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When the Pentagon announces a contract for training in “hostile environment tradecraft,” it means training soldiers how to spy in dangerous places and not get caught.
In March, the Army made a little-noticed announcement: It would soon offer a contract for training along guidelines “taught by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The contract description was as intriguing as it was unusual. Four soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment were going to take a six-week, privately run course in defensive counterintelligence skills — how to avoid being detected — and how to “conduct operation acts in a hostile CI [counterintelligence] or Counter Terrorist (CT) threat environment.”
They would learn “the skills necessary to confidently determine their surveillance status,” which means they would be taught to spot a tail.
Although the recent contract was not fulfilled due to the budget crunch, according to a spokesman from the 75th Ranger Regiment, the language of the announcement may provide a glimpse into the military’s increasing shift into the intelligence field, with soldiers on the ground recruiting foreign agents, doing what used to be the chief purview of the CIA.
This is espionage the old-fashioned way. The Defense Intelligence Agency is reportedly planning to send hundreds more spies abroad in coming years under the new Defense Clandestine Service.
The Ranger spokesman, Lt. Col. Brian DeSantis, said that the training would have included reconnaissance, “especially in urban environments tied to our targeting of high-value insurgent leadership.”
He added that the training would have also focused on identifying Taliban infiltrators and preventing “green-on-blue” attacks by Afghan troops.
A former intelligence officer, asked about the contract language, said one difficulty is that undercover work isn’t like normal soldiering. A high-and-tight haircut — which fits in at Fort Bragg, N.C. — may not work in a foreign capital. To professional intelligence agents used to covertly setting up meetings with foreign spies, said the former officer, military personnel can “look like clowns, and they act like clowns.”
Successful surveillance, as John le Carré’s hero puts it in the classic “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” is “the gentle art of doing damn all convincingly.” A spit-and-polish Army officer’s military posture may be a drawback in the street.
“It’s kind of hard to teach it,” the former intelligence officer said. “You kind of have to do it.”
The contract the Army announced was with a firm called Patriot Defense Group, and was to teach the soldiers to “manipulate offensive Counter Intelligence (CI) measures,” among other skills. A contract database indicates the firm has previously provided training to the Army.
In simple language, they were to be taught to recognize when they were being followed. It’s not an easy thing when operating in a foreign city, where an adversary’s foreign intelligence service can muster an army of surveillance experts to see where an undercover officer is meeting his source.
The company did not return calls.