Watch out for foreign agents: Authorities say spies eye U.S. troops in hopes of gleaning intelligence
It's a Friday night and a group of Soldiers are getting the weekend started at their favorite bar off post.
It's a place where the Soldiers feel comfortable, where they can unwind, talk smack, drink beer and where they and the bar employees know one another by first name. The Soldiers feel themselves among friends.
But according to U.S. Army intelligence authorities, friends aren't necessarily the only ones in the room.
There may also be intelligence operatives working for foreign governments -- spies -- trying to blend in and pick up even the most routine items of information, said Warrant Officer Christopher Douglas of the 524th Military Intelligence Battalion.
With infinite patience, reeling in one seemingly unimportant detail at a time, they can gradually fit together -- as they would a jigsaw puzzle -- a picture of how the U.S. military is operating in a given area of Korea.
So intelligence authorities are reminding Soldiers to be on their guard against foreign intelligence agents. And that if they think someone might be a foreign agent, to report their suspicions to the authorities right away.
"Soldiers may go out and have a good time and not realize that they're being watched or listened to," said Douglas.
A typical hunting ground for foreign agents is any place they know draws U.S. servicemembers. That could be the "Ville" outside Camp Casey in Dongducheon, for example. Or the Itaewon section of Seoul. Or countless other places throughout Korea where U.S. servicemembers congregate.
The agents can get useful information just by getting within earshot of a group of Soldiers. Especially Soldiers who may be drinking, and talking loudly and carelessly.
"It may seem not important, but to someone who's piecing together information, they may be able to glean a bigger picture of what's happening on Camp Casey" for example, Douglas said.
"Something as simple as when your unit is set to go to the field or when they're set to start the next exercise" can give foreign spies something useful, he said.
"Which then can lead to, 'Okay, well, if we know they're going to have an exercise, we know they're going to have convoy operations at this time," he said. "It can lead to several other avenues."
Other types of routine information can help foreign agents stitch things together.
Who's on the unit alert roster? How many Soldiers in the unit? What's the Soldier's job? What's his security clearance level? How long does he expect to be stationed in Korea? Does he have friends planning on requesting an extension on their Korea tour?
Agents can also look to start conversations with Soldiers.
"Maybe he buys him a beer, buys him a drink and they just chat," said Douglas.
And if they can ease an unsuspecting Soldier into any kind of friendly relationship, that opens even bigger possibilities for trained spies.
If the Soldier needs money, the agent may offer it.
"Maybe that person doesn't even ask for anything in return for the money," said Douglas. "Maybe they say, 'Hey, here's the money. I don't need anything in return right now but later on I may need a favor.'"
And agents may even find a way to maneuver the Soldier to where he or she can be blackmailed.
In a bar it could be inappropriate behavior with a female bar worker, behavior that someone gets a picture or video of with a cellphone camera.
"This," Douglas said, "could lead to a blackmailing situation where you're presented with these photos and someone basically saying 'Hey, either you help me out, give me this information, or these will be sent back home to your spouse or to your command."
"The main thing we want them to do," Douglas said of Soldiers who suspect spying, 'is, first, remain calm," said Douglas. "Remain calm while it's happening or if you suspect it's happening. Make mental notes. After the encounter, jot them down."
In Area I, suspected foreign espionage activity can be reported to the Uijeongbu Military Intelligence Detachment at 010-3695-0370. Reports can also be made -- from anywhere in Korea -- by calling DSN 723-3299. Or by contacting the unit S-2 office.
Failing to report such activity is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"By not saying something, one could make the argument you're allowing it to happen," Douglas said.
For security reasons Douglas could not disclose examples of actual cases where reports from Soldiers helped hinder enemy spying. But he said those cases have occurred.
"Because of the efforts of Soldiers and civilians reporting suspicious activity," said Douglas, "intelligence professionals have been able to detect, identify, neutralize and sometimes counter these threats in Korea."
Article by Franklin Fisher, Army.mil