You May be a Target of Espionage

As a Traveler, Why Should You Be Concerned About Espionage?

First, your employment with a cleared defense contractor (CDC) gives you actual and/or potential access to information of value to foreign governments. Foreign intelligence services will perceive you this way, whether you agree or not.

Second, when you travel, you are most vulnerable to the devices of a foreign intelligence service. You are in their country. They control it. Even in countries with a long democratic tradition, the local intelligence/security services can control much of your environment – it is to their benefit.

Such As?

Intelligence Services may:

  • Surveil your movements
  • Surreptitiously enter your hotel room or other quarters at will
  • Tap your telephone and fax machine
  • Arrange audio and video coverage of your hotel room, conference room, dining facilities, and in some cases, local restaurants
  • Monitor your conversations and behavior through interpreters and tour guides
  • "Bug" selected seats of national airlines
  • Download information from your laptop computer or other electronic information devices


These intrusions can be as extensive as the foreign intelligence service’s determination to learn about you while you are in their country.

Who is Most Likely to Be Targeted?

Some factors that increase the possibility that you, or any other person, will be targeted and assessed include:

  • Your access to information, people, or places of active intelligence interest
  • Overseas locations where foreign intelligence operatives can gain access to you on the home turf
  • Work in a position or geographic location in the U.S. where it is easy for foreign nationals to gain access to you
  • Ethnic, racial, or religious background that may attract the attention of a foreign intelligence operative


It is important to note that all the above factors that increase the chances of a person selected or initial targeting and assessment are circumstances you have little or no control over.

Most foreign contacts are perfectly legitimate and well meaning. Your ability to recognize the few who are not will help you avoid problems. It will also help your security officer help others avoid problems.

Pre-travel briefings inform individuals about what to guard against and what to expect when travelling to sensitive foreign countries. They are important for your personal safety as well as the safety of the information you carry. The Research Security Compliance Office (RSCO) can provide you with helpful tips for making sure that you are keeping yourself safe and protecting the information you hold.

The post-travel debriefing allows security personnel to learn from your experiences while on travel, and use that information to enhance the effectiveness of future pre-briefings. Because U.S. citizens are often targeted by foreign intelligence services, it is necessary for you to be aware of the tactics used to obtain information. You are encouraged to talk to your FSO about the details of any unusual events encountered while on foreign travel.

As an employee of a CDC, your actions matter. Your attention to counterintelligence concerns and your proactive approach in sharing information with your FSO will determine how well your interests, and our national security, are protected. The more information you have regarding elicitation methods and recruitment precautions the better protected you are against possible foreign intelligence threats.

What are the methods used by foreign intelligence services to obtain information from US travelers?

  • Elicitation: An effort in which a seemingly normal conversation is contrived to extract information about individuals, their work, and their colleagues.
  • Eavesdropping: Gathering information in social environments by listening in on private conversations.
  • Bag Operations: Efforts to steal, photograph, or photocopy documents, magnetic media, laptop computers. This could occur in your hotel room, in an airport, in a conference room, or in any other situation where the opportunity presents itself and your materials are vulnerable.
  • Electronic Interception: Use of devices to electronically monitor an individual’s use of modern telecommunications, office, hotel, portable telephones, faxes and computers.
  • Technical Eavesdropping: Use of audio and visual devices, usually concealed in hotel rooms, restaurants, offices, cars, airplanes.

Be Aware of the Following Recruitment Cycle Frequently Used by Foreign Intelligence Services

Spotting -Assessment –Recruitment- Handling -Termination

  • Spotting: Stage of identifying potential intelligence targets.
  • Assessment: Learning as much as possible about the targeted individual.
  • Recruitment: Choosing a method of recruiting the individual for information, usually using a motivator of some kind such as money, ideology, compromise, or ego.
  • Handling: Recruited target begins to provide the intelligence service with classified/sensitive information.
  • Termination: When espionage activities come to an end.

What else should I be aware of while traveling

Here are some additional tips to help you stay safe and keep your information secure while traveling.

  • Maintain control of sensitive documents or equipment at all times.
  • Do not leave sensitive materials in hotel rooms or hotel safes.
  • Limit sensitive discussions.
  • If taking an unclassified computer to a foreign country, ensure there is no sensitive, classified, or proprietary information stored on the computer.


Contact your FSO for additional information and literature about elicitation and the recruitment cycle, and to learn how you can protect yourself and the information you carry while on foreign travel.

We urge you to visit the US State Department website, to obtain contact information for the US Embassy at your destination; as well as emergency contact information and locations such as law enforcement and medical facilities. You can also read the latest “Country Specific” travel warnings and the latest news regarding your country of destination.

Remember that by adhering to these rules and security tips, you will be protecting not only yourself but also the reputation of Auburn University, and ensuring our national security.