A cache of recently declassified articles from the CIA’s in-house journal present a previously unseen glance into the The Agency’s view of its mission and challenges.
In a document titled “Analysing Economic Espionage,” the CIA laid out its fears in 1992 of how foreign intelligence agencies would try to infiltrate American technology companies and steal secrets in order to erode the lead of US innovation.
In assessing the scope of the problem that economic espionage posed to the US, the CIA placed emphasis on the possibility that “many Americans possess certain personality attributes that increase our vulnerability.”
The CIA listed three key areas in which Americans were likely easy targets for foreign intelligence agencies.
The CIA considered Americans to be “gregarious” by nature, leading US citizens to speak openly even with casual acquaintances in order to overcome “an ‘ugly American’ complex.” Americans were more likely to be focused on the traits of candor and trust than on guile and discretion.
As many Americans do not learn to speak foreign languages, especially in full fluency, US citizens might also be operating at a disadvantage abroad. “Americans who do not know the language of a given country may forget that nationals of that country in a position to overhead their conversations often do know English.”
Finally, the CIA considered enough Americans to be so ambitious and focused on professional advancement that their upwardly-mobile mindset could itself constitute a security risk. “Inevitably, some morally weak individuals are willing to sacrifice personal integrity in pursuit of these career goals,” the article stated.
Economic espionage remains a significant area of concern for the US. Hackers associated with the China’s People’s Liberation Army routinely spy upon US companies in order to further drive the expansion of the Chinese economy. These hackers have allegedly stolen trade secrets from nuclear power, metal, and solar product industries.
According to IBM and the Cyber Security Intelligence Index, 95% of all successful security attacks are due to some degree of human error. Although the CIA did not take into account the internet in its 1992 report, their belief that the trusting nature of Americans will lead to economic sabotage is certainly supported by IBM’s research.
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