How to Recruit an Agent
From the CIA's Historical Recruitment Strategies to Its Impact on National Security.
The nondescript office building at 6551 Loisdales Court in Springfield, Virginia, seems an unlikely place for the likes of James Bond. Its small vertical windows and unremarkable design, with a lobby featuring modest slate-blue carpet and plain blond wood doors, betray no hint of intrigue. This building, known as the Spring Mall Building, epitomizes discretion and unobtrusiveness, a key feature considering its role. Here, the CIA and FBI once managed a significant operation: recruiting the first KGB officer from the Soviet embassy in Washington.
The CIA, according to its charter, is restricted from exercising law enforcement or internal security functions within the United States. However, this doesn't preclude its operations on American soil. The CIA needs a U.S. base for headquarters and training. Its charter doesn't explicitly prohibit domestic intelligence gathering, as long as the focus is on foreign targets. This directive was further clarified in Executive Order 12333, signed by President Reagan on December 4, 1981. The order allows the CIA to conduct operations within the U.S. for significant foreign intelligence collection, provided it doesn't involve spying on American citizens' domestic activities—a job that was conveniently outsourced to the NSA.
The CIA has detailed internal guidelines, many of which are confidential, that clarify its operational procedures. These regulations mandate that if a CIA officer plans to recruit a U.S. citizen or seek assistance from an American company, the officer is required to disclose their affiliation with the CIA.
Historically, the CIA has engaged in domestic operations through a section formerly known as the Foreign Resources Division within the Directorate of Operations. This division focused on recruiting foreign nationals visiting the U.S., such as diplomats from other countries or visiting scientists. A significant portion of these recruits, who eventually become CIA agents or informants, are military personnel trained in the U.S. Upon returning to their home countries, they continue to serve the CIA. Additionally, while in the U.S., they might provide intelligence on foreign interests, such as activities within the Chinese embassy in Washington.
The existence of the Foreign Resources Division, now restructured as a branch within the Domestic Resources Division, is a highly kept secret. Media coverage typically refers to the CIA's domestic activities in the context of what was once the National Collection Division, now part of the Domestic Resources Division. This division, also under the Directorate of Operations, operates transparently by requesting Americans who travel abroad to report their observations upon return. For instance, during the Gulf War, this domestic collection unit acquired plans of Iraqi targets from American and other international business figures involved in their construction.
The National Collection Branch and the Foreign Resources Branch of the CIA operate separate offices in major U.S. cities, each functioning under commercial cover, meaning they pose as private businesses. For instance, in the 1980s, the Foreign Resources office serving the Washington area was disguised as a consulting firm located in the Air Rights Building in Bethesda, Maryland, a structure notable for its brown-tinted glass facade. There, the station chief, deputy chief, and a communicator, along with three other offices targeting individuals from the Soviet bloc, East Asia, and the Third World, conducted their operations. These offices, too, masqueraded as national companies, even recruiting a lawyer to serve as a nominal head.
In the Washington office, each CIA officer operated under three different identities: one as a businessman, another as a regular government employee, and a third as a CIA official. For security reasons, meetings with contacts were never held in the office but arranged in social settings, often over lunch.
Apart from Washington, the CIA has Foreign Resources (FR) stations, previously known as bases, in cities like Boston, New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle. The largest stations are in Washington, with about thirty officers, and New York, with nearly forty.
The Domestic Resources Branch, larger and more extensive than its counterpart, operates more openly under commercial cover. Its staff, openly identifying as CIA officers, solicits information from American businesspeople and academics based on their international travels.
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