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Counterintelligence is the use of espionage tactics to infiltrate, neutralize, and break up threats to national security such as terrorist organizations, drug cartels, and spy rings.

Unlike the intelligence field, which includes active measures, direct action, and covert activity, counterintelligence is a separate profession unto itself, with its own specialized jargon.


The objective of counterintelligence (CI) is to identify an intelligence operative.. However, the intelligence operative's objective is not simply to evade detection; he has a more important mission to perform, and avoiding counterintelligence detection is just part of performing that mission. Once the identification has been made by counterintelligence, the operative is not just arrested, tried, and carted off to jail as in other crimes; a decision must be made, and he usually is temporarily left in place so as not to tip off how he came to be identified, which would have the effect of compromising other counterintelligence operations.

Nonetheless, an identified operative must be cut off from access to further secure information, without letting him know that his cover is blown, then fed an elaborate stream of credible disinformation. Then an assessment must be made as to the extent of the damage and what information has been compromised. Eventually, the mole and his handlers will realize their operation has been compromised because of the useless disinformation being passed; but this step buys time for the difficult process of "walking the dog backwards" to determine what has been compromised within the target organization. That is the point at which an arrest is usually made. Sometimes, however, the process of feeding disinformation can be useful, so a discovered agent may be left in place for years.

Occasionally attempts are made to "turn" a mole; that is, gain his cooperation without exposing to his controllers that his cover has been blown. Turning a mole can make him an unwilling agent of either side, either to continue the feed of disinformation, or being coerced at threat of imprisonment to betray his compatriot organization. In the famous case of Arkady Schevchenko, a Soviet diplomat to the United Nations who asked to defect, rather than accept his defection the CIA required he remain in place and engage in espionage. Schevchenko was a professional diplomat, not a spy, and he found the stressful work nerve-wracking.

CI is similar to, and often confused with, HUMINT, as CI uses many of the same techniques for the information collection. CI obtains information by or through the functions of CI operations,investigations, collection and reporting, analysis, production, dissemination, and functional services. CI is not solely a collection discipline, however, and also acts upon information for both offensive and defensive purposes, in coordination with other intelligence disciplines, law enforcement and/or security elements.

  1. The function of CI is to provide direct support to operational commanders, program managers, and decision makers. This support includes: CI support to force protection during all types and phases of military operations; detection identification and neutralization of espionage; antiterrorism; threat assessments; counterproliferation actions; countering illegal technology transfer; acquisitions systems protection; support to other intelligence activities; information systems protection; and treaty support.
  1. Although CI is an activity separate and distinct from foreign intelligence, it supports the foreign intelligence disciplines through its contribution to the I&W function, by its collection, analysis, and production capabilities, and by maintenance of CI databases.


The concept of "MICE" was originated by American counterintelligence in an effort to understand what motivates a person to be willing to betray their own country. It can be regarded as one of America's contributions to the art and science of the business, now that both intelligence and counterintelligence agencies worldwide rely upon this simple mnemonic, to spot potential recruits or identify potential agents in the service of a foreign organization. The concept is simple: it is either Money, Ideology, Coercion, or Excitement, that causes a person to be willing to betray their friends and neighbours, or their whole country, and go into the service of a foreign espionage organization. Sometimes "intrigue" is substituted for ideology, or "ego" for excitement, but the end result is the same. It is claimed that no one has produced a better summary of traitors' motivations.

Individuals who are motivated to betray their country for money, out of greed, tend to be persons who feel life has cheated them out of their just rewards, so they have no qualms about being fairly compensated, in their own eyes, for their worth. At the same they can get back at the society which has misunderstood and not appreciated their talents. When Aldrich Ames bought an $80,000 Jaguar, there was not the slightest pretence of hiding the fruit of his labors.

Ideology, however is the opposite end of the spectrum. People with this motivation are deeply committed to a system of beliefs that they perceive sustains them, their families, communities, and their friends. Such people will risk their lives for no payment, service to the cause being their reward. Both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were "patsies", or fall guys, for a much larger conspiracy, most of whom walked away unscathed. But the Rosenbergs were willing patsies, martyrs to a cause for which Julius was willing to see his own wife executed rather than implicate others, and Ethel was willing to orphan her own children, in service to the cause. As to intrigue, Kim Philby rose to the number two spot in British intelligence and was poised to become head, and assisted the United States to establish a peacetime espionage organization, but in doing so compromised the CIA from its founding. He originally was recruited into Soviet intelligence to spy on his father, St. John Philby.

Coercion can be used against an unwilling participant, homosexuality-related blackmail and bribery being two of the most common forms. The classic example of homosexuality is Donald Maclean who was compromised by Guy Burgess. As to bribery, once a government official takes a bribe, he is forever in the possession of those who paid him. He must continue taking money, whether he wants to or not, for fear of exposure. Coercion can also be used against a loved one, in forms ranging from fear of exposure to violence and even murder.

Elizabeth Bentley is perhaps the classic study of excitement being the motivating factor. Bentley began her espionage career with a fascist organization, but quickly joined a communist entity, so ideology does not seem to apparent. Bentley then became the lover of a high-level CPUSA underground operative who had been a chekist. When he died and Bentley took over his operations, her personal loss was had a huge impact on her work. Excitement, romance, and sex was why she ever got involved originally. And when she lost those things, she defected back to her home country.

Phased withdrawal

Once a counterintelligence mission is completed and an intelligence product secure, a phased withdrawal from the main target is necessary so as to maintain operational security on sources and methods. As manpower resources are deployed elsewhere, the operation is phased down gradually rather than a 'cut and run' approach which risks exposing the scale of the operation and its methods.

In the case were cover is blown and a forced shut down necessary before securing an intelligence product, a phased withdrawal is still necessary, albeit in a more hurried fashion.


Procedures by which a US person's identity caught up in a foreign intelligence gathering operation is 'masked' in audio transcripts before distribution to other members of the Intelligence Community.[1][2]

See also