City of Secrets: Big tech, big talk frame the future of spying in Washington

In WTOP’s three-part series “City of Secrets,” WTOP National Security Correspondent J.J. Green talks to some of the best in the espionage game to find how spies have infiltrated Washington, D.C., and what can be done to catch them.

The friendly voice on the phone introduced himself as “Jerry Fielding, with People Power, an executive placement service out of New York.” Robert Moore, on the other end of the line, said “OK,” with slight bewilderment in his response.

The voice said, “Mr. Moore, I was just calling to see if you were happy with your work.” Moore responded, “With the work, yes.”

After a brief pause, the voice asked, “How about the money”?

“I guess, I …” said Robert, stumbling, looking for words.

The voice interrupted saying, “I found your resume on LinkedIn and I think you’d be perfect for a plant manager listing we have.”

“Oh really,” said Moore with a slight smile. He quickly asked, “Where?”

The voice said, “Advanced Insulation Industries, Shanghai.”

Robert laughed, asking, “As in China?”

The voice laughed right along with him, responding, “I don’t think you’ll be laughing when you hear the salary.”

Robert said, “There’s no way that I can move to China.”

The voice said, “Think of it as a vacation, an adventure. You stay there three or four years; you come home with a huge nest egg and a new title. The world’s your oyster.”

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Robert said no and hung up. He had children in college and he was expecting a big promotion at work. Shortly thereafter, he realized, he was not being considered for the promotion. He fretted about paying for his daughter’s tuition at Princeton.

Anxiously, he picked up the phone and called Jerry back and talked more about the promising job.

He was offered $200,000. But the job description itself made him uneasy. He would get half the money for stealing the plans for his company’s glass insulation technology and the other half to help them set up a similar operation in Shanghai.

Robert was in the middle of a classic industrial espionage play.

This scenario, based on actual events, was a part of a 2015 FBI video, called “Company Man,” dramatizing the slippery slope of espionage. The objective was to warn Americans about the bad circumstances they would face if they fell for the big money, “vacation” and “adventure” that Moore was offered.

Unfortunately, Kevin, J. Mallory, and Jerry Chung Shin Lee didn’t see the light.

Both are former CIA employees. Both were recently imprisoned.

Mallory, serving 20 years in prison for selling secrets to China, was caught in the exact dangle depicted in the video — a LinkedIn headhunter.

Jerry Chung Shin Lee pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide Chinese intelligence officers defense secrets in exchange for money. He was told, according to court documents, he would be taken care of for the rest of his life. He also faces 20 years. His case involved more classic face-to-face engagements.

The two cases show that foreign intelligence services are utilizing a variety of methods to achieve their goals.

Brian Dugan, Assistant Special Agent in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI’s Washington Field Office, cited LinkedIn and other social media sites as prime opportunities for foreign intelligence agents looking for Americans with security clearances and knowledge of sensitive or classified information.

“People put out there, if not what they did in a prior life, what skills they have. To any good intelligence service, those are going to be clues to people who have government jobs or access to a clearance at one time or another,” said Dugan.

Mallory, almost $230,000 in debt when approached by the headhunter was in a vulnerable position. His situation, according to Philip Mudd, former deputy director of the FBI’s National Security Division is not uncommon.

“Somebody who gets stuck with high bills, who has a lifestyle they can’t sustain and then you combine that with someone who doesn’t believe their career has gone the right way. Maybe they feel they’ve been undervalued in the system.”

The face-to-face contact that foreign spies initiate in Washington is, according to Dugan, “unprecedented,” and “our adversary is becoming better at co-opting people in all walks of life.”

And there is growing concern as thousands of baby boomers prepare to retire from government jobs and look for other employment. The allure of a large salary from shady headhunters might win them over.

“There are people here that are looking to find out what the United States is doing and they’re going to collect that and provide that back to their handlers.”

Authorities warn the days of face-to-face recruiting in Washington have not faded away, but instead have been reinforced by new methods of recruiting. Social media and other technology-based approaches are gaining popularity in part because those looking to recruit spies in Washington can do the difficult work remotely. In many cases, they may never have to show their faces. They promise lots of money, vacations and easy lives.

The FBI is warning those with security clearances not to take the bait because, Dugan said, “We’re going to find them, and we’re going to catch them.”

They could end up with a very different kind of vacation — a very long vacation.

Part 1: Estimated 10,000 people in DC are spies
Part 2: A real spy is never who you think they are
Part 3: The future of spying in Washington

Part 1 — City of Secrets: 'The Russians want to destroy us; the Chinese want to own us' (WTOP/J.J. Green)
Part 2 — City of Secrets: 'At any one time, someone is giving it up for money or some other reason' (WTOP/J.J. Green)
Part 3 — City of Secrets: Her disguise was her quiet life (WTOP/J.J. Green)
Part 4 — City of Secrets: 'Cold War never ended' (WTOP/J.J. Green)
Part 5 — City of Secrets: Spies aren't just walking the streets in Washington. They're in your inbox. (WTOP/J.J. Green)

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J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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