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Espionage Threat and Scientific Exchange Program Essay

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Updated: Sep 30th, 2020

Executive Summary

This paper focuses on the espionage threat that the planned international scientific exchange program may have on the United States and all the countries involved. Although this program is relevant and very important, countries involved should remember that the participating students can be used to collect economic, scientific, and military intelligence. It is strongly recommended that all the relevant government agencies should work closely with research universities taking part in the program and corporations at risk to fight the threat of espionage.


The planned international scientific exchange program will be very important to all the countries involved. The program targets 16 countries in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. According to Brenner (2014), knowledge sharing in modern society is very critical as it helps in finding common solutions to global problems. The exchange program is particularly important because it will help in addressing some of the global scientific problems such as cybercrime, global warming, terrorism, and economic problems. However, it is important to note that some foreign governments may take advantage of this opportunity to spy on other countries with the aim of unfairly gaining advanced knowledge in military technology, economic advantage, among others. Espionage is a real threat and failure to have effective strategies to counter the perceived problem may have serious consequences. A study by Hastedt (2003) showed that the People’s Republic of China has in the past used students of foreign countries to collect classified information. Russia, Cuba, and Israel are also very aggressive countries when it comes to gathering intelligence and as such, the espionage threat is very real. In this paper, the researcher seeks to identify these threats and develop strategies through which they can be effectively countered.

The Threat

The sixteen countries that will be taking part in this exchange program will benefit a lot when it finally comes to a successful end. However, it is important to note that they will be faced with the espionage threat, especially those who are believed to have economic and military superiority. At this stage, it is important to critically evaluate the nature of the threats and techniques that are likely to be used.

Nature of intelligence threat

The espionage threat that the countries will face varies in nature based on the interest of the people interested in the classified and unclassified data of foreign government. Economic espionage is one of the biggest intelligence threats that the countries involved should be wary of during this program. Foreign governments and corporations may be interested in stealing the intellectual properties of companies in their host countries or the other countries involved in the program. Given that the United States of America will be hosting Phase 1 of this program, it should be particularly concerned of the economic espionage to protect its local industries. China has specifically perfected the art of copyright theft because of weak laws and regulations (Hastedt, 2003). It is common to see a Nokia or Samsung phones being manufactured by dubious Chinese corporations and sold to the third world countries using the same trademark as that of the original company. Such acts not only deny the affected countries revenues that it deserves, but they also put the affected companies in a very delicate position in the global market.

Military espionage is another threat that all the countries involved in this program should be ready to deal with in both phases. The United States of America and Russia are once again in an arms race. These two countries have been joined by China and a few other countries that are keen on developing nuclear weapons. During this exchange program, it is possible that some foreign governments may only be interested in gaining more knowledge about the development of nuclear arsenal.

According to Sulick (2012), during such exchange programs, security and counterintelligence espionage is also another threat that should be taken care of by the countries involved. Some foreign countries may be interested in understanding the security system and counterintelligence strategies that their target countries use to protect their citizens. When such information is leaked to governments or organizations considered hostile, then the country will be left defenseless. With the information gathered about counterintelligence and security strategies, the enemies can plan on how to strike the country at its weakest point and when it least expects such an attack.

Techniques likely to be used

According to Cappelli, Moore, and Trzeciak (2012), different countries use different strategies to gather intelligence information that they desire from other countries. The mosaic form of intelligence gathering is one of the popular strategies used by countries such as China and Russia. In this strategy, the government interested in gathering intelligence from another country uses numerous agents, including those who are not specialists in the field of intelligence gathering, to collect as much information as possible. Another possible strategy that is very likely during this program is the use of financial incentives to lure unsuspecting individuals to delve information either knowingly or unknowingly. Instead of sending genuine students to take part in this program, it is possible that some countries may send spies. These spies will try to collect information about the targeted country for the country that sponsors them. In cases where they cannot be the best candidates to collect some data, then they use the money to buy the nationals of the targeted country to take part in the data collection process.

Technology is advancing very fast and the world powers are currently using sophisticated technologies to gather intelligence. It is expected that some of the countries or organizations may consider using the students to either knowingly or unknowingly plant devices in sensitive places that can help the perpetrators to monitor the activities of the target organizations or government agency. The more such devices are planted in strategic places within the targeted departments or organizations, the higher the chances will be of collecting the desired information. These are the primary techniques that are likely to be used to collect data.

Strategy to Counter the Threat

In modern society, the superiority of a country economically and militarily is defined by its level of knowledge in these fields and how well it can protect such knowledge from being accessed by other countries. Corporate entities are also under pressure in the global market to have superior strategies in the market that can give them a competitive edge over their rivals. As Brenner (2014) says, it all depends on how well an entity can keen its hard-earned knowledge from being accessed by the rivals. It takes a lot of time, resources, and dedication to collect and process new knowledge and it is unfair if any party comes and steals it without investing anything in it.

It is, therefore, very important for the government agencies, corporations in the private sector, and research universities that will be involved in this program either directly or indirectly, to come up with strategies to counter this threat. Institutions and government agencies that are not directly involved in this program may also be a target and as such, they should also have their own mechanisms of ensuring that they remain protected from this threat. The researcher will look at how institutions in the three categories described (government agencies, corporations in the private sector, and research universities) can counter this threat.

Strategy to coordinate counterintelligence activities of government agencies

The United States of America is the only remaining superpower following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It is also the world’s largest economy. As such, it is always the primary target of foreign governments that are interested in collecting important information in science and economics. Various government agencies should, therefore, be ready to deal with espionage as this exchange program begins. The following are some of the specific government agencies that should stay alert in the entire period that the program will be ongoing.

Defense Intelligence Agency

This government agency should be on alert to monitor the activities of all the students engaged in this program, including the United States’ students. Sulick (2012) warns that a compromised citizen is even more dangerous than a foreigner because he or she knows where and how to get the specific information. This agency should be keen to monitor any suspicious activities of all the participants of this program, especially in relation to the defense of this country. The agents from this department should ensure that information about nuclear technology is not in any way revealed to the foreign government either through foreigners or locals.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

This intelligence agency should ensure that it is represented in this important exchange program. It should have two or more representatives who will be gathering intelligence about the specific interest of the participating students. The primary concern of these agents will be to monitor any attempts by any of the participants to gather security-related information, especially how the borderline of the United States is protected. They will also be keen to protect information about aerospace activities in the United States.

Department of Homeland Security

The department of homeland security will have a critical role to play when this program commences. This agency’s strategies are expected to be defensive in nature. It will ensure that all the foreigners are protected for the entire period that they will be participating in this program. They will also ensure that the foreigners in the country do not pose any threat to the citizens of this country. It means that this agency will also need its own agents to either be part of the program or to coordinate closely with the participants in this program. Any threat detected especially attempts to steal information about the management of internal security, should be immediately addressed to ensure that the country remains safe.

Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation will have the most challenging task of ensuring that the threat of espionage posed by this program does not materialize. This domestic security and intelligence agency will particularly be required to monitor every activity of the foreigners and how they relate with the locals for the entire period of the program. The agency will need to have its own agents as one of the students and lecturers because of the threat that the country may be exposed to if classified information is revealed to enemies. According to Hastedt (2003), when a government sends its nationals to a foreign country to collect information, they often select the finest of their intelligence agents. As such, the FBI agents must be aware that they are dealing with specialized and highly skilled officers who can easily know when they are in the presence of other intelligence officers. Caution should be taken not to alert the participants that they are being monitored. This way, it becomes easy to arrest the spies. It is important to note that the agency will not just be focused on security threats. The agents will also be interested in economic threats or any other illegal data gathering by the foreigners or the locals on behalf of the foreigners.

Central Intelligence Agency

It is stated that Phase 1 of this program will be conducted in the United States. It means that the second phase may be in another country such as China, Russia, or Israel. It is possible that a smart government may avoid gathering intelligence about the United States when the program is hosted locally. They know that there will be numerous agencies that will be monitoring every move and every activity of the foreigners. As such, they may avoid any suspicious activities until such a time that the program is shifted to another country. In Phase 2 of this program, CIA will be primarily responsible for fighting any attempts by foreign agencies and governments to spy on the country. It should always be on the offensive in its counterintelligence activities. Through its agents, it will monitor the participants’ moves and even pose as compromised American citizens who can accept financial benefits in exchange for important information. Brenner (2014) warns that when engaging in counterintelligence activities outside the country, an agent should be keen not to fall into the trap of the counterintelligence agencies of the rival countries. They have to be extra vigilant to avoid being identified as intelligence officers.

Office of Migrant Students

Office of Migrant Students will also be expected to play an active role in ensuring that no form of espionage is committed against the government of the United States or any American corporation. All the foreign students must pass through this office before they can be allowed to be part of this program, especially Phase 1 that will be taking place in the United States. This agency should conduct a thorough background check of the individual participants in this program. Any suspicions should be keenly investigated and appropriate actions taken. This office may coordinate closely with CIA so that the details provided by these foreign students can be confirmed by the CIA agents in their home countries.

United States Copyright Office

Economic threats that may be committed against individuals or companies in the United States should be thwarted as soon as it is detected to protect the economy of the country. The United States Copyright Office should use offensive counterintelligence strategies. It should not wait for reports about the possible attempts by foreigners to steal copyrights of local companies. Instead, it should be proactive and try to find out if any of the immigrant students is interested in stealing the designs or any intellectual property of the local companies. When such spies are detected, they should be arrested and subjected to the full force of the law before being deported back to their country.

Strategy to coordinate counterintelligence activities of corporations in private sector

The responsibility of fighting espionage should not just be left for the government agencies. Corporations at risk such as banks, manufacturers, and providers of other services, including the retailers, should also be part of the team that will be involved in countering the threat (Mendell, 2011). These corporations may lose a lot if their intellectual property is stolen by the foreign nationals. They should consider having a hiring freeze for the entire period of the project. They should also conduct a thorough background check of any of the job applicants before they can be considered for any position.

Top designs and other secretes of the firm should only be accessible to a chosen few. The few who have access to such vital information should be employees who have worked for this firm for long and are fully trusted. Whenever these corporations suspect that they have a spy within their workforces, then the best action to take is to contact the security agents who will help with the investigations. Each of these corporations should have their own intelligence unit specifically responsible for monitoring the activities of employees. The use of sophisticated technologies such as hidden cameras and voice recorders may also be of use in counterintelligence strategies of these agencies.

Strategy to coordinate counterintelligence activities of research universities

Research universities, especially those that are involved in this exchange program are also at risk of having their classified information revealed to their competitors. These students will be posted to various research universities when this program commences. Some of the main areas of target by foreign governments interested in collecting information about the United States are institutions of higher learning. They know that governments often partner with these institutions to help them advance in their military capabilities. The economy of the country also relies heavily on these institutions (Brenner, 2014). The universities will be in a very good position to monitor the activities of the foreign students for the entire period that the program will be running. The management of these institutions can have the foreign students keenly monitored to find out if they could be having any ulterior motives. Intelligence officers, posing as students, can be very helpful in gathering intelligence from the targeted students. If it is conformed that any of these students is engaged or interested in suspicious activities, then the management of these institution will be required to make a report to the government agencies, especially the Federal Bureau of Investigation, so that appropriate measures can be taken.

Domestic and foreign implications

Having a properly structured and closely coordinated counterintelligence strategy will have positive domestic implications. The program will run smoothly without the government being threatened by spies interested in attacking the country militarily or economically (Gragido & Pirc, 2011). Citizens of the United States and their properties will remain protected despite the presence of foreigners locally. The strategy will also have a positive foreign implication when the program is moved to another country in Phase 2. The host country will be protected from unscrupulous individuals whose interest may be to spy on it. The American students who go to other countries through this program will be aware that their actions are being closely monitored.

Obstacles and Constraints

As mentioned above, some of the spies that may be sent to this country through this program are highly skilled and talented individuals who know how to cover their tracks. To handle such spies, it requires equally experienced, skilled, and knowledgeable agents. The age factor may be an issue because such officers may have advanced in age and cannot pose as students (Mendell, 2011). To overcome this problem, such officers can be taken in by these institutions as academic or non-academic staff. The financial problem can be solved by the government through improved funding to the individual agencies involved in the counterintelligence activities.


The planned international scientific exchange program is an excellent idea that will help in transforming the world into a better place. It will help in addressing climate-related problems and issues about the emerging international threats such as terrorism and cybercrime. However, the presence of foreign intellectuals in our research institution poses a serious threat of espionage. Foreign governments may take this advantage to send spies who will try to gather economic and military information about the United States. This paper suggests that various government agencies, corporations at risk, and research institutions involved in this program should work together to ensure that classified and unclassified information is not accessed by these foreign governments.


Brenner, J. (2014). America the vulnerable: Inside the new threat matrix of digital espionage, crime, and warfare. New York, NY: The Penguin Press.

Cappelli, D., Moore, A., & Trzeciak, R. (2012). The CERT guide to insider threats: How to prevent, detect, and respond to information technology crimes (theft, sabotage, fraud). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley.

Gragido, W., & Pirc, J. (2011). Cybercrime and espionage: An analysis of subversive multi-vector threats. Rockland, MA: Syngress.

Hastedt, G. (2003). Espionage: A reference handbook. Hoboken, NY: Wiley & Sons Publishers.

Mendell, L. (2011). The Quiet Threat: Fighting industrial espionage in America. Hoboken, NJ: Charles C Thomas Publisher.

Sulick, M. (2012). Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the dawn of the Cold War. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

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