Changing Profile of Spies on America

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Mr. Aftergood runs the Project on Government Secrecy.

"Since the end of the Cold War in 1991,... characteristics of American spies have changed," according to a new Defense Department study of Americans who commit espionage.

"Americans who began spying during the 1990s have been older, with a median age of 39, and more demographically heterogeneous, with more women and more ethnic minorities," the study found. During the Cold War, by comparison, most American spies were white males younger than 30.

The new spies also tend to be civilian rather than military, are more likely to volunteer than to be recruited, are more likely to be naturalized citizens, and are more likely to have foreign attachments.

In one finding with particular relevance for security policy, the report stated that "Very few people apply for access to classified information intending to commit espionage." It follows that "optimal use of personnel security resources for countering espionage would focus more on periodic reevaluation and continuing assessment of experienced cleared personnel," rather than intensive focus on new applicants.

The new study, dated July 2002 and released this week by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center in Monterey, California, is based on an open source analysis of 150 cases of espionage against the United States committed since 1947.

"Unfortunately for the student of espionage, government records include more cases of espionage than are described here, but access to these is classified and restricted to the relatively small, cleared community," the report states.

A copy of the report, "Espionage Against the United States by American Citizens 1947-2001" by Katherine L. Herbig and Martin F. Wiskoff, is available here:

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