How To Spot A Spook

This article first appeared in the November 1974 issue of Washington Monthly

Both the Soviet and American intelligence establishments seem to share the obsession that the other side is always trying to bug them. Since the other side is, in fact, usually trying, our technicians and their technicians are constantly sweeping military installations and embassies to make sure no enemy, real or imagined, has succeeded. One night about ten years ago, a State Department security officer, prowling through the American embassy in Santiago, Chile, in search of Communist microphones, found a listening device carefully hidden in the office of a senior “political officer.” The security man, along with everyone else in the embassy, knew that this particular “political officer” was actually the Central Intelligence Agency’s “Station Chief,” or principal operative in Chile. Bugging his office would have indeed been a major coup for the opposition. Triumphantly. the security man ripped the microphone out of the wall – only to discover later that it had been installed hy the CIA station chief himself.

The reason the CIA office was located in the embassy – as it is in most of the other countries in the world – is that by presidential order the State Department is responsible for hiding and housing the CIA. Like the intelligence services of most other countries, the CIA has been unwilling to set up foreign offices under its own name. So American embassies – and, less frequently. military bases – provide the needed cover. State confers respectability on the Agency’s operatives, dressing them up with the same titles and calling cards that give legitimate diplomats entree into foreign government circles. Protected by diplomatic immunity, the operatives recruit local officials as CIA agents to supply secret intelligence and, especially in the Third World, to help in the Agency’s manipulation of a country’s internal affairs.

The CIA moves its men off the diplomatic lists only in Germany, Japan, and other countries where large numbers of American soldiers are stationed. In those countries, the CIA’s command post is still in the U.S. Embassy, but most of the CIA personnel are under military cover. With nearly 500,000 U.S. troops scattered around the world, the CIA “units” buried among them do not attract undue attention...


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