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Counterintelligence Explained

Updated on January 19, 2012
Interestingly enough, the comics weren't too far off from reality.
Interestingly enough, the comics weren't too far off from reality.

I always say counterintelligence is doing everything possible to make “Hajji Bond’s” job as difficult as possible if not impossible. For those of you who don’t know me, it’s a little crass and culturally insensitive so I’ll take a second to point out that Hajji used to be a nickname of mine and I still get “randomly” selected for screening at airports. The point I hope to make that is our contemporary adversary has intelligence collection elements even though they are not a conventional force under Geneva Conventions. They are more than capable and not to be underestimated. In order to fully understand, counterintelligence one must have a grasp of basic intelligence. You can check out my hub titled “What is intelligence.” The following is an excerpt from Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP 2-14):

“Intelligence strives to accomplish two objectives. First, it provides accurate, timely and relevant knowledge about the enemy (or potential enemy) and the surrounding environment. The primary objective of intelligence is to support decision-making by reducing the uncertainty about the hostile situation to a reasonable level, recognizing that the fog of war renders anything close to absolute certainty impossible. The second intelligence objective assists in protecting friendly forces through counterintelligence.”

Basically, if intelligence were compared to the sport of football, it means that we want to know what the other team is going to do before they have a chance to snap the ball. We’ll use that information to decide what plays we’ll use and prevent our team from sustaining injuries. We’ll also keep the opposition from knowing what we intend to do about what our team has discovered so that they can’t react to our plans before we have a chance to use them. There are things called “indicators” that are warning signs or telegraphing of what’s about to happen. For example, if there are three receivers in position, the next play is more likely to be a pass. Looking at the amount of weight borne by a lineman’s knuckles can indicate if he intends to charge forward (blocking for a running play) or pop up (blocking for a pass play) counterintelligence seeks to mitigate these warning signs to the enemy through a process known as denial possibly by having linemen use a consistent stance regardless of the play. Counter intel can also seek to mislead the enemy through deception in this case having wide receivers line up to the right and running the ball to the left.

According to Marine Corps Warfighting Publication (MCWP 2-14) Counterintelligence—or CI as it is commonly called—includes:

“…active and passive measures intended to deny the enemy valuable information about the friendly situation. CI includes activities related to countering hostile espionage, subversion, and terrorism. CI directly supports force protection operations by helping the commander deny intelligence to the enemy and plan appropriate security measures.”

As stated above, the objective of CI is to counter enemy efforts to commit terrorism, espionage, subversion and sabotage against friendly forces, or TESS if you want an easy way to remember it. Counter terrorism includes things such as gathering information on terrorist cells collections activities and working to mitigate the damage and negate its validity. Continuing with the football analogy, if they notice that the quarterback always looks at the intended receiver, we can use this to our advantage by having him look at a decoy (deception) or always scanning the field from left to right so that the defense can’t read him (denial of opportunity). Counter espionage prevents the other team from gathering intelligence. In football, securing playbooks (passive measure) or switching practice jerseys to confuse the other teams scouts (active measures). Counter subversion prevents enemy attempts to subvert the players’ faith in each other or the team. An example of subversion would be to taunt the quarterback saying that a player who missed their block wanted him to get sacked because they don’t like him. This is especially difficult to counter because the human element is a big factor, it only takes seeds of doubt to cause problems, and if they grow in someone influential, they will spread quickly. Usually subversion and counter subversion are a task carried out exclusively by Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) with various forms of propaganda. And of course, counter-sabotage keeps the bad guys from blowing up or otherwise disabling specific locations and resources (i.e. Power plants, satellite communications facilities etc.). In football, something like sneaking in at night and removing the screws from the sled and sprinkling tire spikes across the field to prevent the team from training normally would be an unlikely but good example. CI would probably recommend passive measures such as a locked gate around the practice field to prevent this. If it’s that serious, a security system or guards could be posted as a deterrent.

There’s so much that can go into countering the enemy’s intelligence efforts and I’m trying to keep this relatively simple. But if you’d like to know more, feel free to ask here or shoot me a message through Hubpages and I'll post a reply via comment. So in short, like I said at first, CI is making “Hajji Bond’s” job as difficult as possible.

Rhodes, John E. MCWP 2-14 Counterintelligence. Washington, D.C.: Marine Corps Combat Development Command, 1998.


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    • Lance Crowe profile imageAUTHOR

      Lance Crowe 

      7 years ago

      Well, Ray, there's a whole lot that anyone could say about the headaches this has caused for all involved.

      Wikileaks would fall under the category of espionage. You'd have to read up on HUMINT to get a better handle on things. Basically from the HUMINT standpoint, a case officer would look for a person that PLACEMENT within a location where there was information of intelligence value and ACCESS to that information. In the Wikileaks case, Manning met both criteria. The next step of a handler is to meet the sources (Manning's) motivations. Basically finding something they want and provide it to them. In this case it was probably some financial motivation as well as an ego issue where the handler (not necessarily a foreign intelligence professional) convinced Manning that it was the right thing and a good idea to violate whatever non-disclsure agreements applied to this situation. I wouldn't be surprised to find that another government was willing to dedicate their resources to Manning using Wikileaks as a proxy or even posing as Wikieaks affiliates. That would be a variation of the False Flag Approach according to FM 2-22.3, which Obama wants all HUMINT activity to fall under (see link below). But I digress.

      On the CI side of the house, initially the primary concern was damage control. This is when Manning was identified as the source of the leak and then taken into custody. After the fact, CI will be looking for a number of things. First will be the extent of the spillage. That includes what information was leaked, and then who knew about it after that. Next would be implementing procedures to prevent the same thing from happening again. This could include things such as more aggressive montioring of computer systems to see what information is removed from the network by means such as eamil or copied to removable media. Or perhaps more oversight of junior enlisted personnel such as PFC Manning.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Excellent read, can you think of how wikileaks could be applied in this example of counter intelligence?

      I cannot see how but, private manning is not a reason because he was not exactly working for them, hmmm perhaps form the government side?


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