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On Tuesday, February 28th of 2023, the Michael Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security at George Mason University’s Schar School of Public Policy and Government hosted Counter Intelligence Today. The panel for the event featured David Priess, the Chief Operating Officer and Publisher of Lawfare, as the moderator; Mirriam-Grace MacIntyre, Executive Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI); and Alan Kohler, Assistant Director of the Counterintelligence Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The event opened with Macintyre explaining the role of NCSC is to lead the counterintelligence community and coordinate activities to achieve the overall objectives. Additionally, NCSC reaches out to the private sector, local government, and independent actors whom foreign intelligence agencies may be targeting.

Kohler explained that a growing role for the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division is to protect the secrets of the private sector and academia from foreign intelligence. “The real secrets adversaries want are not U.S. classified secrets, and it’s not what I have in my safe; it’s what’s in the heads of our engineers, scientists, intellectuals, and in their hard drives….” The Counterintelligence Division works to be transparent with private industry and academia about the threats foreign intelligence poses to them and is learning how to balance transparency with the secrecy of the threat.

The panel also addressed the threat China’s intelligence agencies pose to U.S. national security and the role of counterintelligence in thwarting their activities. China seeks to outpace U.S. intelligence by marshaling resources to develop its own intelligence capacity. As Chinese intelligence is targeting talent and technology, NCSC and the FBI Counterintelligence Division work with government agencies not traditionally involved in counterintelligence, private industry, and individuals to prevent Chinese intelligence officers from stealing information. MacIntyre also stated, “We have seen how China uses these relationships with state officials as an effort to shape U.S. policy….” The panel agreed that not all interactions with China should be viewed with suspicion, but state and local officials should be vigilant against espionage.

The panel closed out with a discussion on how students at GMU could join counterintelligence. Organizations like NCSC or the Counterintelligence Division recommend that those who are good writers, knowledgeable or curious about foreign threats, and strong communicators apply. These skills are imperative to the mission of counterintelligence.