WASHINGTON -- The end of the Cold War has produced a startling rash of espionage cases, with the arrests in the past month of two U.S. intelligence officers who now face the possibility of joining CIA agent-turned-spy Aldrich Ames in prison for life.
What is going on?
In the age of detente, with the United States and the former Soviet Union cooperating on programs ranging from nuclear disarmament to drug trafficking, why is spying continuing apace?
"The American people ought to understand that simply because there's no longer a Soviet Union, there's still a Russia, and that spying is an international practice," said FBI director Louis J. Freeh in congressional testimony last week.
"We have to be on our toes about it. These cases, which are coming forward, are not aberrational, not unusual."
Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former National Security Council staffer and director of the State Department's Office of Research on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, said: "People have always, for some reason, wanted to know what others are doing. Read the Bible -- there are lots of spies."
In the sixth century B.C., Chinese general Sun-Tzu gave this rationale for espionage:
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear a hundred battles.
"If you know yourself and not the enemy, for every victory you will suffer a defeat.
"If you know neither yourself nor the enemy, you are a fool and will meet defeat in every battle."
The only thing that has changed with the ages is the focus of intelligence agencies.
Modern spying goes beyond the pursuit of national security and defense secrets that dominated Cold War espionage.
Today's spy is frequently trying to uncover the secrets of high technology and international commerce, or of terrorism and the drug trade.
This year, for example, the Russian intelligence service, according to Freeh, instructed its spies to make economic espionage a priority.
And it's not only the Russians who are spying on the Americans, and vice versa, these days.
No fewer than 23 foreign espionage services are now targeting U.S. economic and commercial secrets, according to Freeh.
Among them are U.S. allies.
The CIA listed France and Israel as actively involved this year in economic espionage against the United States.
Both have denied the accusation, although the CIA has admitted that it spied on France.
"We live in a pretty rough, tough world out there," said Sen. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Senate intelligence committee.
"I don't think you are going to get rid of it, nor do I think the United States can let its guard down."
Citing uncertainties in Russia, China's secret arms deals with Third World countries and the undercover activities of international terrorism, he said: "You are talking about some big items.
"It's a little risky for someone in public life, political life, to defend spying, but I think the American people have to know the facts."
One thing that is certain is that spying is a booming business.
"It's continuing because countries simply fear that other countries are going to get the upper hand," said Ronald Kessler, author of "The FBI," a 1993 book.
"As part of this little intelligence war that goes on, each side wants to get the upper hand in thwarting what the other side is doing to it."
Thus, the CIA and the FBI have matched wits with the Soviet KGB and, more recently, with its Russian successor, the SVRR.
"We are No. 1 on the radar list of the SVRR, both the FBI and CIA," Freeh said.
"That's going to continue.
"There's been no cessation by the Russian intelligence services, fTC even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, to aggressively and very professionally, and very effectively at times, penetrate and recruit not just the counterintelligence service, which is the FBI in the United States, but the external service, which is the CIA."
Perhaps significantly, the three most recent espionage cases have all involved U.S. intelligence officers recruited by the Soviets or Russians -- CIA agent Ames, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994; Harold J. Nicholson, a trainer of CIA spies and a former overseas agent, charged last month; and Edwin Pitts, a veteran FBI counterintelligence officer, arrested last week.
All three men were in positions to tell the Soviet or Russian spymasters the identities of agents, along with methods of operation, including how their organizations recruited, trained and controlled their own agents and detected those working against them.
'Process and methods'
"Process and methods are the jewels of the kingdom," said Raymond L. Garthoff, a former diplomat and author of the 1994 book "Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet relations from Nixon to Reagan."
"A large part of it is what you can really call, not frivolously, 'the game' of espionage," he said.
"The dynamic of the competition between intelligence services is such that 'the game' of counterintelligence has become a very important matter in its own right."
So concerned has the FBI become about recruitment of its agents and penetration of its operations that it now conducts full field investigations of every employee every five years, a precaution not taken until October 1994, five years after the Berlin Wall came down.
The check includes a review of each employee's bank accounts, assets and travel.
Since 1994, the FBI has also administered more than 1,000 polygraph examinations to employees assigned to national security matters.
The collapse of the Soviet Union has caused another new element -- the defection of Soviet and East European agents, lured here by the prospect of being well paid for their information.
'It's always money'
"Money," said Kessler. "It's always money. That is why defectors, at least in recent years, have cooperated.
"When the Soviets were still strong, defectors also had ideological reasons because they couldn't stand the Soviet government. Now it's money."
Freeh told reporters last week that "defector sources" alerted the bureau to a Russian "penetration" of its New York office.
This is what originally put Pitts, one of the few agents involved in the compromised operations, under suspicion.
If cash is an incentive for Russian betrayal, it is also a magnet for American treason.
Aldridge Ames was paid more than $2 million for his treachery. Nicholson's alleged reward from the Kremlin has been estimated at $180,000.
And Pitts stands accused of pocketing at least $224,000 from his spymasters during his five years of active espionage from 1987 to 1992.
"Greed seems to have been the principal motivation," said Gart-hoff, now an intelligence expert with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"The diminution of the ideological confrontation may make it somewhat easier for people to give in to temptation."
Pub Date: 12/22/96