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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), May 27th, 2014 @ 8:22am

    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..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:00am

    Don't worry, NSA can do it much more easily.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:02am

    France has been a mercantilist country the government and business have operated hand in hand

    What does that make the USA, Fascist rather than mercantilist?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Michael, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:06am

    In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French

    So there are 15 (or so) countries doing this kind of thing and 13 of them have been outdone by the French? If you want to make someone look bad, let us know who those countries are.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Michael, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:08am

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

    Wait?! Are you saying there was someone with integrity in the US government?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:11am

    "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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:17am

    "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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:19am

    French intelligence services have been ... surreptitiously downloading their laptops


    Holy crap. The French have actually built functional Transporters. (The Star Trek kind, not the Jason Statham kind.)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:23am

    Re:

    You wouldn't download a car...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:32am

    The high ground

    "the moral high road doesn't look so high"

    On the contrary it looks very very high. It's just that NSA is looking up at it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:34am

    It is all probably data that has been shared with other people, therefore there is no expectation of privacy according to US legal opinion.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:36am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    Jay (profile), May 27th, 2014 @ 10:41am

    "No, officer, I am not a murderer, I just emptied this pistol in the direction of that person with every intent to kill them and missed with every shot."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:53am

    Re: The high ground

    Moral high roads are like unicorns... they don't exist. Interestingly, I have met several people that believe they have one though...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:56am

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), May 27th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    Re: Re: The high ground

    Of course they exist, unless you really believe that every person on Earth wallows in the same moral sewer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    PRMan, May 27th, 2014 @ 10:58am

    Re:

    Key word: was.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 11:04am

    Re:

    Well, either integrity, or desire not to be on the receiving end of the scandal when word got out.

    Though the second one is still impressive given that politicians tend to think things won't get out, and that they're immune to scandal.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 11:12am

    Re:

    It's actually grammatically sound, despite being nonsense.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    Re: Re:

    No, but I would shit in the CIA director's hat.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), May 27th, 2014 @ 2:25pm

    Re:

    "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.


    I would be more inclined to believe that if there were a description of which statute gives them the authority to do economic espionage.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), May 27th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Re:

    "This is an example of the system working."

    I disagree. At best, this is an example of a safety net working. If the system was working properly, the safety net would never actually get used.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Robert, May 27th, 2014 @ 3:20pm

    Re:

    This is where the Wikileaks are handy.

    "The US embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any Euroxpean Union country which opposed genetically modified (GM) crops, newly released WikiLeaks cables show."

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jan/03/wikileaks-us-eu-gm-crops

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 6:38pm

    Re:

    That's why I don't believe this story.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 27th, 2014 @ 8:32pm

    Re:

    Perhaps a "No way man, I invest in foreign stocks too!" thing. Upside of globalism I suppose.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Donglebert The Needlessly Unready, May 28th, 2014 @ 2:52am

    Re:

    It could be argued that the TTIP and similar trade agreements are extremely mercantilist. Removing trade barriers between the signed up nations has the effect of creating massive barriers to other countries.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    icon
    Seegras (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 8:14am

    Re: Re:

    Not only that. Instituting monopolies for the benefit of some countries corporations is as mercantilist as it gets.

    Yes, we're talking (a bit) about copyright and (totally) about patents.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re:

    "has the effect of creating massive barriers to other countries."

    Not to mention creating massive barriers within the countries that sign up.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    icon
    beltorak (profile), May 28th, 2014 @ 2:55pm

    Re: Re:

    And I wouldn't call it a safety net since that implies that we intentionally pick 'em too dumb to succeed. This is more like falling way off the high wire, missing the safety net, and accidentally landing in a large pile of hay.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
Advertisement
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Support Techdirt - Get Great Stuff!

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.