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News | Oct. 6, 2014

George Washington knew the importance of counterintelligence

By Office of Corporate Communications

On Oct. 5, 1775, Gen. George Washington informed the president of the Continental Congress, John Jay, that he was in possession of an incriminating letter from Dr. Benjamin Church, the surgeon general of the Continental Army, to Lt. Gen. Sir Thomas Gage, commander of British forces in North America. The coded letter revealed that Church had been spying for the British since 1772.   

Church was subsequently charged with treason, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. At the time there was no civilian espionage act and, in the view of Washington and other American leaders, military law did not provide for punishment severe enough to act as a deterrent. In November of that same year, the Continental Congress added the death penalty for espionage to the Articles of War. The penalty could not be applied retroactively and Church remained in jail, escaping the gallows.  

Today, the Defense Intelligence Agency serves as the functional manager for the Department of Defense’s counterintelligence enterprise to identify and neutralize foreign intelligence threats. DIA conducts internal investigative activities designed to identify, disrupt and defeat intelligence threats to DIA; defensive activities to increase the counterintelligence posture of DIA; and counterintelligence collection in cyberspace and offensive operations. DIA also performs strategic counterintelligence analysis to synchronize and synthesize information collected from all threat streams in order to enable the enterprise to conduct more comprehensive CI activities.