COLLEGE STATION, Tex., March 5 -- The Bush administration has adopted a new counterintelligence strategy that calls for preemptive action against foreign intelligence services viewed as threats to national security, officials said Saturday.
The first national U.S. counterintelligence strategy, which President Bush approved on Tuesday, aims to combat intelligence services from countries hungry for U.S. military and nuclear secrets, such as China and Iran, both at home and abroad, counterintelligence officials said.
Officials at a counterintelligence conference at Texas A&M University described the strategy as an extension of the post-Sept. 11 foreign policy initiative known as the Bush doctrine, which calls for preemptive action against nations and extremist groups perceived as threats to the United States.
"The United States has become the number one target for the intelligence collection of other nations," said John Quattrocki, a senior U.S. counterintelligence official. "What we'd like to do with the counterintelligence program is what we've done with counterterrorism, which is take the fight to other guy's back yard and exploit and interdict where we can, and at home, interdict where we must."
The strategy is scheduled to be released to the public as an unclassified document in coming days.
Officials said the plan aims to protect U.S. intelligence and information systems from foreign agents, including al Qaeda, by integrating counterintelligence through the new Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive.
Counterintelligence efforts are currently dispersed across the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community.
"We have a great deal of bilateral cooperation between agencies. But we need strategically orchestrated operations directed against prioritized foreign intelligence threats," said national counterintelligence executive Michelle Van Cleave, who will oversee the plan.
Former intelligence officials described the strategy as an attempt to revitalize counterintelligence after years of neglect and demoralization after espionage cases involving CIA agent Aldrich H. Ames and FBI agent Robert P. Hanssen, who were both caught spying for the former Soviet Union.
"Today we are at war, and the potential harm to this country from intelligence losses is far more immediate," Van Cleave said.
The strategy marks a departure from a longstanding counterintelligence practice of waiting for foreign-sponsored agents to act against intelligence and law enforcement agencies before responding.
"Instead of being willing to take a punch and be damaged, we in fact take the skills of counterintelligence and . . . impose damage on other intelligence services," Quattrocki, a top aide to Van Cleave, said.
He declined to identify countries seen as potential targets. But other officials cited China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Libya as nations that have tried to collect U.S. secrets through spy techniques, including cyber espionage.