Countering Threats to the Defense Transportation System: A Counterintelligence Perspective

Jun 7, 2023 | Cybersecurity, Keynotes SFPC, Ports, Surface Force Projection 2023 Videos, Threats

Why is intelligence important? “Because we have two near peer adversaries. One currently that is actively pursuing ways to disrupt the transportation of US soldiers and our DOD equipment into Europe,” explained SFPC keynote Mr. Michael King, Counterintelligence Special Agent, US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM). “They have compromised carriers. They have looked and attempted to compromise other modes and modalities of moving equipment across this country.”

The US has spent close to two decades sharing information with and allowing the other near peer adversary to observe us. Economically, we cannot cut ties, so the question then becomes how to deter them. One method is ensuring the economic viability of the US in order to utilize financial pressure.

Private industry is key to the US’ ability to project forces. This creates greater challenges to securing US interests, especially when a foreign adversary uses their government influence over business to gain our information.

As an example, King shared that China is currently trying to adjust a law that mandates anyone in their country must turn over any electronic information or information stored there upon request. This means that if you visited China with your laptop which contained your proprietary information, you would need to hand that over to the Chinese government if requested or risk facing espionage charges. USTRANSCOM will help its partners find ways to increase their protection.

Social media is another avenue that adversaries can potentially exploit to spread misinformation or cause disruptions such as riots—which can affect the ability of transportation companies to move goods.

Companies may have had a counterintelligence (CI) special agent visit them and ask some very intrusive questions. While some people may hesitate to share intimate details of their company operations, technology, and finances, this cooperation is necessary for successful counterintelligence.

The reason this is so critical is very cut and dry: If nefarious actors are able to shut down transportation and logistics operations—or the US’ ability to project power—our service men in women out in the field will be in grave danger.

The US Counterintelligence Task Force has ways to combat cyber attacks from a nation-state actor or by those sponsored by a nation-state. “CI agents in the United States, including myself, are designed to stop the enemy foreign intelligent agents from interfering with our ability to do business every day,” said King. He added that the assistance provided by the US CI community is a free additional layer that companies can take advantage of.

Specific to DOD, the CI agent’s job is to maximize the department’s ability to project force. This requires two-way communication including issue identification, and in some cases, policy changes. Agents are looking to help businesses find the best solutions and services.

Addressing insider threats, King reminded the audience that whether someone is a crane operator, stevedore, port operator, or holds any other position, they have information and should know how to protect it. This further emphasized the fact that in counterintelligence communication is key and speaks to the truth behind the often-touted slogan, ‘see something, say something.’


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