Recessionomics: How The Anti-American Spy Lives Now

Dear Carla Fran,

We know what glamorous undercover Russian spies were like from the movies, but what does today’s American anti-American spy look like? A March 2008 government report on data collected by PERSEREC tracks data on spy behavior over the last 60 years. Its findings: today’s spies are badly paid, more likely to be women and more likely to be disgruntled than spies of yore.They’re older, better educated, drink less, and go easy on the drugs. Only 1 of the 37 American spies in the post-1990 cohort is known to have used illegal substances (compared to 44% in the 1980s.)

It ends with 11 case studies in which names are named (apparently the 11 in question were already a matter of public record). On the sad end of the spectrum we have Timothy Smith, who seems to have been mentally ill, alcoholic, or both. He stole sensitive information, put it in his storage locker and, when caught, admitted to investigators that he wanted to steal  “valuable classified materials” in order to “take revenge on shipmates who had mistreated him,” and he would “possibly sell them on the Internet to terrorists.” Another guy walked out of the National Security Agency with boxes of classified documents on his last day. He got caught when his girlfriend reported him.

It’s not thrilling stuff.

The other side of the spectrum is more novelesque, but neither is it exactly the stuff of which James Bond films are made:

Weinmann joined the Navy at age 22, an idealist and outspoken patriot, hoping for a promising naval career that would build on his conventional middle-class start in life. However, a series of disappointments in his first year soured him on military life, and diverted him into ill-considered, increasingly desperate crimes. Once in the Navy, he found there were no openings in the linguist rating he wanted. He settled for a Fire Control Technician rating on a nuclear submarine, but he hated the petty corruption he found in the intensely competitive struggle for advancement, and the indifference he felt the officers showed to the junior men. Next, his fiancée broke up with him, and at her parents’ insistence, moved to Switzerland to go to school. Weinmann decided to desert from the Navy that he was coming to hate, and to follow his fiancée to Europe hoping she would take him back. He carefully planned his escape and used his computer skills to leave with saleable assets. Stealing a laptop computer, he downloaded files from classified databases onto CDs he thought would be saleable, and he stored other classified files on external disk drives and memory cards. He took his life savings of $7,000 and deserted. Weinmann left in July 2005 and flew to Vienna, Austria, where he lived for the next 8 months. Knocking about the city, mocked by acquaintances with whom he shared his amateurish spy plans, eventually he entered the Russian Embassy in Vienna and handed over his four classified manuals for the Tomahawk cruise missile system to the duty officer, who assured Weinmann that he would be back in touch with him.
When he realized he had given away his only resource and gotten nothing for it, Weinmann decided to return to the United States, fly from there to Russia, and defect (McGlone, 2006). Since his name appeared on a deserter’s list, he was arrested at the Dallas Ft. Worth, Texas, airport on March 26, 2006. At his court martial, he pled guilty in a plea bargain to desertion, espionage charges including failure to secure classified information, making electronic copies of classified information, and communicating classified information to a person not entitled to receive it, as well as larceny for stealing and destroying the laptop. Two other espionage charges relating to attempts he made to sell classified information in Bahrain (before he deserted his sub) and Mexico City, Mexico (on his way back to the United States), were dropped in the agreement. Weinmann was sentenced to 12 years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, and forfeiture of all pay and benefits. He would be eligible for parole in 4 years (Amos, 2006b). In the judgment of an examining psychiatrist, Weinmann was “immature, impulsive, and impatient,” unable to respond to life’s downturns with resilience, and under the impression that he did not have to follow rules (Amos, 2006a).

The whole report is available here. Some key excerpts:

If You Are A Spy These Days, You Are Probably Old and Married

Most espionage by Americans is committed by men, but there have also been
several women in each of the three cohorts studied in this report. Before 1990, most spies were white, while since 1990 less than half have been white. Since 1990 American spies have been far older than earlier cohorts: 83% were 30 years or older, and 46% were more than 40. It appears there has been a “graying” of the American spy in the recent past. Recent spies have had more years of schooling and held more advanced degrees than earlier cohorts. Recent spies are twice as likely to be married as single, and have been predominantly heterosexual.

You Probably Don’t Wear A Suit or Have a Badge

During the two Cold War periods, equal numbers of civilians and members of the military engaged in espionage, while since 1990, 67% of spies have been civilians and only 33% have been members of the uniformed military. More individuals with jobs not typically associated with espionage, including a boat pilot, housewives, a truck driver, and two translators, have recently engaged in espionage. Since 1990, more persons have held Secret-level access, and fewer persons have held Top Secret access compared to the two Cold War periods. The proportion of those individuals who held no security clearance has increased steadily over time: from 20% before 1980, to 28% during the 1980s, to 37% since 1990.

You Are Poorer, Though Possibly More Principled:

Since 1990, American spies have been poorly paid. The proportion of those who received no payment at all increased from 34% before 1980, to 59% during the 1980s, and to 81% since 1990. Two factors seem responsible for this striking trend: during the 1980s, more spies were intercepted before they were paid, while since 1990 more spies have acted from divided loyalties and have refused payment.

You Do it For the Cheap Thrills. And/Or You Are Disgruntled.

The third most common motive for Americans to commit espionage is
disgruntlement. The proportion of Americans whose spying was prompted from disgruntlement was 16% in the early period, dropping to 6% in the 1980s, and rising again to 22% in the recent period. Smaller percentages of American spies held four other typical motives for espionage: ingratiation, coercion, thrills, and recognition or ego.

You Just Say No

From 15% of spies between 1947 and 1970 known to have used misused drugs or used illegal drugs, the proportion jumped to 41% during the 1980s when the spy population shifted to younger, lowranking military men. Since 1990, only one of the 37 individuals is known from open sources to have used illegal drugs, Alcohol Abuse and Gambling. From a high of 30% between 1947 and 1979, the proportion of those known to be suffering from alcohol abuse declined to 24% during the 1980s, and to only 8% since 1990. Gambling addiction among American spies also declined over time to no instances in the group that began their espionage since 1990.

In sum, being a spy is a lot like being a graduate student or a freelancer: you’re poor, older than you should be, disgruntled and underpaid. Plus, you’re bored and boring.

The More You Know.



Money Spirals

Tim Geithner’s explanation of the financial crisis and the plan—grimly called TARP II, as if the first one (which is flimsy-sounding enough) blew off when all the money got blasted away in a funnel-cloud—is less patronizing than those I’ve railed against in the past. And it’s discomfiting:

The Brits Explain the Subprime Mortgage Crisis

John Bird and John Fortune: incisive, weak-chinned and devastating: