Former CIA Director And Defense Secretary Says CIA Tried, But Failed, To Do Economic Espionage

from the this-doesn't-make-the-us-look-any-better dept

US intelligence officials still seem to think that there’s some big distinction between the kind of intelligence work the US does versus the kind that other countries do. US officials time and time again claim that they don’t do “economic espionage” — even though it’s pretty clear that they do it, just through indirect means (i.e., while they don’t hand trade secrets over to companies, they’re certainly using economic information to impact policy and trade discussions).

Former Defense Secretary and CIA boss Robert Gates continued this sort of tone deaf line of thinking from US intelligence defenders by claiming that French intelligence downloads the contents of laptops from businessmen visiting Paris:

“There are probably a dozen or 15 countries that steal our technology in this way,” Gates said in an interview the Council on Foreign Relations posted online Thursday. “In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French — and they’ve been doing it a long time.”

Gates, who was also director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the first Bush administration, said that when he talks to business audiences, he asks, “How many of you go to Paris on business?’ Hands go up. ‘How many of you take your laptops?’ Hands go up. ‘How many of you take your laptops to dinner?’ Not very many hands.”

“For years,” Gates said, “French intelligence services have been breaking into the hotel rooms of American businessmen and surreptitiously downloading their laptops, if they felt those laptops had technological information or competitive information that would be useful for French companies. France has been a mercantilist country — the government and business have operated hand in hand — since the time of Louis XIV.”

Throwing everyone else under the bus does nothing to make the US and the NSA’s activities any better, and it’s bizarre that intelligence officials seem to think they have the moral upper hand here. Almost no one sees it that way. They just look petty.

Even more bizarre: for all of Gates’ talk about how the US doesn’t do economic espionage… he then basically admits that he tried to do exactly that and failed:

But despite his attempt to work with, in his words, five or six commerce secretaries, “I never could get one of them interested in being the facilitator of getting that kind of CIA information to American companies. So this is something we don’t do.”

Uh… he says “this is something we don’t do” while admitting that he tried to do exactly that. He was just stymied by whoever was Commerce Secretary. If a more… permissive Commerce Secretary were in the job, it would be a very different story, now wouldn’t it? In fact, this is a pretty major admission. For all the talk of “we don’t do that,” what Gates really means is “we tried to do economic espionage, and we would do economic espionage, if we could.”

Suddenly, the moral high road doesn’t look so high.

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Comments on “Former CIA Director And Defense Secretary Says CIA Tried, But Failed, To Do Economic Espionage”

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TheResidentSkeptic says:

call me a skeptic, but..

.. there is no way that I believe CBP/DHS keeps seized laptops from border (+/- 100 miles) searches and doesn’t download all the data and share it with their friends in low places…

They tried and failed to SHARE it, maybe – but there’s a collection somewhere just waiting to be shared should anyone express interest in it..

Anonymous Coward says:

“we tried to do economic espionage, and we would do economic espionage, if we could.”

But we can’t because it wasn’t allowed by the Commerce Secretary. This is an example of the system working.

But then again, saying, “I never could get one of them interested in being the facilitator of getting that kind of CIA information to American companies”, implies that the CIA has the info, they’re just not allowed to share it with businesses.

Either way, it’s still better than the French, assuming they do indeed break into hotel rooms and copy laptop disks to steal trade secrets.

Anonymous Coward says:

“?I never could get one of them interested in being the facilitator of getting that kind of CIA information to American companies”

So the CIA have the information but the Commerce Secretary’s weren’t interested? So “we do the espionage bit but we’re too stupid to do the economic bit”. Okay, if you say so.

“downloading their laptops”

What IS IT with the peculiar language political animals use? And Hollywood, TV etc. What is “downloading a laptop”? It makes no grammatical sense. Do humans really speak like that? The non-tech people I hear never say it. It’s like watching your flabby-bellied dad trying to hang with the surfer dudes. Somebody tell him he’s doin’ it wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

The truth is that stealing trade secrets is probably a big reason its moribund economy hasn’t completely tanked- given their 32 hour work weeks and two months of vacations.

I was amazed to hear that the French are actually recognized as doing anything better than another country.

Given that most of the world’s innovation takes place within our borders, I don’t see the same type of operation paying much of a dividend when conducted by the US intel community.

Anonymous Coward says:

The attempted cover ups of all the government is doing in regards to spying makes no one believe what it says it does or doesn’t do. The creditability has been ruined by the NSA and the Snowden revaluations.

You can count this as another collateral damage done by attempting to ignore the concerns of it’s citizens. The lies that have been told in attempting to deny and attempting to redefine the English language to make it permissible also kill any belief that when it issues public statements that they are what they appear to be. You can no longer believe what is heard coming from public officials as being truthful.

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