Rep. Pete Hoekstra on the Russian Spy Charges

Rep. Pete Hoekstra on the Russian Spy Charges

By The Situation Room - June 30, 2010

SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Joining me is Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan. He is the ranking member on the intelligence committee and CNN national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She was homeland security adviser to President Bush and worked in the justice department during the Clinton administration. First Fran, I want to start off with you. These are alleged operatives. They were married couples. They had kids. They lived in the suburbs and blended into the American society beautifully, and does it surprise you at how entrenched they were in American culture?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Not at all, Suzanne. In fact, it is the really good trade craft that you want. You want a long background and legend to people so that if anybody digs in or asking questions, they can have references that they can really survive sort of the base scrutiny that you go through in everyday life, so and the Russians are very good at this. Obviously, we have seen from statements from Vladimir Putin, he is very angry, but I said to someone that he is angry they got caught, because he didn't realize we were that good. This is a long-term investigation and the FBI deserves a good deal of credit for uncovering them. These are not easy cases.

MALVEAUX: But Fran, did they get useful information or are they basically low-hanging fruit?

TOWNSEND: Well, it is funny, Suzanne, there is a big investment in these clandestine covert agents, but what you do is you look for them to report over many decades. I mean it is a long-term investment and a lot of times they are gathering open source information that is not easily available. It's not as traceable if they gather it here. They are making contacts. They want to meet influential people and they are trying to assess people for recruitment over a long period of time. So I think it is a pretty important operation for them.

MALVEAUX: Well, Congressman, I want you to weigh in on this. How concerned are you that this is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spying inside of the United States?

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R)-MICH., INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I don't worry about that whether it is the tip of the iceberg or not. I know it's the tip of the iceberg. Not only are the Russians involved in this, but the Iranians are involved in these types of activities. The Chinese are very involved in these types of activities. We just had a successful prosecution earlier this year of a Chinese sleeper, and Fran is absolutely right, these countries have invested, you know, significant amounts of time and energy and personnel to get people planted here today so that maybe in five or ten or 15 years, they only need one of these people to pay off and get an important penetration, and provide them with real significant and valuable information. This is the tip of the iceberg. There is a lot more of this going on.

MALVEAUX: Who are the most dangerous spies? Congressman, you mentioned the Chinese and the Iranians and either one of you jump in here. Do we know who is the most dangerous when it comes to getting our state secrets?

TOWNSEND: Well, go ahead, Congressman.

HOEKSTRA: Well, okay, from my perspective, I think both the Russians and the Chinese are very, very aggressive. They are very good. They are not only targeting military and intelligence areas, but they are also targeting our research universities and there is cases where we are well aware of that they have stolen our secrets and stolen our information and they have patented it before we have ever known that they have taken it.

TOWNSEND: That is right. I agree completely with the Congressman and the other thing I would mention that they target is our commercial, our technology. You know, our American companies invest a lot of money in R&D and we know that the Chinese and the Russians are very aggressive about targeting what in this country is that they can get through commercial relationships or on open sources, but what is restricted from transfer outside of the country, and so that is another one of the benefits that these sleepers can establish commercial relationships that really steal our intellectual property.

MALVEAUX: And Fran, covering President Bush, and we know that the focus has been on fighting terrorism, and going after the terrorists and trying to unveil these plots, if you will. How much of the resources that we have are going into the fighting terrorism, disrupting the plots as opposed to going after the spies who are gathering information year after year after year? And do they compete with each other?

TOWNSEND: Well, there is always, you know, in a world of unlimited resources, there is always some prioritization, but under President Bush we established the counterintelligence center. It is now headed by a former deputy director of the FBI Bear Bryant. There is a counterintelligence division at the FBI and this is tremendous priority. I can remember when the Bush administration came in briefing then Attorney General Ashcroft about that Robert Hanson case. There is a lot of expertise, a lot of depth and a lot of resources are put against this, because it is a very serious threat.

MALVEAUX: Congressman, do you get a sense of how many people there are actually in the United States who are involved in spying and is that the most dangerous type of person who is collecting information or is it the person in their basement who is trying to hack into a computer?

HOEKSTRA: Well, I think that what you have got in a free society, we are a target-rich environment. When you take a look at the long list or types of, you know, counterintelligence activities, espionage or threats into the United States, I think that you're talking in the hundreds of people that are doing this, people from Russia and China and we are also worried now about as you said the cyber attacks which can happen from the United States or can really happen from anyplace in the world and we can't identify exactly where those threats are coming from. You know, we may also have the same kind of sleeper cells here from Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and Hamas who are not here to steal intelligence, but are here to attack the United States some day. As Fran said, there is a robust activity with the FBI, the intelligence community going after these types of threats at the same time that we are trying to identify the military threat. We just need to make sure that all of the folks involved in this are working together and I think that they are.

MALVEAUX: All right. Congressman Hoekstra, and Fran Townsend, we'll leave it there. Thank you very much.

HOEKSTRA: Thank you.


The Situation Room

Author Archive

Follow Real Clear Politics

Latest On Twitter