by counterintelligence expert Lawrence B. Sulc © 2000

Amid the talk of government intelligence failures of late, there is evidence of an intelligence failure of another sort - a very special kind - and in the White House, itself. There has been a counterintelligence failure in the executive mansion. The United States Secret Service (USSS) does not have a counterintelligence function, thus the White House Secret Service detail, dedicated to protecting the first family, principally the president, from physical threats, is not set up to deal with hostile foreign intelligence operations. The Secret Service White House detail, without a clear mandate and without the necessary CI training and experience, is not up to the job. It is unable to protect the president from foreign intelligence collection and covert action, or influence, operations. This operational lapse, or "CI gap," if you will, apparently has contributed to the counterintelligence misfortunes, to put a kindly word to them, that now beset the Clinton administration, particularly the White House.

According to The Washington Post of May 22, 1997, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former prosecutor himself, revealed that "Attorney General Janet Reno testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that the FBI had withheld national security information from the president because he is a potential subject in a pending investigation. That revelation has critical implications for our constitutional government...", the senator said. The president cannot carry out his duties properly as, required by law, without full briefings. The details of this constitutional crisis never emerged publicly and the media made no apparent effort to press for them, sex scandals apparently having a higher priority. The president was in trouble a year ago and the Secret Service should have known about it from the papers but what could it do?

In any case, that was a year ago and much has happened since. For example, according to press reports, Johnny Chung, a fund-raiser for the Democratic Party, has told U.S. investigators that he was given $300,000 by a Chinese Communist Army officer (who was also a high official of a satellite and missile production unit in China, and incidentally the daughter of the then-top army general and one of the highest officials of the Chinese Communist Party). The money was for Democratic Party political campaigns in the U.S. in 1996. Another serious counterintelligence problem for the White House. Still another White House counterintelligence problem, possibly related, was highlighted by the Justice Department by its move to investigate the administration's decision to export critical satellite technology to China. This effort by Justice seeks to determine whether the administration's unfortunate decision was influenced by the head of one of the two American firms that benefited, a major donor to the Democratic Party.

Counterintelligence officials realize that intelligence collection and covert action, or influence, operations often go hand in hand. People on whom foreign intelligence personnel work may be totally innocent of wrongdoing. On the other hand, they may be willing assets of the foreign intelligence service that importunes them. A counterintelligence sense in the White House could possibly have warned of the methods of operation of foreign operatives and the risks to American personnel.


The closest thing to counterintelligence in the White House in the present case seems to be the afterthought of a National security Council staffer to the effect that Johnny Chung was a "hustler." At least 49 times the hustler visited the White House. On occasion he brought Lt. Col. Liu Chao-ying, quite probably his Chinese intelligence case officer, to be received by the president, himself. "In hindsight, it was clearly not appropriate for Chung to bring her to see the president, a White House spokesman has said. A person trained in counterintelligence is in a better position to see by foresight what others gain only by hindsight.

The former finance director of the DNC told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last year that he "had a sense that [Chung] was taking money from [Chinese businessmen] and then giving it to us." This observation is not bad for a political money man and would have been useful if factored into a counterintelligence assessment early on.

Members of the Secret Service would sacrifice their lives to save the president's. They have died in the line of duty elsewhere. But they are not up to the job of counterintelligence in the White House. Then, what are the counterintelligence credentials of the so-called chief of "Oval Office operations" who has testified before a grand jury in the "White House sex and obstruction of justice" case? What role do NSC staffers, if any is trained in CI, play in White House matters? What ever happened to the two FBI special agents assigned to White House duty to help in employee background checks and were removed in a dispute over poor White House security practices? Did they have a CI function, at all? Who, if anyone, from the FBI replaced them? The FBI after all has the internal counterintelligence function for the federal government.

The upshot is that there is little or no counterintelligence protection in the presidential mansion. Obviously, it is desperately needed. The Secret Service detail can protect the president from vehicle bombs by closing off Pennsylvania Avenue - "America's Main Street" - in front of the White House, but it cannot protect him from the so-called "China Plan" waged from Peking. It is not supposed to, of course. More important: it cannot protect America from the Chinese Communist intelligence onslaught if the president himself persists in remaining blind to it.

The writer is a former career intelligence operations officer with the CIA specializing in counterintelligence. He has written widely on the subject and is the author of the book, Law Enforcement Counterintelligence. His article appeared in Palmers on line with his permission.