused with the other. However, within the context of the PERSEREC report, motivation should, albeit begrudgingly, be understood to encompass the definition of justification, unless specifically stated otherwise. This paper’s analysis will differentiate between the two, with emphasis placed on motivation stemming from what can be derived from unambiguous evidence not related to anecdotes3; even this definition is inadequate though, as motivations are rarely clearly defined, and are a product of investigative analysis that is itself subject to implicit bias.
Justification, on the other hand, is not to be confused with motivation: justifications, as noted regarding the PERSEREC dataset, are intrinsically biased statements from the apprehended spy: “Once caught, spies tend to justify their actions to themselves and to others. They see their own past intentions and the pressures that may have affected their behavior in a changed and often generous light. For some individuals however, their retrospective justifications are the only available evidence about their motives” (Herbig 2017, 44). Thompson’s firsthand experience grants validity to such a differentiation, as he states in 2018:
“I can attest to the existence of the urge to declare one’s motivation as ideological; it purifies the espionage and places the spy on the highest moral plane—as juxtaposed against the lowest moral plane, where most spies are perceived. The spy (or mass leaker) perceives himself/herself as a hero fighting the elements of an oppressive bureaucracy in a singular battle for truth. The problem is that these are usually empty words” (Thompson, 2018, 122).
Due to the unavoidable ambiguity, justification and motivation are unfortunately joined at the hip within the context of the 2015 PERSEREC study’s methodology for classifying motivations (Herbig 2017, 44). Within the confines of this paper, justification will specifically refer to the elicited motives within the confessions of caught spies, unless otherwise noted. Motivation will align more broadly to the 2015 PERSEREC report’s usage insofar as the report classifies different motivations within the report’s categories. This paper will not make use of the report’s “sole motive” and “primary among multiple motive” categories, outside of one reference within the post-Cold War section discussing ego4, as it is a subjective bias that is admitted by Herbig within the report itself (Ibid, 44-49).
Cold War Motivations
According to the 2015 PERSEREC study, money was the prime motivator for espionage during the Cold War:
“Money has been the strongest motive for espionage by Americans. In the first cohort, 44% of persons had a strong motive to spy for money. This predominance increased during the 1980s when 63% of persons in the cohort held money as their strong motive. The 1980s earned the label “decade of the spy,” because of the apparent flood of cases of espionage by Americans who were spying for money” (Lentz, 1985; Molotsky, 1985; Brock, 1987).
“Commentators expressed concern about a decline in American values when, during a Cold War, so many more young people were willing to betray their country’s secrets for money” (Lentz, 1985) (Herbig 2017, 46).
Money, in relation to either “greed or need” (Thompson 2009), was a driving factor behind a number of espionage cases during the Cold War, but most notably the cases of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. Ames ostensibly turned to espionage to satisfy a “need” to pay off debt (Herbig 2017, 53). However, he was paid over $2.7 million during the course of his espionage career by the Soviet Union, and then Russia (Olson 2019, 96). In the case of Robert Hanssen, the Soviet Union and Russia paid him over $600,000 for his betrayal, but a number of CI professionals believe that Hanssen’s motivations were not purely monetary (Olson 2019; Thompson 2014). As mentioned earlier, “money” as a motivator for espionage is often a superficial factor, with the benefits that money may confer (perceived social status or outward appearance of “success”) as more concrete, underlying motivations (Thompson 2014, 61-62).
It bears mentioning that, at least in the cases of Ames and Hanssen, the motivation of spying for money out of necessity (the “need”) became a motivation to spy out of self-interest (the “greed”); in such a way, money was no longer the only motivation, but rather a conduit by which to satisfy other personal imbalances more closely defined with ego-driven espionage. In the case of Hanssen, fear of failure and his perceived inability to be “successful” to the degree that he believed that he should have been were significant motivating factors present in his choice to commit espionage (Thompson 2014, 62). In other cases, such as the John Walker spy ring, money was, at least according to the findings of the investigation, the dominating motivator.
Walker is portrayed as the archetype of money-motivated spies; author Pete Early makes the astute judgement that, in the Walker case, “‘Most criminals whom I have met as a journalist seemed to have some code of moral conduct, however twisted...John didn’t.... He was totally without principle’’ (Earley 1988, 450, quoted in Thompson 2014, 59). Even here, however, although Walker did not exhibit a code of moral conduct, he did attempt to justify his actions through what Thompson labels “victimization” (Thompson 2009): when asked why he committed espionage, he [Walker] replied by stating “‘I’m not the one with the problem, man. It’s society that’s all f—up. How can you not see that?’’ (Earley 1988, 447, quoted in Thompson 2014, 59). To the author, while Walker’s justification is likely not a credible motivator, it does highlight two underlying issues in espionage cases: the importance of recognizing the nuanced difference between motivation and justification, and also the complex role that money plays as it relates to espionage cases.
At face value, purely ideologically motivated spies during the Cold War were relatively few, with the notable exception of two cases: Ana Montes, and Gwendolyn and Walter Kendall Myers, who were successfully controlled over a span of decades by Cuba’s DGI. Even then, the concept of a spy motivated solely by allegiance to an overarching ideology is, at best, overly simplistic. The 2015 PERSEREC study notes “that divided loyalties has been the second most important motive in two of the three cohorts, the first and the third, but by including secondary and tertiary motives in this table, disgruntlement emerges for the first two cohorts as equally predominant with divided loyalties” (Herbig 2017, 54). Such a distinction is of paramount importance, as in the case of Ana Montes: while she was “the classic spy of conviction... I am not sure she would have ever been caught if she had kept her mouth shut... Moreover, Montes was so eager to please her Cuban handlers that she gradually inserted herself as an agent of influence in the U.S. intelligence community to try to shape U.S. government attitudes toward Cuba” (Olson 2019, 138). For Montes, while ideological motivations may have been the largest factor for her espionage activities, it would also be foolish to ignore other components, such as her justification:
“Ana Montes explained at her sentencing in 2002, noting that “I felt morally obligated to help the island defend itself from our efforts to impose our values and political system on it” (Golden, 2002). Individuals acting on divided loyalties reject the exclusive commitment of allegiance, and often claim they were above the petty demands of allegiance to a single nation. By helping another country, they imagined they were climbing onto a higher moral plane of international cooperation” (Herbig 2017, 59).
Whether or not such a justification, especially at the time of her sentencing, could be construed to show that Montes was also motivated by ego-driven reasons to commit espionage is subject to further investigation, especially when contrasted with examinations of the most recent ideologically-motivated cohort of spies.
Gwendolyn and Walter Kendall Myers, two spies for the Cuban DGI who provided intelligence for nearly three decades, are another case of ideologically-motivated spies. Their betrayal of the United States also converges with espionage traits that can be classified underneath ego as a motivation, especially given Kendall Myers’ history of crisis within his life (Harnden 2009; Herbig 2017). Also of interest is the relationship between the Myers’ espionage activities and that of self-fulfillment and justification:
“At the end, Kendall and Gwen Myers seemed to want to stop spying so they could spend more time together and ensure they’d stay out of jail. But at the same time, spying gave them a shared purpose. As Kendall put it to Hector: ‘We really have missed you. And you, speaking collectively, have been a really important part of our lives, and we have felt incomplete . . . and the people and the team are just important in our lives. So we don’t want to fall out of contact again”’ (Harnden 2009).
Regardless of Montes’ and the Myers’ classification as ideologically-motivated spies, there appears to be an important, ego-driven factor in both cases by which each convicted spy sought fulfillment or gratification. For Montes and for the Myers, ego-driven justifications of spying for the DGI are masked by the justification of an ideological position; in both cases, the position of the defendants’ taking of a higher moral ground is expressed in the defendants’ statements during sentencing (Herbig 2017).
Ego presents itself endemically throughout cases of espionage. The 2015 PERSEREC report notes that “divided loyalties has been the second most important motive in two of the three cohorts, the first and the third, but by including secondary and tertiary motives in this table [Table 10], disgruntlement emerges for the first two cohorts as equally predominant with divided loyalties” (Herbig 2017, 54). When paired with “ingratiation” as a motivator, however, the percentages of espionage cases that involve these two factors increases dramatically by cohort to 23% between 1947-1979, 26% between 1980-1989, and 31% between 1990-2015. If “recognition” as a motive is included along with “disgruntlement” and “ingratiation,” the percentages increase to 25% between 1947-1979, 31% between 1980-1989, and 44% between 1990-2015. If we are to believe the PERSEREC study’s findings and trust the accuracy of its data, a clear trend emerges to favor further investigation of ego-driven espionage.
Ego-driven espionage—particularly espionage motivated by disgruntlement and revenge—has a history of causing substantial damage: in the case of Edward Lee Howard, a number of issues coalesced around a deep feeling of disgruntlement and desire for revenge. Olson reinforces this sentiment directly, stating that “I wish we had sent CIA officer Edward Lee Howard to a turkey farm instead of summarily firing him when he bombed his polygraph just before he was to get on a plane for his Moscow assignment. Our abrupt termination of Howard caused him to leave with a seething rage against the agency, which ultimately became an overpowering desire for revenge. We paid the price” (Olson 2019, 81). Howard’s betrayal cost the United States valuable HUMINT and SIGINT operations within the Soviet Union, and directly contributed to the disappearance of Adolf Tolkachev (Hoffman 2015).
In retrospect, Howard’s descent into espionage is hardly surprising given that he experienced multiple ego-damaging crises and harbored extreme resentment. From Howard’s perspective, the CIA had destroyed his career, left his family jobless while his wife was pregnant, and offered them little assistance in picking up the pieces. Even less surprising given the circumstances are Howard’s drunken calls to the Soviet consulate in Washington, DC offering to sell information for $60,000 (Hoffman 2015, 269). Howard was compensated by the Soviets for his betrayal and successfully defected to the Soviet Union via Helsinki, Finland, in 1986.
Michael Walker, the son of John Walker Jr. and a member of the Walker spy ring, is another example of ego-driven espionage, albeit from the perspective of an individual whose primary motivation appears to have been ingratiation by way of earning his father’s affection (Thompson 2009, 210-211). Roderick Ramsay, who belonged to the Conrad spy ring, also attempted to ingratiate himself to his superior, retired U.S. Army Sergeant Clyde Conrad (Herbig & Wiskoff 2002). In the case of Ramsay, drug use and an eventual dependency on money to continue a drug habit were factors that Conrad exploited to identify Ramsay (and others) as suitable for recruitment for espionage and continue to exploit them as agents (Ibid, 54; Thompson 2009, 211).
Recognition, while underneath the umbrella of “ego”, has begun to emerge as a more widely cited motivator for espionage, particularly in relation to post-Cold War espionage cases. While recognition-motivated espionage is only indicated in a total of seven cases from 1947-1989, further investigation of the concept of money as a means of recognition should be pursued. In Why Espionage Happens, Thompson makes a differentiation between an individual’s ability to earn enough money to “survive” in terms of being able to purchase what one requires to live, and what one requires for their own psychosocial survival (Thompson 2009, 17-19). As witnessed in many Cold War-era espionage cases involving money, while money is often a superficial factor, the benefits of money are far more important to offenders in a manner more consistent with the idea of psychosocial survival.
Post-Cold War Motivations
Money as a motivator for espionage is still, according to the 2015 PERSEREC study, the largest single motivation for committing espionage post-Cold War (Herbig 2017, 48-49). To individuals who either value money or are desperate for money, and have access to valuable secrets, selling these secrets to a foreign government in exchange for compensation remains a reasonably attractive option. In the case of Glenn Shriver, there was an interest of “greed” that culminated in becoming an unsuccessful spy for China and being arrested. “Shriver was naïve, but he was also greedy, and with his eyes open he allowed himself to be recruited as an agent of China, expecting that he would be able to send the Chinese “some secrets” as soon as he could get a job with access” (Ibid, 73).
The persistence of money being a motivating factor for post-Cold War espionage speaks to its importance within American society: within the cohort of Americans who commit espionage, there are still individuals who value money more than their ideological commitment of loyalty to their nation. For Marc Knapp, the opportunity was twofold: to sell restricted or dual-use technologies to foreign competitors, and to placate his disgruntlement with the United States by “leveling the playing field” (Counter Proliferation Investigation Unit 2011). For Knapp, satisfying feelings of greed and disgruntlement outweighed the criminal penalties associated with such activities (Herbig 2017).
“Need” for money also remains an important component in espionage; for Noshir Gowadia, it appears to have been a contributory factor to his interest in volunteering his expertise via a Chinese access agent by the name of Henry Nyoo. The initial access to Gowadia allowed Chinese interests to deepen their connection with him in a manner that facilitated him sharing deep technical expertise with the Chinese (Herbig 2017, 137-140; B-5).
Money, either via “need” or “greed,” continues to be a conduit for influence, as witnessed during the Cold War by the Soviet Union’s sustained funding of CPUSA (Barron 1996); post-Cold War, the PRC has adopted an aggressive campaign to influence American political campaigns and is very comfortable using money as a way to influence American politics (Olson 2019, 8). Chinese recruitment methods are not unidimensional, however, and instead rely on a holistic development cycle for the recruitment of agents that leverages a number of facets related to money, ideology, and ego amongst ethnically affiliated and non-ethnically affiliated targets alike (Olson 2019, 1-12).
According to the 2015 PERSEREC report, post-Cold War espionage has seen a marked increase in individuals committing espionage based on divided loyalties (Herbig 2017, 49). As Herbig notes, “instances of divided loyalties that have motivated espionage-related offenses by Americans have almost doubled between the second [1980-1989] and the most recent [1990-2015] cohort” (Ibid, 54). Most specifically, leaks of information, such as those perpetrated by Bradley Manning and Matthew Diaz are, at least within the narratives provided within the 2015 PERSEREC report, justified by a sense of moral relativism in the eyes of the offender (Ibid, 96-102).
Similarly to their Cold War counterparts, post-Cold War ideological spies do indeed possess ego-driven factors within their personal narratives: in the case of Manning, sexual dysphoria, a history of family trauma, and a cultural mismatch within the U.S. Army coalesced into fertile ground for Manning’s eventual recruitment by Julian Assange (Thompson 2018, 123). Manning’s case is a particularly unfortunate and highly damaging example of such a nuanced linkage between ideological and ego-motivated espionage. While the author believes that Manning justified his actions via ideological means (Herbig 2017, 105), he was initially motivated to commit espionage by ego-driven factors (Thompson 2018).
In the case of Matthew Diaz, a sense of moral obligation spurred his decision to leak a classified list of 551 names of detainees to the Center of Constitutional Rights. According to Diaz, he “saw himself in a ‘moral dilemma’ (Scutro, 2007). He felt that what he characterized as the government’s ‘stonewalling’ of potential defense lawyers for detainees was wrong and illegal, since in the United States everyone has a right to legal representation, and the Supreme Court had just affirmed that right specifically for detainees. Given his own father’s incarceration, Diaz felt this issue strongly and personally” (Herbig 2017, 100-101). Diaz’s motivations appear twofold: he was ideologically motivated based on what he believed to be American values and was therefore serving the United States’ interests through his disclosure (Herbig 2017, B-4).5 Diaz also justified his actions based on what he believed to be the right intentions (Ibid, 102).
In contrast to the Cold War cohort of spies’ motivations, ego-motivated espionage accounts for the single largest proportional increase (by percentage) in post-Cold War cases. Between the respective subcategories that comprise ego, the largest changes between cohorts were found in “ingratiation” and “recognition or ego”. Disgruntlement as a motivation experienced a slight downward trend compared to the Cold War cohort but otherwise remained relatively consistent in its motivational strength (Ibid, 48-49).
The case of Gregg Bergersen highlights how ingratiation created an eventual situation where a talented handler (Tai Shen Kuo) was able to develop and recruit an agent with access to national defense information (Herbig 2017, 49-53). Bergesen, “was thinking about retiring from the government and hoped his next step would be into a lucrative consulting job... Bergersen’s motivations were also first money... then ingratiation with his generous friend Kuo, and perhaps equally important, the recognition and career boost he expected from Kuo’s offer to make him a partner in the projected defense contracting business in Taiwan” (Ibid, 51-52). While the Bergersen case involves money as a motive, it is important again to note that money is also closely related to underlying pathologies associated with ego, especially related to culturally-derived perceptions of success, failure, status, and power (Charney, 2010; Thompson 2009).
Recognition deserves special mention from within the post-Cold War cohort, as it accounts for an eight percent increase in espionage motivation amongst spies in the 1990-2015 cohort compared to the 1980-1989 cohort, and an eleven percent increase as compared to the 1947-1979 cohort (Herbig 2017,49). There is one caveat, however: when recognition as a motivation is compared between Table 10 (a table comprised of all motivations) and Table 9 (a table comprised only of strong motivations for espionage), recognition as a motivation for espionage is not present as a primary motive. While Herbig admits that such data identifying strong or sole motivations is subjective, this discrepancy potentially reveals that recognition, at least within the post-Cold War cohort of spies documented by the PERSEREC data, functions in a primarily complementary factor to other motivators. This phenomenon appears to be anecdotally supported by examples from within the spy ring recruited by Tai Shen Kuo, and also multiple spies who violated export control laws (Roth, Sherman, and Shu) (Ibid, 52, 137). In the cases of Roth, Sherman, and Shu, money was also a motivation (Ibid, 137, 141).
Espionage motivations in the post-Cold War era, according to the 2015 PERSEREC study’s data, have evolved somewhat as compared to during the Cold War: people still commit espionage for money, but there appears to be a growing trend in ego and ideology-driven motivations. This may, in part, be due to rapidly evolving communications technologies, as well as how globalization is rapidly reshaping definitions of culture and community vis-à-vis more traditionally-defined expressions of nationalism, and, in turn, creating intricate connections across international economies that transcend the nation-state (Herbig 2017; Anderson 1983; Kramer et Al. 2005). As a result, it is far easier today to gain access to anyone in the world, share substantial amounts of information with them, and conduct business between continents than ever before (Herbig 2017; Herbig &Wiskoff 2002).
Such cultural and technological shifts are only part of the equation, however, as evidenced particularly by how money and ego remain cojoined in certain cases found in both cohorts. What should be of interest (and also somewhat obvious to existentialists) is that human insecurity, and the quest for success or recognition within a culturally defined context, appear to be consistent elements between Cold War and post-Cold War cohorts. Where these cohorts differ is in how these insecurities and interests for success or recognition manifest themselves. For the Cold War cohort, “money,” “divided loyalties,” and “disgruntlement” are the top three motivators. In contrast, the post-Cold War cohort places “money,” “divided loyalties,” and “ingratiation” as the top three motivators, with “recognition” as a close fourth most important motivator. “Recognition,” as mentioned earlier, plays an important role when the PERSEREC study’s categories are recombined to form three broad-reaching categories: “money,” “ideology,” and “ego.” When “ingratiation,” “disgruntlement,” and “recognition” are combined to form the wider category of “ego,” 44 percent of espionage cases from 1990-2015 fall under this motivation definition. To Terrence Thompson, this correlation is no surprise, as his writings have predicted a rise of ideologically motivated and ego-driven (as defined within this paper) spies (Thompson 2009, 209-210; Ibid 2014, 70-71).
Also of interest is the RAND Corporation’s study The Millennial Generation: Implications for the Intelligence and Policy Communities, which provides insight into how the largest growing cadre of IC professionals not only view their workplace, but also how they interact with technology, and view career advancement (Weinbaum et Al. 2016). Culturally, Millennials interact with technology and organizational structures very differently from previous generations: “[once] they have information, they want to share and discuss it. Millennials are unlikely to readily accept organizational policies that limit the sharing of information, a tendency that is directly contrary to the IC’s ‘need to know’ policy and mindset” (Ibid, 5-6). They also perceive their relationship with the world differently from prior generations: “[one] survey of millennials born 1981–1993 found that “61% are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference. . . . This generation is worried about the world on a broad scale, and expects companies to support major world issues” (Ibid, 3). Millennials also prioritize different goals as they select opportunities within the workforce:
“[as] millennials consider where to work, they desire employers that reward competency over tenure. Are project assignments, promotions, and salaries aligned with years of experience or performance in the IC?... In exit surveys of employees resigning from the IC in fiscal year 2013 (the most recent year for which data were available), the top two reasons civilian employees cited for leaving were lack of promotion opportunities (top response) and the availability of pay raises (second highest response)” (Ibid, 33-34).
Within the RAND study, key takeaways regarding how Millennials’ motivations differ from those of Cold War-era IC employees provide clues to potential espionage motivations, especially when contrasted with the 2015 PERSEREC report’s data: Millennials appear to view the world on a global scale in relation to major world issues (ideology), want to be recognized for their achievements within the community where they work (recognition, success), be able to pursue self-determined goals (control, ego), continue to achieve career-goals that are meaningful to themselves and others around them (recognition, success, ideology), and obtain greater salaries (money). These motivators, when compared against the 2015 PERSEREC data on motivations for committing espionage, bear resemblance to motivations present in ego-driven espionage found within the post-Cold War cohort. While the author in no way wishes to suggest that Millennials are more predisposed to committing certain forms of espionage than other demographics, a variety of factors that Millennials deem as influential or important to them also correlate with espionage motivations that have increased in prevalence from 1990-2015 (Kramer et Al. 2005, ix-xi; 15; 18-22). Should the trend line continue, it is reasonable to predict that Millennials who commit espionage will be influenced by similar motivators.
In addition to generational changes, foreign nations’ methods in conducting operations against American interests have also changed. As likely the most pressing issue facing American CI, the PRC continues to mount “a massive espionage, cyber, and covert action assault on the United States” (Olson 2019, 1) and use a “whole of society” approach to conduct espionage. It is notable that, within the 1990-2015 cohort, the top recipient of American espionage was China (Herbig 2017, 37). Today, “China is in a class by itself in terms of its espionage, covert action, and cyber capabilities. It is also in a class of itself because of its absolute obsession with stealing America’s secrets” (Olson 2019, 12). As witnessed in the 2015 PERSEREC report, the wide array of techniques employed by the PRC against the United States, including technology theft, illegal exports, and unregistered foreign agents, have proven successful. Such activities are certain to become more prevalent in future years (Hannas et Al. 2013, 13).
As viewed through the lens of the 2015 PERSEREC data and the reorganization of motivations as defined within this paper, a number of significant potential implications related to current and future CI and CE operations present themselves:
Money will remain a key motivator for Americans who commit espionage. Whether monetary compensation for espionage is driven by “need” or by “greed,” money, as it relates to American culture, is closely associated with the perception of status, power, and success, with the role of money in society as similar to that of social-status (Thompson 2009; Charney 2010). Such a medium, as mentioned earlier, provides fertile ground for developing a spy by not only solving an initial debt problem, but also giving the false perception of power, success, and fulfillment to the spy, allowing opportunities for an adept handler to create a codependence based on greed or ego-driven satisfaction.
Ego will continue to grow as a motivator for espionage, particularly as it relates to recognition, but also to an extent as it relates to ingratiation. As witnessed in an increasing number of espionage cases since the publishing of the 2015 PERSEREC study’s data, recognition, especially by way of career advancement opportunities, provides an attractive “hook” by which to develop an agent, whereas ingratiation allows a handler to take advantage of an agent’s emotional or monetary needs. Such a strategy is widely and successfully employed by the PRC against university staff and researchers, but PRC activities are not solely relegated to academia: the PRC’s holistic and relentless approach to conducting espionage activities permeates nearly every industry and facet of American life, particularly as it relates to ICT and an international economy (Herbig 2017).
Ego-driven motivation will remain a consistent issue related to how Americans choose to value concepts of equality, success, status, and power as tangible and intangible assets (Thompson 2009; Ibid 2018); such discussion is central to post-Cold War espionage motivations and justifications, as the two categories of “ego” and “money” together account for 72% of all motivations in the 1990-2015 cohort (Herbig 2017, 49).
Equally important is an investigation of the relative importance that Americans place on recognition in contemporary society, as mass leaks of classified data appear to share a similar pattern of motivations and justifications that stem, at least partially, from a desire for recognition. Edward Snowden’s case, in particular, highlights such a phenomenon: “Snowden accepted the uncritical fawning of a large element of the international community, including numerous formal awards. That extraordinary recognition is a wonderful form of currency from a society thoroughly enamored of celebrity. Who had ever heard of Edward Snowden prior to his mass leaking? And now, who has not heard of him? This kind of psychological reward can be much more powerful than cash” (Thompson 2018, 122). Regardless of his motivation, Edward Snowden caused incalculable damage to the United States by stealing government secrets and deciding to expose them to the public, as well as to foreign intelligence and security services... for free! Such leaks are a veritable goldmine to our adversaries, as Soviet intelligence officer and defector Stanislav Lunev noted: “I was amazed—and Moscow was very appreciative— at how many times I found very sensitive information in American newspapers. In my view, Americans tend to care more about scooping their competition than about national security, which made my job easier” (Lunev 1998, 135, quoted in Bruce 2004, 401). Our adversaries are taking notice and are likely contributing to creating an environment that is receptive to cultivating further leaks.
Ideology will also likely continue to grow as a motivator for espionage, or at least as a justification. Herbig touches on an important factor within the PERSEREC data related to a perceived intrinsic strength of the United States:
“As a nation of immigrants, the United States has long experience with welcoming immigrants and turning them into new citizens, while recognizing that ties of sentiment, financial support, and personal involvement with their countries of origin will persist (Spiro, 2008). In some periods of American history, recognition of those continuing ties has been generous, and at other times it has been grudging, with demands that the ties to the homeland be weakened in order to prove the new allegiance to the United States (Herbig, 2008). Individuals whose divided loyalties motivated them to commit espionage-related offenses often said they just wanted to help the other country or cause, while they downplayed or dismissed the harm their actions would do to the United States” (Herbig 2017, 58).
While not discussed within the context of this paper, the 2015 PERSEREC data regarding divided loyalties records a marked uptick in “native born American citizens who had [foreign relatives, foreign connections, or foreign cultural] ties” (Ibid, 57-58) within the 1990-2015 cohort. Such data suggests that further investigation of the concepts of identity and loyalty underneath the term “ideology” would be helpful to American CI and CE professionals. This information, when paired with data from Table 1 regarding personal attributes of spies in the 2015 PERSEREC report, will be extremely useful for CI and CE investigators, especially given the post-Cold War trend towards older, more educated spies (Herbig 2017, 9), and the RAND Corporation’s study on Millennials within the IC. The dual specters of globalization and prolific ICT adoption hang over future discussions related to ideology, as there has never been a time in modern history where such ubiquitous interaction and communication has been so accessible to so many.
Where does this dizzying array of issues and factors leave CI practitioners attempting to detect and prevent espionage in the current environment? Is there a single “silver bullet” that can be brought to bear against the growing trend of ego and ideologically-driven espionage? The answers are complicated: there is no monolithic “fix” to the kinds of motivations and justifications for spying that present themselves in the post-Cold War world, but there may be a set of tools that, when employed in a forward-looking manner to understand the specific “signature” that each spy emits when they commit espionage, and compared against properly correlated data from prior espionage cases, would likely provide investigators with a significant advantage against the onslaught of state-actors and affiliated entities wishing to do harm to the United States in the contemporary global environment.
One such tool in America’s struggle against foreign enemies is one that is often overlooked in the present day: “America” is an ideological product to foreigners and Americans alike. Extremely successful penetrations of the Soviet Union were, in part, ideologically motivated (although resettlement outside of the Soviet Union and substantial monetary compensation certainly didn’t hurt either) (Hoffman 2015; Earley 2009). “America as a product” in terms of American ideals, values, and pragmatic realities of life in America compared to other nations, has motivated individuals to betray their country’s secrets to the United States’ advantage. It is important to note that, as a matter of national strategy, if America is perceived as a less-desirable country to live in by others, it will likely reduce our ability to recruit spies and curry influence throughout the world. The corollary to such an effect may also be to create fertile ground for Americans to betray their country willingly insofar as sentiments of dissent mature into disillusionment, which further evolve into disgruntlement, or their loyalties becoming further divided to the extent needed to precipitate spying (Thompson 2009; Herbig 2017).
The effects of “America as a product” are immensely complex, especially in today’s society: the evolving media landscape is a major contributor to shaping how Americans (and inhabitants in the rest of the world) perceive America and American identity; this phenomenon is likely to continue to consciously and subconsciously affect Americans with access to our nation’s secrets (Gentry 2019; Thompson 2009, 2018; Weinbaum et Al. 2016). Words do have eventual consequences, and failures within the IC and USG to recognize the substantial impact that social media and cyberespionage by way of state-sponsored propaganda and disinformation campaigns have made globally—and to consistently address the phenomenon—will continue to undermine CI efforts to thwart ideologically-motivated espionage. As Herbig states, “Ironically, winding through espionage, which is one of the most serious crimes and usually means that one is betraying one’s country, are themes of helping out, sacrificing oneself to benefit another, and taking comfort from seeing one’s actions in an altruistic light” (Herbig 2017, 62). These themes are all a part of a set of values that many Americans share, and a set of values that can be easily manipulated by an adept handler during a recruitment and development process. This task is made much easier for America’s adversaries when Americans believe that they are ideologically divided and that there are perceivably better opportunities elsewhere that share their same values.
Throughout this paper, the author has attempted to paint a thorough, reasonably clear picture of an immensely intricate topic: the implications of U.S. citizens’ motivations for committing espionage between Cold War and post-Cold War cohorts. Through clarifying definitions of key terms, examining the 2015 PERSEREC report and its dataset, providing examples of pertinent cases within Cold War and post-Cold War cohorts, expanding on topics warranting discussion in relation to the 2015 PERSEREC report’s data, and framing implications related to the paper’s comparison of Cold War and post-Cold War motivations for espionage vis-à-vis the additional discussion topics and current social and environmental factors, the author has attempted to advance conversation in an area of utmost importance for CI professionals and IC members alike.
In attempting to thwart those who are motivated to spy against America, it is important to remember an uncomfortable truth:
“Noting the obvious is important; human behavior is complex, and an illicit activity like espionage does not lend itself to a catalogue of predisposing factors. As much as scholars would like to develop a profile of a spy, the notion simply doesn’t exist. While some commonality in motivational elements exists, much variation is evident in espionage cases. Thus, acknowledge base that rises to the level of predictability is, at a minimum, highly impractical. Nonetheless, such known cases offer fertile ground for continued study. Better understanding their motivational dynamics may lead to better detection and deterrence of spying” (Thompson 2014, 71).
Still, we should not shirk opportunities to study these cases, as by gazing into the past to become better informed on potential future trends, there are valuable lessons to be learned, especially as American society continues to experience rapid cultural, economic, technological, and infrastructural change within a multi-polar, globalized international environment.
CIA – Central Intelligence Agency
CPUSA – Communist Party of the United States of America
DG – Dirección de Inteligencia
FBI – Federal Bureau of Investigation
FOUO – For Official Use Only
HUMINT – Human Intelligence
SIGINT – Signals Intelligence
CI – Counterintelligence
CE – Counter Espionage
IC – Intelligence Community
ICT – Information and Communication Technology
PERSEREC – Defense Personnel Security Research Center
1Within the 2015 PERSEREC report, there is some confusion regarding the terms of “ideology” and “divided loyalties”, as in certain cases they are used interchangeably, and are not explicitly separated as motivations within the report data; they are instead combined underneath the term “divided loyalties”.
2Thompson’s chapter on anger in Why Espionage Happens is particularly pertinent, wherein he describes how Far Eastern cultures perceive anger as “a loss of control and a loss of face” (Thompson 2009, 99). Equally, his mention of psychosocial tension and its effects on an individual point to how such tensions might be relative to what an individual perceives as important to them internally, and also within their greater social environment.
3Such a discussion is admittedly complicated, as the concept of motivation within discussions of espionage cases often relies on information provided within the apprehended spy’s interrogation and confession. It is also difficult to standardize criteria to define motivations without the presence of the caught spy’s input, although a case can be made that, especially in instances involving monetary compensation in exchange for committing espionage, such criteria are relatively straightforward indicators: an individual who possesses a combination of debt, sustained acquisitiveness, or financial transactions that are not consistent with their relative income level paints a far more concrete picture as to their motivation than what they may admit to during a confession, where they may attempt to “save face” rather than admit their true motivation.
It should also be noted that, conversely, the absence of monetary compensation does not create definitive proof that someone was ideologically motivated to commit espionage.
Unfortunately, the 2015 PERSEREC report does not provide granular data related to each spy’s motivations as classified within the report; this is an area of weakness that, if addressed in future reports, would provide a bountiful resource by which further analysis could be conducted on the PERSEREC data. Such information would be particularly useful regarding the newest cohort of spies.
4This particular reference is in response to a phenomenon between the two datasets showing that, while recognition as a motivator in the post-Cold War cohort increases substantially when weighed against all motivators on Table 10 (Herbig 2017, 49), when the same motivator is compared across the same timeframe as a “sole, or strong, motivation”, the amount of cases is zero (Herbig 2017, 47). Additionally, when compared in the same manner, “divided loyalties” as a motivation remains a significant motivation, whereas “disgruntlement” and “ingratiation” drop precipitously.
5Diaz’ case is classified in the 2015 PERSEREC report’s data with the United States as the actual recipient of espionage, as is Manning’s case, and every other case defined in the report underneath the section “Leaks as a Type of Espionage” (Herbig 2017, 83-109).
Each case within this particular PERSEREC section is noteworthy in its own manner, as there appear to be elements of ideological and ego-driven motivations in all of them.
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