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Who’s on the National Security Threat List and why?


The FBI's National Security List (NSL) has two parts, the Issues Threat List (activities that get you on the list) and the classified Country Threat List (states whose activities are "so hostile, or of such concern" that investigations are warranted).

The issues list contains:

  • Terrorism (violent acts, criminal violations if committed in US jurisdiction, intimidation or coercion of government or population)
  • Espionage (US national defense info)
  • Proliferation (of WMD and advanced conventional weapons)
  • Economic Espionage (sensitive financial, trade or economic policy information, proprietary economic information, or critical technologies)
  • National Information Infrastructure (facilities, people, information, computers, cable, satellite, or telecom)
  • US Government (government programs, facilities, information, or personnel)
  • Perception Management (manipulating information, communicating false information, or propagating deceptive information to distort the perception of US policies)
  • Foreign Intelligence Activities (anything else not described above)

That broad sweep nets both friend and foe, broad national agendas and quite targeted issues. Former DCI Robert Gates made the understatement of the quarter century in noting:

"Some countries with whom we have had good relations may adopt a two-track approach, cooperating with us at the level of diplomacy while engaging in adversarial intelligence collection."

Few nations are, however, as forthcoming as France. In reference to the activities of Service 7, Pierre Marion, retired Director of the French DGSE, publicly noted that:

"This espionage activity is an essential way for France to keep abreast of international commerce and technology. Of course, it was directed against the United States as well as others. You must remember that while we are allies in defense matters, we are also economic competitors in the world."

The 2000 Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage uncloaked to identify six greatest offenders as China, Japan, Israel, France, Korea, Taiwan, and India.

I surmise the temporary Russian absence was due to the disruption from the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Taiwan was greatly exercised by being publicly placed among 13 nations designated as a threat to US national security, "including Russia, China, North Korea, Yugoslavia, Serbian-controlled Bosnia, Vietnam, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan." More than twenty nations populate the list.

Who doesn't get publicized on the list are our closest allies such as the UK, (then West) Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada.

Commercial enterprises and individuals account for the bulk of international industrial espionage activity, roughly three times the percentage due to foreign government-sponsored efforts.  Even developing countries pose a threat as their intel agencies profited from training provided by the USSR, DDR (East Germany), Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and even the US and so have created a "reservoir of professionally trained intelligence mercenaries."

US intel agencies do not reciprocate in conducting industrial espionage against foreign companies to the direct advantage of US firms. Intel efforts are designed to support US aims without sharing commercial information with US companies. The US will, however, step in from time to time to confront foreign nations with public disclosure should they not desist. The FBI also routinely briefs corporate security officials of US firms that operate in certain countries, friend and foe alike, and if personnel threats are considered extreme, will offer useful guidance.

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Intellectual Property Theft Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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