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Spy Wars: In the war on terrorism, intelligence may be our best weapon. America's spies are on the case. (News Special).

Where is Osama bin Laden hiding? What are terrorists to each other saying about future plot against the U.S.? Which countries are harboring terrorists?

To get the answers to such crucial questions, the U.S. relies on its intelligence agencies In other words, we spy.

Throughout u.s. history, skies have helped the country survive. During the Revolutionary War, American spies discovered secret British plans and fooled the British about what General Washington was up to.

Washington's spies were a small group of individuals like Nathan Hale (see sidebar, p. 8). Today, U.S. spy agencies have thousands of secret agents, computer scientists, lawyers, mathematicians and other professionals working together. But the basic job hasn't changed: Gathering secret information about America's enemies so that our leaders can make informed decisions

U.S. spies work for three main agencies.

1. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) collects information around the world about threats to the U.S.

2. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigates crimes and collects intelligence inside the U.S.

3. The National Security Agency (NSA) uses high-tech methods to photograph and eavesdrop on enemies around the world.

Each agency has put its people on high alert since September 11. Their orders: Make sure we're not caught by surprise again; catch the people who planned the attacks; and provide intelligence to U.S. troops overseas.

While some spies still work undercover, most today are as likely to sit behind a computer monitor. "Spies don't go around killing other spies," says historian H. Keith Melton. "Real spies are more like professors you'd meet at a college--the brightest people around."

A Call for Help

U.S. intelligence agencies have been blamed for not learning about the September 11 attacks in time to stop them. Critics say that in recent years, the agencies have spent too much money on expensive technology instead of hiring spies to work in foreign countries.

The agencies say they're working to correct their mistakes. Both the FBI and CIA are hiring more people who can translate information gathered in the Middle East and Afghanistan into English. The CIA is bringing retired agents back to work. The FBI is asking Americans to call in tips if they spot suspicious activity.

Still, the war on terrorism is unlike any challenge the U.S. has ever faced. The enemies are hiding in many countries around the world.

But U.S. spy agencies are "absolutely up to the challenge," says former CIA officer Eugene Poteat. The agencies "hire only the best," he says. "The talent is there."

A New Challenge

Agents who do the kind of spying you see in the movies work for the CIA's clandestine (secret) service. During the Cold War, when America's main rival was the Soviet Union, these spies would learn to speak Russian and then work undercover in other countries. They tried to turn Soviet officials into assets-people willing to sell secret information.

It wasn't easy, but the strategy was clear. "You knew who the enemy was, you knew where he was, and you knew how to work against him," Poteat says.

But in the war against terrorism, the rules have changed. "The enemy is not necessarily associated with a single country. He crosses borders. You don't always know where he is," says Poteat.

It's harder to get information about the terrorists. Because their cells (groups) are usually small and often made up of people who have known each other for many years, they're hard to crack.

U.S. spies sometimes have to work with people who have criminal records. That's because they may be the only people with information about terrorists, says CIA spokesman Tom Crispell. "Those individuals are not going to be upstanding citizens," Crispell admits. "To get information about bad people, sometimes you have to deal with bad people."

The agency faces other challenges. The CIA needs more agents who speak Arabic and regional languages. These agents are needed both overseas and back at headquarters, to make sense of all the intercepted phone calls, e-mails, faxes, and tape recordings.

The U.S. has the most advanced spy technology in the world. NSA satellite cameras, for example, can photograph a bicycle from 200 miles up in space. NSA cryptologists (experts in secret code) can crack almost any code an enemy might use. They can also create unbreakable codes to protect U.S. communications.

Intelligence experts believe that America's spies are up to the challenge of the new war. "The U.S. has the best intelligence services in the world," says historian Melton. "When we give them our support, they do a magnificent job."

Because spies work in secret, the public rarely knows when their missions succeed. As President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), once said, "Your successes are unheralded and your failures trumpeted."

But when spies succeed, plots are stopped and lives are saved. For example, a potentially deadly bombing attack on the U.S. embassy in Paris was foiled by international intelligence groups soon after September 11. So was an earlier plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport during millennium celebrations in 2000.

"The American people will never know how many disasters ha e been avoided in the last 10 year," says Melton, "but there have been numerous ones."

RELATED ARTICLE: A Truth Stranger Than Fiction

James Bond has nothing on real-life spies

This mini microphone is hidden inside a belt buckle. A wire runs along the back of the belt and connects to a tiny tape recorder hidden under the spy's clothes.

This tiny camera can be hidden in a cut-out section of a book. You take pictures by pressing down on the cover. Spies have such hidden cameras in cigarette packs, watches, and umbrellas.

Spy History

Spies have helped defend the U.S. since the Revolutionary War.

In 1776, British troops entered the New York area, and General George Washington needed a spy to cross enemy lines. So 21-year-old Nathan Hale, a Continental Army. captain, volunteered. Dressed as a Dutch schoolmaster, Hale fooled the British--for a while.

He was later captured--and hanged as a spy. Hale's famous last words: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

During World War II, U.S. troops were losing badly to the Japanese in the Pacific islands. U.S. officials asked members of the Navajo tribe to serve as "code-talkers." The Navajo sent secret messages to US. troops about enemy locations.

The code, based on the Navajo language, helped the U.S. defeat Japan. It remains the only wartime code never to be cracked by the enemy.

In 1962, photos taken from "U2" spy planes confirmed disturbing intelligence reports: The Soviet Union was placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. After a tense war of words, the Soviets removed the missiles.
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Author:Drevitch, Gary
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 10, 2001
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