There are currently more foreign intelligence operatives in the United States than at any point in the country’s history, the former head of the House Intelligence Committee claimed on Wednesday.
“There are more spies in the United States today from foreign nation states that at any time in our history — including the Cold War,” former Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said in an address at the Heritage Foundation.
When asked for the source of his claim, Rogers appeared to credit American intelligence agencies.
“That’s what the intelligence business is designed to do, is determine that we have individuals here who are engaged in espionage activities,” he said.
“It’s massive, it’s huge. And the numbers are overwhelming.”
Rogers’s keynote address examined the role of American intelligence agencies in an era of heightened scrutiny following leaks from Edward Snowden and others.
Rogers claimed that the proliferation of foreign intelligence operatives in the U.S. ought to serve as a warning to privacy and civil liberties advocates who have called for the Obama administration to rein in federal spying powers.
“I’m not sure we have adjusted, quite correctly, to the way we are going to respond to those activities here in the United States.”
In 2012, the former head of the CIA’s secretive National Resources Division made a similar claim to CBS News. China, in particular, Hank Crumpton said, had “very aggressive” spying efforts focused on the U.S.
On Wednesday, Rogers attempted to distinguish China’s spying efforts from those of Russia, another long-term U.S. adversary.
Russia tends to send professional intelligence officers to scout the U.S., he claimed, while China instead turns to people who are “not necessarily trained intelligence agents and officers.”
Those Chinese agents are “sent for a very specific goal of stealing a very specific piece of intellectual property,” he added, which makes them harder to detect.
Rogers retired from Congress last year.