Gates is not the only one to flirt with the idea of economic intelligence as the major CIA mission in the post‐Cold War era. In the summer of 1992 the Senate Select Intelligence Committee met with a group of top American corporate executives and intelligence experts to discuss whether U.S. intelligence agencies should share information with American businesses to help give them an advantage in an increasingly competitive global market. Although opinion was divided on the wisdom of such a strategy–and the lengths to which the CIA should go to obtain and disseminate information if it did undertake that mission–there was considerable enthusiasm for general economic espionage. Most participants embraced the logic expressed earlier by former CIA director Stansfield Turner, who told the committee that economics “is a primary area of intelligence in the 1990s.” He asked rhetorically, “If we spy for military security, why shouldn’t we spy for economic security?” Sen. John Danforth (R‐Mo.) echoed those sentiments, contending, “Economic intelligence is going to be increasingly important to our country.”
The premise of Turner, Danforth, and others appears to be that international economic competition inherently poses a national security threat. Such an unwarranted assumption betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of economics and will distract U.S. intelligence agencies from their proper function: gathering information on genuine security threats. It could also lead to an unhealthy and potentially corrupt relationship between those agencies and American corporations. Finally, it has the potential to poison relations with other democratic capitalist countries.