Your short course in Treason is a series of articles on how spies are caught, the prevalence of espionage, and why people spy.
It starts with a short piece on How Spies Are Caught. That comes first, as it is so important for anyone who may be considering espionage to understand that they WILL be caught. Perhaps not right away, but eventually. The statute of limitations does not apply to the crime of espionage. Anyone who commits this crime will have to be looking over their shoulder for the rest of their life.
The Insider Espionage Threat identifies four conditions that must exist before espionage occurs – opportunity to commit the crime; motive; ability to overcome inhibitions such as moral values, fear of being caught, and loyalty to employer or co-workers; and a trigger that sets the betrayal in motion. The article then analyzes how these pre-conditions for betrayal are increasing as a result of changes in social and economic conditions in the United States, and in our relations with the rest of the world.
Explosive growth in information technology is increasing exponentially the amount of information that can be collected and compromised by a single, well-placed spy. Insider Threat to Information Systems examines some of the unique security issues associated with computer professionals.
Exploring the Mind of the Spy discusses what psychologists have learned by interviewing and testing arrested and convicted American spies. Motivations for espionage are far more complex than commonly believed. Selling secrets is usually the last act of a long-simmering emotional crisis. In many cases, the symptoms of this crisis have been observable, identifiable, and even treatable before the damage was done. Typically, however, the potential significance of the "at-risk" behavior has not been recognized or reported at the time by coworkers or supervisors.
Espionage by the Numbers describes an unclassified database on all Americans arrested for espionage since the start of the Cold War. Based on media reports, trial records and unclassified official documents, the data base records information characteristics of the spies, characteristics of the espionage activity, and prevalence among the spies of several behaviors that are commonly associated with security risk.
How Spies Are Caught
Espionage is a high-risk criminal offense. The traitor must fear arrest for the rest of his or her life, as the statute of limitations does not apply to espionage. Former National Security Agency employee Robert Lipka was arrested in 1996 -- 30 years after he left NSA and 22 years after his last contact with Soviet intelligence.
There are four principal ways by which spies are detected:
Reporting by U.S. sources within the foreign intelligence service.
Routine counterintelligence monitoring.
Tip from a friend or spouse.
Their own mistakes.
U.S. Sources Within the Foreign Intelligence Service: Of the Americans who held a security clearance who have been arrested for espionage, about half were caught as a result of information provided by a defector from the foreign intelligence service, or a penetration agent or friend within the foreign service that the spy was working for. People who betray their country often have little fear of being caught, because they think they are smarter than everyone else. They think they can easily get away with it. Ironically, even if they actually were smarter, it would not help them. No matter how smart or clever a spy may be, he or she has no protection against U.S. Government sources within the other intelligence service.
Routine Counterintelligence Monitoring: If the spy is not reported by sources within the other intelligence service, there is a strong likelihood of detection through routine counterintelligence operations. Of the cleared Americans arrested for espionage or attempted espionage during the past 20 years, 26% were arrested before they could do any damage and 47% were caught during their first year of betrayal. This is not surprising, as counterintelligence knows so many of the foreign intelligence officers active in the United States. It knows where they work, where they live, where they hang out, and how they ply their trade. Any would-be spy who doesn't know how the counterintelligence system works is likely to be caught in the counterintelligence web.
They always are!
Changes in Behavior: Espionage usually requires keeping or preparing materials at home, traveling to signal sites or secret meetings at unusual times and places, change in one’s financial status with no corresponding change in job income, and periods of high stress that affects behavior. All of these changes in normal pattern of behavior often come to the attention of other people and must be explained. Other people become suspicious and pass their suspicions on to others. This sometimes comes out during the periodic security clearance reinvestigation.
Spying is a lonely business. To explain these changes in behavior, or because of a need to confide in someone else, spies often confide in a spouse or try to enlist the help of a friend. The friend or spouse in whom the spy confides often does not remain a friend or loyal spouse after he or she realizes what is going on.
A person who helps stop espionage is eligible for a reward of up to $500,000. (See Counterintelligence Indicators for details.)
Irrational Behavior: Most people who betray their country are not thinking rationally, or they would not be involved in such a self-destructive activity. They are driven, in large part, by irrational emotional needs to feel important, successful, powerful or to get even or to take risks. These emotional needs are out of control, so the same emotional needs that lead them to betray also cause them to flaunt their sudden affluence or to brag about their involvement in some mysterious activity. Because they are so mixed up psychologically, they make mistakes that get them caught.
The Insider Espionage Threat
By Richards J. Heuer, Jr.
Defense Personnel Security Research Center
To borrow a phrase from the former comic strip character, Pogo, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
The initiative for most insider espionage comes from the insider, not from the foreign organization or group that receives the information. The overwhelming majority (over 79%) of Americans arrested for espionage during the past 50 years were either volunteers who took the initiative in contacting a foreign intelligence service or were recruited by an American friend or relative who had volunteered to a foreign intelligence service.1
The initiative came from the foreign service in about 21% of the cases. It is difficult for foreign buyers of information to locate a willing American seller. They must proceed in secret, and with great care to avoid being caught, to identify one of the very few cleared Americans willing to betray their country.
"We have met the enemy, and he is us."
It is easier for an American seeking to sell information to find a foreign buyer, although that, too, involves great risk. Twenty-six percent of the Americans arrested for espionage or attempted espionage during the past 50 years were caught by counterintelligence operations before they ever succeeded in compromising classified information. An additional 27% were caught during their first year of betrayal.2
Risk of betrayal of trust does not depend upon the presence of an implacable foreign adversary. It depends only upon an insider with the opportunity to betray, some combination of character weaknesses and situational stresses, and a trigger that sets the betrayal in motion. Common weaknesses include an arrogant attitude that the rules apply only to others, greed, impulsiveness, narcissism, feelings of entitlement, vindictiveness, alienation, paranoia, naiveté, and sensation-seeking.
There is reason to suspect that the number of insider spies today may be higher than in the past. One cannot know how many undiscovered spies are currently active or what the future will bring. Nevertheless, we are not entirely in the dark when assessing the risk of undiscovered espionage. One can draw inferences from changes in American society and the international environment that may increase or decrease the propensity of cleared personnel to betray the Government's trust.
Preconditions for Insider Betrayal
As a general rule, four conditions must be present before a disaffected or troubled employee commits a serious betrayal of trust like espionage. The same conditions also apply to other insider crimes like embezzlement, sabotage, and procurement fraud, but those offenses are not discussed here. The four necessary preconditions for espionage are:
An opportunity to commit the crime.
A motive or need to be satisfied through the crime.
An ability to overcome natural inhibitions to criminal behavior, such as moral values, loyalty to employer or co-workers, or fear of being caught.
A trigger that sets the betrayal in motion.
The prevalence of these four conditions is influenced by changes in social and economic conditions in the United States and in our relations with the rest of the world. If the prevalence of these preconditions for espionage is increasing, the prevalence of insider betrayal may also be increasing. Analysis of changes in these preconditions for espionage gives some insight into what might be happening behind the scenes, without our knowledge, with respect to foreign espionage in the United States.
Opportunity is of two types:
Access to information or materiel that can be exchanged for money or used to achieve some other goal.
Personal acquaintance with, or easy access to, persons expected to be interested in obtaining such valuable information or materiel.
Starting with the widespread use of the Xerox copier in the 1950s, technological advances have made it increasingly difficult to control the distribution of sensitive information. Today’s large, automated databases and interconnected networks increase exponentially the amount of information that can be collected and compromised by a single, well-placed spy. Computer databases have greatly eased the spy’s age-old problem -- how to purloin the exact information his or her foreign contact wants.
Opportunity equals temptation. It is now possible to commit crimes while sitting at one's computer engaged in what appears to casual observers as normal activity. More people have more access to more sensitive information than ever before. Like bank employees handling currency worth many thousands of dollars, not everyone is cut out to deal with that degree of temptation.
In today’s increasingly open and interconnected world, it is also easier than in the past for an interested seller of information or materiel to find a foreign buyer. As compared with the Cold War days, there are many more countries to which a seller of information can turn in search of a buyer, but the risks are still great. In June 1996, the FBI had 800 open investigations of economic espionage involving 23 different countries.3
It is also dramatically easier for foreign intelligence services to take the initiative to spot, assess, and recruit knowledgeable Americans with exploitable weaknesses. The greatest change is in industry, where personnel involved in sensitive military R&D and production are increasingly in official business contact with their counterparts in foreign countries that are conducting espionage against the United States. The line between military and non-military, and between classified technology and unclassified technology sold to foreign countries, is increasingly blurred.
When considering motives for espionage, it is useful to remember that the real motive may be different from the surface appearance. Although financial motivation is important, many people who commit espionage for money have more pressing emotional needs than financial needs. Espionage cases that appear to be financially motivated may actually be motivated by out-of-control emotional needs. Money is valued not just for what it buys, but even more for what it symbolizes -- success, power, influence and a route to happiness and self-esteem.
Espionage may also be an expression of power to influence events (satisfy a frustrated sense of self-importance), an outlet for anger (restore damaged self-image by outsmarting or punishing the bosses who failed to recognize one’s talents), a means of revenge, or a source of excitement. It may also be motivated by divided loyalties or by an arrogant belief that one knows better than the U.S. Government what is in the best interests of the United States.
When looking at how social and economic changes in recent years affect motivation for espionage, two things stand out:
Downsizing, outsourcing, transfer of jobs overseas, restructuring to adapt to the pressures of global economic competition, rapid technological change, and increased hiring of part-time workers to avoid paying benefits are all eroding many employees’ sense of job security and loyalty to employer. At a minimum, this reduces the extent to which loyalty to employer inhibits misconduct. At worst, it provides a motive or rationalization for betrayal.
About half of all the doctoral degrees in physics, chemistry and computer science granted by U.S. universities now go to foreign-born students.4 One-third of all the engineers in Silicon Valley were foreign born.5 This increasing internationalization of many high technology fields, combined with the increased number and variety of countries conducting intelligence operations against the United States, may increase the prevalence of conflicting loyalties.
Most personnel with access to classified information have the opportunity to betray, and many have a financial or other personal motive to do so. Betrayal is so rare only because it is deterred by basic moral values; loyalty to country, employer, or co-workers; and/or fear of being caught. Moral values, loyalty, and fear are the bedrock on which security is built. The stigma commonly associated with betraying one’s country also plays a role. Any social changes that erode these inhibitions to betrayal are likely to increase its frequency.
Morality is difficult to define and even more difficult to measure. This is not an appropriate place to pass judgment on the moral fiber of current American society from which our cleared personnel are drawn. Suffice it to note that the debate seems to be between those who see a serious degradation of moral values and others who view the state of morality in America as no worse than at other times in our history.
As noted under motives, loyalty is adversely affected by economic changes that devalue the long-term employer-employee relationship. Perceived inequities cause resentment. Feelings of entitlement to better treatment may be used to rationalize illegal behavior or may reduce inhibitions that otherwise deter illegal behavior. When people feel betrayed by their employer, it is easier for them to betray in return. Common rationalizations include: "I’m only getting back what they owe me." "It’s their fault. They deserve it, because if they hadn’t screwed me, I wouldn’t be doing this."
The stigma of potentially being branded a traitor, or thinking of oneself as a traitor, also inhibits betrayal. This is somewhat diminished since termination of the Cold War ended the national "mission" to fight Communism and relieved the threat of nuclear holocaust. It is easier today for potential spies to rationalize the sale of classified information as a "purely business proposition" rather than a heinous activity that puts survival of country at risk. This is especially true when selling information to a "friendly" country or giving away information to a friendly country one wants to help.
The post-Cold War emergence of "friendly" countries as significant intelligence threats increases the prevalence of conflicting loyalties.
Although many people are honest because it’s the right thing to do, others obey the law for fear of being caught. Fear of the unknown and fear of being caught are significant inhibitions to espionage, for the risk is indeed very high. There is no reason to believe that either fear has changed much in recent years.
Serious personal problems may fester indefinitely without leading to misconduct. The decision to betray will usually be triggered by some event in the individual’s personal or professional life that pushes stress beyond that person’s breaking point. The triggering event may be quite different from the underlying causes and motivation for betrayal.
Many people, perhaps most people, experience some form of stress that threatens their self-image at some time in their lives. They face serious financial problems combined with an available opportunity for illegal gain; failure to compete effectively with their peers; perceived injustice at the hands of an employer or supervisor; termination from a job under circumstances that prompt resentment; rejection or betrayal by a spouse or other close family member.
Emotionally stable and well adjusted individuals generally react to these experiences in positive ways—by learning from them, adjusting their expectations, working harder, or simply maintaining a stiff upper lip. Less stable or already troubled individuals sometimes react in ways that harm themselves or the organization. They may compound their problems by becoming less productive at work, turning to substance abuse or promiscuity, or attempting suicide. Or they may harm the organization by actions that range from absenteeism to self-serving decisions, theft, fraud, sabotage, or espionage.
There is no reason to believe the amount of stress in the lives of people in general is increasing. But many individuals do experience sharp changes in the amount of stress in their lives. The point is that stressful events are quite common, and that when they occur they can tip an otherwise weak, susceptible, or disturbed person over the edge.
Summary and Conclusions
The world is in the midst of an information revolution that many believe will have as far reaching an impact on politics, economics, and culture as that of the industrial revolution. It is surely affecting the manner in which nation states and other international actors compete economically as well as militarily, including the role of espionage in international competition and conflict. As a result of changes that have already occurred in the domestic and international environment, the prevalence of insider betrayal may be greater today than during the Cold War.
Developments in information technology make it much harder to control the distribution of information. This greatly increases opportunities for espionage and the amount of damage that can be done by a single insider. A more open and interconnected world makes it easier for those interested in selling information to establish contact with willing buyers, as well as for those interested in buying information to spot, assess, and recruit willing sellers. Because U.S. national survival is no longer at stake since the end of the Cold War, personal interests are more likely than before to take precedence over national interests. It is easier to rationalize the sale of information to a "friendly" country as a "purely business proposition," rather than a heinous activity that puts survival of country at risk.
These social, economic and international trends may be creating uniquely fertile ground for the incubation and growth of espionage. They may infuse new vigor and intensity into the world’s "second oldest profession," with the United States as the principal target.
1. Information is from an unclassified database maintained by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center.
3. Kenneth Geide (1996). "Economic Espionage: Looking Ahead." In Theodore Sarbin (ed.), Vision 2021: Security Issues for the Next Quarter Century. Proceedings of conference sponsored by Defense Personnel Security Research Center and Security Policy Board Staff, June 25-25, 1996. Monterey, CA: Defense Personnel Security Research Center.
4. National Academy of Sciences (1995). Reshaping the Graduate Education of Scientists and Engineers. National Academy Press, p. 70.
5. George Gilder (1995, Dec. 18) "Geniuses from Abroad," Wall Street Journal.
The Insider Threat To Information Systems
By Eric D. Shaw, Ph.D., Keven G. Ruby, M.A. and Jerrold M. Post, M.D.
Political Psychology Associates, Ltd.1
In the information age, as we have become increasingly dependent upon complex information systems, there has been a focus on the vulnerability of these systems to computer crime and security attacks, exemplified by the work of the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection. Because of the high-tech nature of these systems and the technological expertise required to develop and maintain them, it is not surprising that overwhelming attention has been devoted by experts to technological vulnerabilities and solutions.
Yet, as captured in the title of a 1993 conference sponsored by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center, Computer Crime: A Peopleware Problem, it is people who designed the systems, people who attack the systems, and understanding the psychology of information systems criminals is crucial to protecting those systems.2
A Management Information Systems (MIS) professional at a military facility learns she is going to be downsized. She decides to encrypt large parts of the organization's database and hold it hostage. She contacts the systems administrator responsible for the database and offers to decode the data for $10,000 in "severance pay" and a promise of no prosecution. He agrees to her terms before consulting with proper authorities. Prosecutors reviewing the case determine that the administrator's deal precludes them from pursuing charges.
A postcard written by an enlisted man is discovered during the arrest of several members of a well-known hacker organization by the FBI. Writing from his military base where he serves as a computer specialist, he has inquired about establishing a relationship with the group. Investigation reveals the enlisted man to be a convicted hacker and former group member who had been offered a choice between prison and enlistment. While performing computer duties for the military, he is caught breaking into local phone systems.
An engineer at an energy processing plant becomes angry with his new supervisor, a non-technical administrator. The engineer's wife is terminally ill, and he is on probation after a series of angry and disruptive episodes at work. After he is sent home, the engineering staff discovers that he has made a series of idiosyncratic modifications to plant controls and safety systems. In response to being confronted about these changes, the engineer decides to withhold the password, threatening the productivity and safety of the plant.
At the regional headquarters of an international energy company, an MIS contractor effectively "captures" and closes off the UNIX-based telephonic switching system for the entire complex. Investigators discover that the contractor had been notified a week earlier that he was being terminated in part for chronic tardiness. Further investigation finds the employee to have two prior felony convictions and to be a member of a notorious hacker group under investigation by the FBI. The employee reports he is often up all night helping colleagues with their hacking techniques. Additional investigation reveals that he is the second convicted hacker hired at this site. An earlier case involved a former member of the Legion of Doom who had been serving as a member of a corporate information security team. He had been convicted of computer intrusion at a local phone company. Neither individual had disclosed their criminal history or had been subject to background checks sufficient to discover their past activities.
As these case summaries from the files of military and corporate security investigators demonstrate, growing reliance on information technology increases dependence on, and vulnerability to, those tasked with the design, maintenance and operation of these systems. These information technology specialists—operators, programmers, networking engineers, and systems administrators—hold positions of unprecedented importance and trust. Malevolent actions on the part of such an insider can have grave consequences. This is especially true for information technology specialists operating within the critical infrastructure as identified in the 1997 President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection's final report.3
These cases also demonstrate several points about the insider threat to the critical infrastructure. First, it is clear that insider problems already exist within the critical infrastructure, including the military, telecommunications, and energy sectors. Second, it appears that both inside and outside of our critical infrastructure, there is a tendency for managers to settle these problems quickly and quietly, avoiding adverse personal and organizational impacts and publicity. We do not really know how widespread the problems are. What is reported appears to be only the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, we are at risk from repeat offenders, as perpetrators migrate from job to job, protected by the lack of background checks, constraints upon employers in providing references, and the lack of significant consequences for these offenses.
Finally, just as in organizations outside the critical infrastructure, the range of potential perpetrators and their motivations is broad. In many cases, acts of computer sabotage and extortion—like violence in the workplace—have been committed by disgruntled employees who are angry about lay-offs, transfers, and other perceived grievances. Other cases involve employees who take advantage of their position of trust for financial gain, hackers who are employed within the critical infrastructure caught engaging in unauthorized explorations, and "well-motivated" employees who claim they are acting in the best interest of their organizations.4 Other perpetrators include "moles," individuals who enter an organization with the explicit intent to commit espionage, fraud or embezzlement. Overall, case investigators report that the number of computer-related offenses committed by insiders is rising rapidly each year.
The extent of the insider threat has also been addressed in corporate and government survey results. According to WarRoom Research's 1996 Information Systems Security Survey, 62.9 percent of the companies surveyed reported insider misuse of their organization's computer systems. The Computer Security Institute’s 1998 Computer Crime Survey (conducted jointly with the FBI) reported the average cost of an outsider (hacker) penetration at $56,000, while the average insider attack cost a company $2.7 million. A comprehensive study conducted by the United Nations Commission on Crime and Criminal Justice which surveyed 3,000 Virtual Address Extension (VAX) sites in Canada, Europe and the United States, found that "By far, the greatest security threat came from employees or other people with access to the computers." While some researchers warn that survey data on computer crimes can be inaccurate due to unreported or undetected acts, such data are useful in characterizing a minimum level of threat and in drawing attention to the problem as a whole.
Paradoxically, in spite of the prevalence of the insider problem and the particular vulnerability of public and private infrastructures to the information technology specialist, there has been little systematic study of vulnerable insiders, while major investments are being devoted to devising technologies to detect and prevent external penetrations. Technological protection from external threats is indeed important, but human problems cannot be solved with technological solutions. Without a detailed examination of the insider problem and the development of new methods of insider risk management, such an unbalanced approach to information systems security leaves critical information systems vulnerable to fraud, espionage or sabotage by those who know the system best: the insiders.
Research in Progress
In response to the increasing recognition of the dangers posed by the insider threat to information systems, Political Psychology Associates, Ltd., under the auspices of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence), have undertaken a study to improve understanding of the personality, motives and circumstances which contribute to information technology insider actions. By constructing psychological profiles of perpetrators and mapping their interactions with the organizational environment as they move over time toward the commission of violations, the goal of the study is to contribute to improvements in security, law enforcement and counter-intelligence policies and practices. Specific applications for improving screening, selection, monitoring and management of information technology specialists are a primary goal of this research. The findings will also have implications for case investigation, information assurance audits, red team exercises, and information warfare.
The Critical Information Technology Insider
From the broad array of employees who have access to computers, we are focusing on the information technology specialists who design, maintain or manage critical information systems. Employees in this professional category are of particular concern because they possess the necessary skills and access to engage in serious abuse or harm. Typical jobs include systems administrators, systems programmers and operators and networking professionals. We are using the term Critical Information Technology Insiders (CITIs) to designate this professional category.5
The employment context is critical for understanding the relationship between the information technology specialist and the organization. The "insider-outsider" dichotomy is oversimplified, for in fact there is a spectrum of relationships between information technology specialists and organizations, which differentially affect loyalty and motivation.
Within the spectrum of "insiders," information technology specialists may serve as regular (full-time or part-time) staff employees, contractors, consultants or temporary workers (temps). In modern business practice, partners and customers with system access are also a source of exposure. In addition, former employees often retain sufficient access to the organization to remain an "insider" threat. Moles, information technology specialists who enter an organization with the intent to harm, are excluded from the current effort because they are potentially very different subjects from a psychological standpoint and present different screening and management problems. In this study we are primarily concerned with information technology specialists who develop their intent to harm the organization after being hired.
Employees (Full-Time and Part-Time)
Staff employees pose perhaps the greatest risk in terms of access and potential damage to critical information systems. As vetted members of the organization, employees are in a position of trust and are expected to have a vested interest in the productivity and success of the group. Considered "members of the family," they are often above suspicion—the last to be considered when systems malfunction or fail.
Among the several types of insider categories, organizations generally have the strongest influence and control over their own employees. To the extent that an employer is permitted by law to probe the background of a potential hire for security purposes, such investigations are much more likely to occur with prospective employees than with contractors, consultants, or temporary workers, whose roles in the organization are by design transient and who may or may not be vetted.
Employee CITIs who have caused damage have used their knowledge and access to information resources for a range of motives, including greed, revenge for perceived grievances, ego gratification, resolution of personal or professional problems, to protect or advance their careers, to challenge their skill, express anger, impress others, or some combination of these concerns. Three case examples serve to illustrate the employee threat:
Example 1: A senior MIS specialist at an international energy firm regularly created outages at Company sites around the world so that he could spend time abroad while gaining attention for his technical expertise.
Example 2: Michael Lauffenberger, a 31-year old programmer for the General Dynamics Atlas Missile Program, reportedly felt unappreciated for his programming work on a parts-tracking system. He planted a "logic bomb" in the system designed to erase critical data after he resigned. He then anticipated returning to rescue the company as a highly paid and valued consultant.
Example 3: Regional PC manager for the King Soopers supermarket chain Jay Beaman and two clerks were charged in an intricate computer fraud that cost the supermarket over two million dollars over two years. The motives are described by investigators as beginning with financial necessity but quickly escalating into greed and ego. Among the strategies used was manipulating the computer accounting system to funnel certain purchases into a dummy account. At the end of the day, the perpetrators would take the amount funneled into the dummy account right out of the cash registers and then delete the account, also erasing any trace of their fraud.
In examples 1 and 2, the employees used their knowledge and access to a critical system to create crises, which would magnify their importance and worth within the organization. Jay Beaman was able to use his position to both commit and cover up his fraud, emphasizing the vulnerability of organizations to trusted employees.
Contractors, Partners, Consultants and Temps
Contractors, partners, consultants and temps are included as a category separate from employees because they are often not, in practice, subjected to the same screening and background checks. Moreover, a lesser degree of loyalty to the firm or agency would be anticipated. Many organizations within the critical infrastructure but outside the intelligence community have little control over the pre-employment procedures and hiring practices utilized by a contractor or consulting group. This is true even though contractors and consultants (and sometimes temps) often have highly privileged access to the organization's information assets due to the increase in outsourcing of programming and other information technology functions.
While the contracting organization is well within its rights to require contractors to screen the employees that will be working within the organization or provide a separate screening process for contracted employees, such steps are rarely taken, putting the organization at risk. The same goes for consultants and temps, though the transient nature of the consulting or temporary working relationship presents practical barriers to more rigid screening processes. The hiring of former hackers by some computer security consulting firms further increases the risk of security compromises. Employers have also consistently underestimated the ability of contractors and consultants to take advantage of even limited access to important systems.
Example 4: A major international energy company recently discovered a logic bomb in software created by a contracted employee. It was installed as "job insurance" by the contracted employee with five prior convictions related to hacking. The contractor's firm failed to screen this employee who installed the code in anticipation of using it as leverage against his employer in case his criminal record was discovered.
Example 5: Zhangyi Liu, a Chinese computer programmer working as a subcontractor for Litton/PRC Inc., illegally accessed sensitive Air Force information on combat readiness. He also copied passwords, which allow users to create, change or delete any file on the network, and posted them on the Internet.
Example 4 illustrates the problems posed by poor screening measures and the vulnerability of organizations outsourcing their information technology functions. Example 5 demonstrates the espionage threat posed by contractors, though the motivations of this particular perpetrator are not yet clear. It also emphasizes the complex issues of loyalty in an international environment.
Former employees include individuals who no longer work at an organization but retain access to information resources directly -- through "backdoors" -- or indirectly through former associates. Anticipating conflict with an employer, or even termination, these perpetrators may prepare backdoor access to the computer system, alternative passwords, or simply stockpile proprietary data for later use. The number of cases in which separated employees have returned to extract vengeance on their former employers indicates a need for improved management of the termination process. This is particularly the case in episodes involving large numbers of layoffs. Such reductions can result in a pool of disgruntled employees and former employees with access and motivation for vengeance.
Example 6: Donald Burleson, a computer programmer for USPA & IRA Co., a Fort Worth securities trading firm, designed a virus after being reprimanded for storing personal letters on his company computer. The virus was designed to erase portions of the Company's mainframe and then repeat the process if a predetermined value was not reset in a specific location. After being fired, Burleson used a duplicate set of keys to return to the facility at 3 a.m. and employ an unauthorized backdoor password to reenter the system and execute the virus
Indispensable Role of the Insider
It is important to note that the efforts of "outside" groups (including foreign interests) could be aided significantly by the assistance of parties within the organization with access to, and knowledge of, critical information systems. For certain secure, self-contained systems, the insider's access will prove indispensable. Whether the insider is recruited directly, indirectly (e.g. "false flag" recruitment), coerced through blackmail, or through "social engineering" is manipulated while unaware that he is providing assistance to an adversary, his collaboration is a tremendous force multiplier. The potential damage an insider can now commit has also been increased within the last decade by two related trends in information systems -- consolidation and, for all intents and purposes, the elimination of the need-to-know principle. These changes, designed to improve information sharing, have removed obstacles to hostile collection. The hostile, sophisticated information technology professional now has many more opportunities to enter and damage larger systems. These vulnerabilities led one government information technology specialist, who focuses on system security, to refer to many allegedly secure government databases as "single point of failure systems."
Example 7: On the programming staff of Ellery Systems, a Boulder Colorado software firm working on advanced distributive computing software, was a Chinese national who transferred, via the Internet, the firms entire proprietary source code to another Chinese national working in the Denver area. The software was then transferred to a Chinese company, Beijing Machinery. Ellery Systems was subsequently driven to bankruptcy by foreign competition directly attributed to the loss of the source code.
As illustrated by this case, the foreign connections of information technology specialists can increase their vulnerability to recruitment, manipulation, or independent hostile action.
Personal and Cultural Vulnerabilities
Case studies and survey research indicate that there is a subset of information technology specialists who are especially vulnerable to emotional distress, disappointment, disgruntlement and consequent failures of judgment which can lead to an increased risk of damaging acts or vulnerability to recruitment or manipulation. Moreover, there are characteristics of the so-called "information culture" which contribute to this vulnerability. This report is not an attempt to cast suspicions on an entire professional category whose role in the modern computer-based economy has become so critical. However, we must better understand the motivations, psychological makeup, and danger signals associated with those insiders who do pose a threat to our information systems before we can really address this problem.
Reports of past research and our own findings based on interviews conducted so far, lead to the conclusion that there are several characteristics which, when found together, increase this vulnerability toward illegal or destructive behavior. These include: computer dependency, a history of personal and social frustrations (especially anger toward authority), ethical "flexibility," a mixed sense of loyalty, entitlement, and lack of empathy.
According to a 1991 study by Professor Kym Pocius, the psychological testing of over fifteen hundred computer programmers, systems analysts, programmer trainees, and computer science students in seven separate studies consistently found these groups to be "overwhelmingly represented by introverts." Introverts differ from extroverts in being oriented toward the inner world of concepts and ideas rather than the outer world of people. They enjoy being alone, prefer their own thoughts to conversation with others and may be socially unskilled. They also tend to be over-conscientious, secretive, pessimistic and critical. Authorities on the subject tell us that introverts are harder to distract than are extroverts, yet they are more reactive to external stimuli. According to H. J. Eysenck, a prominent personality psychologist, introverts tend to "shy away from the world while extroverts embrace it enthusiastically."
We wish to emphasize that, unlike the traits we are about to delineate, introversion is characteristic of computer technology specialists as a group, as well as scientists and other technology specialists. Indeed, some 40% of the overall population demonstrate this trait. One could not eliminate introverts from the ranks of computer technology specialists without eliminating the specialty. However, the preference for individual intellectual pursuits as opposed to interpersonal activity means that the signs of employee disaffection which would be apparent for extraverted employees may not be so readily visible. They may only occur, in fact, on-line, so the introvert poses challenges to management.
The following vulnerabilities have been identified in individuals who commit dangerous acts. They are associated with the vulnerable subgroup within computer technology specialists.
Social and Personal Frustrations
Surveys of computer professionals and computer science students indicate the presence of a subgroup whose entry into the field is motivated, in part, by frustrations getting along with others. According to a 1993 study by Professor R. Coldwell, this subgroup reports a history of conflicts and disappointments with family, peers and coworkers. They report preferring the predictability and structure of work with computers to the lack of predictability and frustrations of relationships with others. These experiences appear to have left them with a propensity for anger, especially toward authority figures. They also tend to be less socially skilled and more isolated than are their peers. Noting the high incidence of anger and alienation in these computer science students, Coldwell labeled it "revenge syndrome."
These traits create an increased vulnerability to feelings of alienation, disgruntlement, and disappointment on the job. Not only are such employees more likely to have innate antagonism for their supervisors, but they are less likely to trust and to deal directly with authorities when problems arise. In turn, these characteristics may also make some of these employees more vulnerable to recruitment and manipulation.
Two identified subgroups of computer users include individuals who exhibit an addictive-like attachment to their computer systems and those who manifest a similar attachment to the on-line experience offered by networks such as the Internet. Behavioral scientists studying these subgroups have found that they spend significantly more time on-line than is necessary for their work, frequently report losing any sense of the passage of time while on-line, and find that their on-line activities interfere significantly with their personal lives.
The "computer-addicted" individuals studied by researcher Margaret Shotten (1991) reported their primary interest as exploring networks, and viewed breaking security codes and hacking as honorable means of gaining emotional stimulation by challenging and beating security professionals. They did not consider pirating software unethical.
Computer dependents share a history of social failures and ostracization; and they admitted that the computer replaces direct interpersonal relationships. Their family histories include a high percentage of aloof, cool, and disinterested parents and authoritarian fathers. On formal psychological testing, this group contains a high percentage of well-informed, scientific, problem-solvers who enjoy intellectual pursuits. They are significantly more likely to be independent, self-motivated, aggressive loners, who make poor team players and feel entitled to be a law onto themselves. They reportedly tend to exhibit an unusual need to show initiative to compensate for underlying feelings of inadequacy.
Other researchers found that many members of the Internet-addicted subgroup are deeply involved in computer-mediated relationships, including role-playing games. For many introverted, less socially skilled individuals, their computer-mediated social contacts are the least anxiety arousing of their interpersonal experience. In some cases, the sense of self, experienced on-line, becomes greatly preferred to the experience of self in the real world. Correspondingly, the on-line relationships of these individuals can displace affections and loyalties from real world ties. Noting the power of these relationships, many mental health professionals have characterized them as therapeutic building blocks that can help some people make the transition to subsequent real world contacts. However, for other more vulnerable individuals, these on-line relationships may also constitute an avenue for influence, recruitment or manipulation with security implications.
Concerns have been raised about looser ethical boundaries within the so-called "information culture." Surveys in recent years of current computer professionals indicate the presence of a subgroup whose members do not object to acts of cracking, espionage and sabotage against information resources. This subgroup appears to maintain the position that if an electronic asset, such as a limited access file, is not sufficiently secure, then it is fair game for attack. A disturbing aspect of these findings is the association between decreased ethical constraints and youth, suggesting that this perspective may be shared increasingly among new and future employees.
A number of social phenomena have been cited by several researchers as contributing to this dangerous trend. Lack of specific computer-related ethical training and lack of regulations within organizations have been implicated as contributing to lax employee ethical attitudes. Lack of similar ethical training in schools and at home by parents also contributes to this cross-generational trend. The boundary ambiguities of cyberspace, especially the lack of face-to-face connection, may also insulate perpetrators from the impact of their acts. The idea that exploring and even copying others’ files inflicts no real damage has also been used to rationalize what would otherwise be considered privacy violations and theft in the outside world.
Finally, the computer industry has been implicated in the erosion of its own ethical standards. Some critics have suggested that the introduction of what they view as unrealistic and impractical restrictions on the use of purchased software produced contempt and disregard for these standards. Other critics suggest that the hiring and promotion of former hackers has sanctioned hacking and has even produced an incentive for this behavior.
Organizational loyalty among programmers and other professionals has been challenged increasingly by the high demand for their services and high rates of turnover in the profession. The resulting pressures to hire and retain computer professionals have also placed tremendous pressure on the security process.
Commenting on interviews with insider perpetrators of computer crime by the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, computer security expert Sanford Sherizan addressed the issue of distinct differences in programmer loyalty. Sherizan noted that there appear to be programmers who identify with the organization that pays them while others identify with the profession of programming itself. For these latter employees, their weak bond to the organization can lead to tensions in the workplace. Ambiguities about the "ownership" of intellectual properties in the form of source codes and other programs have also lead to a large number of conflicts between employers and computer professionals.
Our clinical investigations of vulnerable CITIs have consistently revealed two additional traits as risk factors, which have been alluded to but have not been emphasized. In assessments of CITI perpetrators from the energy and national security infrastructures, we have found that a sense of entitlement and anger at authority are consistent aspects of perpetrator motivation and personality.
A sense of entitlement, associated with the narcissistic personality, refers to the belief that one is special and owed corresponding recognition, privilege or exceptions from normal expectations. This sense of "specialness" is often associated with a self perception of gifts or talents which are unrecognized by others. The perception that this specialness is not being recognized by authority figures often combines with a pre-existing anger at authority to produce feelings in these individuals that they have been treated unjustly and are entitled to compensation or revenge. Often, this sense of entitlement is supported by special arrangements or exceptions to rules granted to highly valued but "temperamental" MIS employees. Thus employers actually reinforce this belief, up the ante, and contribute to what often becomes an inevitable crisis. The current shortage of information technology personnel may also influence feelings of entitlement among older information technology employees, who may resent special treatment and bonuses paid to new hires.
According to a 1991 report by psychologists Robert Raskin and Jill Novacek, individuals with these narcissistic tendencies who are under higher levels of daily stress are prone to "power and revenge fantasies in which they see themselves in a powerful position able to impose punishment on those who have wronged them."
Our clinical sample helps validate a concern expressed by Coldwell about a group of programmers and computer science students who he characterizes as suffering from "revenge syndrome." Interviewees in this group appeared to present very similar perspectives and motives. As one interviewee in the previous study commented, when asked how he might utilize the power he was acquiring with his knowledge of programming, "I'll be getting my own back on the society that screwed me up."
Lack of Empathy
Disregard for the impact of their actions on others, or inability to appreciate these effects, has been a perpetrator characteristic noted consistently by investigators. It is also consistent with our clinical experience. Perhaps compounded by the impersonal layers of cyberspace, many computer perpetrators report never having considered the impact of their acts on other human beings. Many more appear incapable of placing themselves in their victim's shoes and imagining how the experience felt. This lack of empathy is a hallmark of individuals with narcissistic and anti-social personalities, and is consistent with the traits of reduced loyalty and ethical flexibility.
Summary of Vulnerable CITI Personal and Cultural Characteristics
In summary, the research literature which we have surveyed identifies a coherent cluster of risk factors characteristic of a vulnerable subgroup of Critical Information Technology Insiders (CITIs). The negative personal and social experiences of a subgroup of information technology specialists tends to make them more vulnerable to experiencing the personal and professional frustrations which have been found to drive insider espionage and sabotage. Their social isolation and relative lack of social skills probably reduces the likelihood of their dealing with these feelings directly and constructively. Their reported vulnerability to ethical "flexibility," reduced loyalty to their employers, feelings of entitlement, anger at authority and lack of empathy probably reduces inhibitions against potentially damaging acts. At the same time, their loneliness, social naiveté and need to impress others may make them vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation.
The presence of any or all of these personal and cultural vulnerabilities does not, however, a perpetrator make. Indeed, it is more often the dynamic interaction between the vulnerable CITI’s personal psychology (including the vulnerabilities enumerated above) and the organizational and personal environment that leads the vulnerable CITI down a slippery slope, at the end of which an act of information system aggression occurs. These critical pathways -- plural, for there are no set routes for the path to deviant, antisocial behavior -- that a CITI perpetrator might travel are being defined and explored further in the course of our research program.
What we do know already is that there is a complex interplay of personal and cultural or environmental factors which, over time, funnel an individual toward insider actions and that an understanding of this critical pathway has implications for personnel screening, monitoring, case management, and training. We also know that predisposing traits and situational factors are only part of the problem. What might be called acute situational stressors such as marital or family problems, episodes of substance abuse, disappointments at work, threatened layoffs, or other stressful life events can trigger an emotional reaction leading to impaired judgment and reckless or vindictive behavior.
Impact of Intervention
Nevertheless, there are also mitigating forces that appear to reduce the likelihood of committing such acts or defuse a specific threatening situation. Highest on the list of mitigating factors is effective intervention by supervisors, co-workers, family members and close friends. Intervention might lead to counseling, involvement with support groups, or medical assistance. It is essential, however, that those who might intervene recognize and respond to significant warning signs and symptoms.
The Critical Pathway to Insider Espionage
A lucid description of the critical pathway to insider actions comes from Project Slammer, a major study of Americans convicted of espionage. Project Slammer mental health professionals conducted extensive interviews and formal psychological assessments with convicted perpetrators, most of whom were insiders. They also interviewed their coworkers, supervisors and families to identify not only the characteristics of perpetrators, but also the chain of events which led to their acts of treason. The results identified an interaction of factors, none of which alone was sufficient to result in an act of espionage. However, taken together and over time, these traits and experiences, common to many of the perpetrators, appear to have formed what we view as a common pathway to these acts. This pathway includes the following combination of events or "steps" which in some cases led to severe damage to national security:
Predisposing Personal Traits
An Acute Situational Stressor
Biased Decision-making or Judgment Failures
Failure of Peers and Supervisors to Intervene Effectively
As noted above, outside intervention is a critical mitigating factor on the path to insider acts. Unfortunately, in the insider espionage cases examined, it was often absent. Peers often assumed supervisors or others were aware of, and attending to, the problem. Supervisors often ignored the employee's problems, not wanting to deal with difficult individuals or not wishing to risk losing a valued member of the team. Often they attempted to manage the problem without considering the security risks involved. Sometimes the problem was pushed aside by transferring or firing the employee. It is interesting to note that a significant number of espionage offenders commit their acts after leaving their organizations. Abrupt termination does not appear to be a productive way to eliminate the security threat posed by such at-risk employees. Other supervisors incorrectly assumed that psychological referrals or on-going mental health counseling automatically took care of the problem and eliminated the risk of insider acts without requiring other intervention.
In the cases of destructive and criminal acts by vulnerable CITIs that we have analyzed to date, we are seeing a similar pattern in the sequencing of events. In a number of cases evaluated so far, we are confronted with examples of management failure to notice the problem, to accept the fact that a problem exists, or a willingness to tolerate dangerous behavior due to a desire to retain the services of a valued, technically competent employee. These findings have several implications for personnel management:
The critical path model views the probability of insider acts as the product of the interaction between predisposing traits, situational stressors and the organizational environment. Initial screening of employees should therefore emphasize the collection of information regarding traits, past and current behaviors (especially a criminal records check), and circumstances indicative of risk that is specifically tailored to the profile of the vulnerable CITI. Behaviors particular to the world of the computer professional should be central to this inquiry. Furthermore, successful screening will require that human resources and information systems recruiters be sensitized to the factors contributing to CITI risk to guide them in the hiring process.
Improved Management of CITIs
Overall, the three most common management errors we have noted regarding CITI offenders have been (1) the failure to understand the personality and motivation of the at-risk employee; (2) the failure to have clear, standardized rules governing the use of company information systems with explicit consequences for misuse; and (3) the failure to punish rule violations. These problems often result in inadequate or even aggravating rules of conduct when constructive relief would be possible. Without organizational rules of conduct, employees have no guide to right and wrong and supervisors have no recourse to consequences when clear violations are discovered.
The company may also be held liable for illegal acts committed by employees in the absence of a well-defined and supported code of ethics. Solutions include specialized training for IT (information technology) managers to facilitate recognition of vulnerable CITIs and the selection of proper intervention techniques. The implementation of a comprehensive compliance program is also essential and should include a well-defined code of ethical behavior and support for employees facing ethical dilemmas or with questions regarding company policy.
Innovative Approaches to Managing At-Risk CITIs
For reasons discussed above, computer professionals present significant management challenges. In particular, monitoring their psychological state for risk using conventional observations is extremely difficult. As noted earlier, a subset of these individuals are likely to be more vulnerable to work-related stressors, while at the same time be much less likely to display overt signs of distress, complicating detection and delaying appropriate intervention by IT managers.
Compounding this problem is the shift of work-based communications toward computer-mediated communications in the workforce, a trend vastly accelerated among IT professionals in general, especially among those CITIs who find e-mail or chat rooms their preferred channel for maintaining professional and personal relationships. The characteristics of the vulnerable CITI will inevitably require adapting traditional monitoring and intervention techniques to at-work electronic communications as the most effective means of understanding the psychological state and risk among these employees.
Innovative approaches for managing computer professionals include the creation of on-line environments designed to relieve work related stress by providing professional and constructive advice on dealing with problems in the office, e.g., on-line Employee Assistance Programs or job-stress hotlines. Electronic bulletin boards for logging anonymous complaints that can be monitored by management for purposes of addressing general grievances have also proven effective in some situations
One approach to effectively manage at-risk employees whose behavior has raised concern is to monitor their at-work electronic communications. This can be effectively used to detect changes in psychological state which warn of increased risk of destructive acts. While this approach raises privacy concerns, legal precedent has generally upheld the right of the employer to monitor their employees’ use of company owned systems.
Comprehensive Information Security Audits
Finally, the critical path approach can also add a human element to the information security audit and its traditional emphasis on technological vulnerabilities and fixes. By reviewing the manner in which an organization selects, promotes, monitors, detects, manages and intervenes with problem CITIs, an investigator can gauge the organization’s general sensitivity to insider risk and provide constructive solutions to managing the insider problem.
Only by adapting a comprehensive approach applying technological and human factors to information security can an organization adequately protect itself from both the outside threat of hackers and the more serious threat posed by the disaffected insider.
1. This article is reprinted from Security Awareness Bulletin No. 2-98, published by Department of Defense Security Institute, September 1998. The research on which this article is based is part of a broader research program conducted by Political Psychology Associates, Ltd., for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I).
2. Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC) in Monterey, California, is now the Security Research Center of the Defense Security Service.
3. According to the PCCIP report, infrastructure is defined as "a network of independent, mostly privately-owned, man-made systems and processes that function collaboratively and synergistically to produce and distribute a continuous flow of essential goods and services." Critical components of the infrastructure, those affecting national security and the general welfare, include: transportation, oil and gas production and storage, water supply, emergency services, government services, banking and finance, electrical power, and information and communication infrastructures.
4. 0ur clinical experience indicates that seemingly simple cases of greed are rarely so simple when it comes to perpetrator motivation. Often there are other strong feelings and stressors behind the greed which complicate the motivational profile.
5. By definition, the term Critical Information Technology Insider (CITI) excludes the mass of end users who use computers as part of their jobs but for whom computers serve as a tool and not as a job in itself. While end users are associated with their own set of risks, we are specifically concerned with information technology specialists, whose job functions elevate them well above the average end-user in terms of skill, access and potential damage.
Exploring the Mind of the Spy
By Dr. Mike Gelles, Naval Criminal Investigative Service
The US government has made a considerable investment in studying behaviors associated with the risk of espionage. In one inter-agency project, a team of federal agents and government psychologists and psychiatrists interviewed many individuals who had been arrested and convicted of espionage. The interviews focused on the spy’s motivation, their perception of security policies and procedures, and the means by which they committed their crimes.
This project sought to understand the behavior, motivation, personality, and mindset of the spy. The goal was to gather behavioral information that could be used by security and counterintelligence professionals to improve the early identification and handling of employees at risk of committing serious offenses. The project generated a lot of data and many insights that have since been incorporated into security policies, training, and publications.
Security professionals have known for many years that the principal espionage threat to classified information does not come from clever and devious foreigners. It comes from "insiders" -- Americans working in a position of trust within the government or defense industry. These are Americans who, after thorough investigation, have been granted a security clearance that authorizes them to have access to government secrets, but who then go bad and betray their employer and their country.
Of the 98 Americans arrested for espionage during the past 20 years, almost all were trustworthy and loyal Americans at the time they were investigated and first approved for security clearance. They changed over time. What is most surprising is that a large majority of those who became spies volunteered their services to a foreign government. They were not enticed, persuaded, manipulated, or coerced into betraying their country.
Through interviews with arrested spies, we have tried to understand why and how a loyal employee turns into a spy. To say that it is greed, that people spy for money, is too simplistic and doesn’t help us identify who is at risk. Most of us either need or want more money. What is it that distinguishes the few spies from all the rest of us who experience financial need or greed but remain trustworthy and loyal?
Selling secrets is seldom the result of a sudden, uncontrolled impulse. It is usually the last act of a long-simmering emotional crisis. In many cases, the symptoms of this crisis have been observable, identifiable, and even treatable before the damage was done. Typically, however, the potential significance of the "at-risk" behavior has not been recognized or reported at the time by coworkers or supervisors.
Spies are not "crazy," but they usually are emotionally disturbed or suffer from one or more personality disorders. A personality disorder is recognizable as a pattern of behavior that is poorly adapted to the circumstances in which it occurs, leading to conflicts in relationships, difficulties at work, and periodic emotional shifts. Behavior can become self-defeating and sometimes self-destructive.
Of the personality disorders found in spies, the two most common are antisocial personality disorder and narcissism. These two disorders have some characteristics in common and are sometimes found together.
A person with antisocial personality disorder tends to reject the normal rules and standards of society. (Antisocial, in this sense, is a technical term in psychology. It has nothing to do with not being interested in making friends.) The hallmark of people with antisocial personality is a lack of any feelings of guilt or remorse when they do something wrong. The values that in most people inhibit illegal behavior are lacking.
Antisocial personalities are usually manipulative, self-serving, and seek immediate gratification of their desires. They are oriented toward what they can get now, with little interest in the future and no interest in learning from the past. They have little capacity to form attachments, or to develop a commitment to anyone or anything. This suggests that their ability to develop any degree of loyalty is seriously compromised.
Many people with antisocial personality disorder have criminal records that make them ineligible for a security clearance. However, many with milder versions of this disorder are eligible and do receive clearances. On the job, they press the limits of rules and regulations to see how much they can get away with, or bend or break the rules when it serves their self-interest. They often have the con artist's ability to talk their way out of trouble.
The hallmarks of a narcissistic personality are unwarranted feelings of self-importance or self-esteem (grandiosity), a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy for others. Many successful over-achievers have narcissistic tendencies, commonly known as a large ego. The need to live up to their own high self-image may be what drives them to be successful.
A security concern arises only when a person's view of their own abilities or importance is so grossly out of line with reality that they are destined for disappointment rather than success. Such persons may be unable to accept criticism or failure, because it threatens their inflated self-image. When criticized by a supervisor or if they feel devalued by the organization, narcissists may react with anger, a temper tantrum, or extensive written appeals. A narcissist's relationship with others may turn rapidly from love/admiration to hate, or vice versa, depending upon whether the relationship supports or undermines the narcissist's compelling emotional need to validate a grandiose self-image.
Narcissists who feel undervalued by their supervisor or their organization generally need to defend themselves against feelings of inadequacy. They may respond in ways that are rebellious, passive-aggressive, or vindictive. They may also seek out some other source for validation and affirmation of their self-perceived abilities or importance. In some cases, they have turned to a foreign intelligence service to fulfill their emotional needs, gaining satisfaction from working as a spy and outsmarting the organization that devalued them.
Both the antisocial personality and the narcissist may engage in deliberate behavior that violates routine security rules and regulations, but they do this for different reasons. The antisocial personality rejects the rules. The narcissist accepts the rules but believes he or she is so special that the rules don't apply; they only apply to others.
This is why any deliberate security violation such as taking classified reports home or giving classified information to an unauthorized person is a serious security concern even if no real damage is done. Any deliberate violation is evidence of an unwillingness or inability to abide by the rules that can have broad implications.
Although antisocial tendencies or severe narcissism are associated with increased security risk, they do not necessarily lead to serious offenses. Three critical factors will usually have to fall into alignment before a previously trustworthy and loyal employee commits a serious crime.
First, there must be a personality or character weakness, such as antisocial tendencies or narcissism, that causes a predisposition to maladjusted, counterproductive behavior.
Second, a personal, financial, or career crisis puts an individual with these weaknesses under great stress, triggering more obvious counterproductive behavior often observable by friends, coworkers, or supervisor.
Third, the friends, coworkers, and supervisor fail to recognize the signs of a serious problem, decide they don't want to get involved, or assume that someone else will take care of it. As a result, no one intervenes to help resolve the problem, and the individual's behavior spirals out of control.
Most of us possess one or more character or personality weaknesses to some degree, but that does not mean we are a security risk. All security judgments are based on the "whole person concept" -- which means looking at a person's strengths as well as their weaknesses. A number of positive characteristics are commonly associated with individuals who are reliable, trustworthy, and loyal, and these strong points often counterbalance the weaknesses.
Positive characteristics include ability to take criticism without becoming defensive, ability to express anger and frustration in an appropriate manner, being compassionate and considerate towards others, respectful of the rights of others, able to cooperate and work as a team with others to achieve a common goal, and being part of a strong social support system.
Other positive characteristics include self-discipline in delaying immediate gratification of desires in order to achieve a longer-term goal, being dependable in following through on commitments, and recognition that life doesn't owe one anything -- one has to work for whatever one gets.
Anyone who possesses these positive characteristics in good measure is unlikely to engage in betrayal despite some obvious weaknesses and no matter what stresses or temptations they encounter in life.
The following are some additional observations of general interest from our interviews with incarcerated spies.
There was no single motivation for espionage. The true motivation was always deeper than what commonly appeared on the surface – money, ideology, or revenge. For example, spies value money not just for what it can buy, but for what it symbolizes – success, power, and influence. It is a balm for injured self-esteem. People commit espionage not just for money, but in a desperate attempt to fulfill complex emotional needs.
Money received for espionage was spent, not saved. Most spies were not paid enough for unexplained affluence to be a potential problem. The few who did receive lots of money still spent it rather than save it, and unexplained affluence was a factor in their detection.
One thing that most spies have in common is inability to accept responsibility for their own actions. They always blame others for their problems, and minimize or ignore their own mistakes or faults.
One example of blaming others was the frequent complaint that stealing information was too easy, because physical security was too lax. Perpetrators argued that if tighter security had been in place it would have been more of a deterrent, and they might not have gotten into trouble. In other words, they blamed the organization for their problems because it didn’t do enough to protect the information.
Surprisingly, espionage subjects tended to tell trusted friends about what they were doing. Sometimes this was for emotional support; often it was an effort to impress or to try to involve a friend in the espionage activity.
The spies felt no guilt about their betrayal while they were conducting espionage, and sometimes not even after they were arrested, because they engaged in self-deceptive rationalizations. They rationalized that the information they passed was unimportant. It was just a business transaction, not betrayal of country. Or they felt that their incompetent supervisors were the ones who were really to blame for their problems.
In summary, people change as they face the stresses of broken personal relationships, financial crises, or career disappointments. We need to be aware of our colleagues who are having difficulty dealing with these problems in an appropriate and effective way. Intervention by concerned friends, coworkers, or supervisor can often help prevent these problems from spinning out of control.
Related Topics: For analysis of three major cases from a psychological perspective, see Ames, Pollard, Walker. Also see Reporting Improper, Unreliable, or Suspicious Behavior
Espionage by the Numbers: A Statistical Overview
Richards J. Heuer Jr., Defense Personnel Security Research Center
Katherine Herbig, TRW Systems
The typical approach to research on spies has been the case study – either the in-depth study of a single case or a collection of case summaries to provide a somewhat broader view. This article reports on an Espionage Database Project that takes a different approach. Data are tabulated on all American citizens who are known, from publicly available sources, to have betrayed their country during or since the Cold War.
By tabulating and analyzing data on many cases of espionage, it is possible to gain insights on the nature of spies and spying that are not necessarily apparent from the study of individual cases. Findings from the Espionage Database Project are summarized here in three sections: characteristics of the spies, characteristics of the espionage activity, and prevalence among the spies of several behaviors that are commonly associated with security risk. Because this database uses only unclassified information, while most information on espionage is highly classified, the findings should be regarded as suggestive rather than conclusive.
About the Database
The unclassified Espionage Database is maintained by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC). It has information on cases going back to 1940, but this article is based on the 150 cases of U.S. citizens who committed espionage against the United States since the beginning of the Cold War in the late 1940s. The database is kept current by adding new cases as they occur and information becomes available.
Individuals are included in the unclassified Espionage Database if they were convicted or prosecuted for espionage or attempting to commit espionage, or if clear evidence of espionage is available in the public domain even though they were not prosecuted. This latter category includes people who defected or fled to another country before they were prosecuted, died or committed suicide before they could be prosecuted, plea-bargained for lesser charges, or were given immunity from prosecution in return for providing evidence on others.
Five types of information are coded in the database: biographic information, employment and clearance status, the spy’s motivation, the espionage act itself, and the consequences of the espionage. Included are details of the espionage offenders' personal and professional lives, their access to classified materials, how they became involved in espionage, and how their careers as spies evolved and ended.
A study of espionage based only on unclassified information has unavoidable limitations. The database represents part of a total population of unknown size. We know only those espionage cases where the perpetrator has been arrested or otherwise exposed to the public. We do not know how many spies have not been identified, or how many spies have been identified but not prosecuted.
Which spies are identified and how many spies are identified depend upon the available counterintelligence sources and methods. These sources and methods change over time and may vary depending upon which foreign country is conducting the espionage. Prosecution of identified spies is often handicapped by lack of evidence; unwillingness to expose sensitive sources or methods during prosecution; or political considerations relating to the foreign country involved. These factors also change over time.
This article does not analyze one of the most important questions -- trends in the prevalence of espionage over time. The data are sufficient only to show trends in the prosecution of espionage.
Characteristics of Spies
Reasonably complete information is available on the significant demographic variables for most of the 150 espionage offenders. Some of the older or more obscure cases are not well reported in open sources. Demographic characteristics of the publicly known espionage offenders are as follows. The number of cases for which information is available on each variable is shown at the end of each entry.
Gender: 93% males, 7% females. Information is available for all 150 cases.
Age when Espionage Began: 6% were under 20; 40% were 20 to 29; 27% were 30 to 39; and 27% were 40 or over. There is a significant difference in ages between civilian and military spies. For the civilians, 44% were age 40 or over at the time they began their espionage. For the military, 57% were 20 to 29 years old when they started. Information is available for 147 cases.
Marital Status when Espionage Began: 57% married, 33% single, 10% separated or divorced. Information is available for 141 cases.
Race or Ethnicity: 84% white, 6% black, 5% Hispanic, and 5% other. Information is available for 141 cases.
Sexual Preference: 95% heterosexual, 5% homosexual. Information is available for 116 cases.
Citizenship: 83% born in U.S., 17% naturalized. Most (77%) of the naturalized citizens who became spies were civilians rather than military personnel. Twenty-six percent of all the civilian spies were naturalized citizens as compared with 8% of the military spies. Information is available for 148 cases.
Education: 7% had less than high school; 39% were high school graduates; 20% had some college; 20% were college graduates; 14% had at least some work toward their Masters or PhD. Information is available for 133 cases.
Type of Employment when Espionage Began: 49% uniformed military, 18% government civilian, 24% government contractor, and 9% had already left government service or their job was unrelated to their spying. Information is available for 148 cases.
Rank of Uniformed Military: 19% were E1 to E3; 51% were E4 to E6; 19% were E7 to WO; and 11% Officer. Information is available for 67 cases.
Characteristics of the Espionage Activity
The following information about the espionage activity is known from open sources. Data on a number of significant variables are available for most of the cases.
Recruitment: Sixty-four percent of the spies took the initiative in volunteering their services to a foreign intelligence service. Fifteen percent were recruited by a friend or family member, most of whom had themselves volunteered, while only 22% were recruited on the initiative of a foreign intelligence service. These percentages differ for different groups. For example, 71% of all military offenders were volunteers, versus 57% for civilians. Seven of the 12 women spies were recruited by a spouse or boyfriend. Information is available for 148 cases.
Motivation: Information on motivation is broken down by categories commonly used when describing espionage offenders, although it is always difficult to know what was really going on in a person’s head. One individual may have more than one motivation, so the following percentages do not add up to 100%.
Money (either need or greed) was a motivating factor in 69% of the cases, and it was apparently the sole motive in 56%. Disgruntlement or revenge toward employer or some other person or situation was a motive in 27%, and ideology a motive in 22%. Ideology includes beliefs and sympathies resulting from cultural affinity (common ethnic or national background). A desire to please a friend or family member was a motivating factor in 17% of cases, many of them cases in which the spy was recruited by the friend or family member. Twelve percent were attracted by what they perceived as the thrills or excitement of becoming a spy, while 4% were drawn by a compelling need to be recognized and feel important. Only 5% were coerced. Thrills or excitement and need for recognition were, in most cases, supporting rather than primary motivations. Information is available for all 150 cases.
Unsuccessful Spies: Thirty-nine offenders (26% of all those who attempted to commit espionage) were unsuccessful. They were arrested before they succeeded in passing classified information to a foreign country. Of the 39 would-be spies who were caught before they could do any damage, 69% were military personnel, mainly young, unmarried, enlisted personnel with no more than a high school education. All were native-born American citizens motivated mainly by the simple idea that selling secrets would be an easy way to get some money. Interestingly, over 60% of the military personnel in this category were in the Navy.
Length of Espionage: Of the 111 spies who succeeded in passing information to a foreign country, 27% were caught in less than one year. Forty-four percent lasted more than one year but less than five, while 29% remained undetected for five years or more.
Security Clearance when Espionage Began: Fifteen percent of the spies held a Top Secret SCI clearance at the time they began committing espionage. Top Secret clearances were held by 35%, Secret by 21%, and Confidential by 3%. Twenty-six percent held no clearance at all. Those with no clearance include accomplices, witting spouses, those who provided classified information obtained during a previous job when they did have a clearance, and those who provided sensitive but unclassified information. Information is available for 141 cases.
Where Espionage Began: Sixty-six percent of espionage cases began in the United States, with a large majority of those on the East Coast. Of the 34% that began outside the United States, 66% began in Western Europe (mainly West Germany) and 20% in Asia or Southeast Asia. Information is available for 146 cases.
Country Receiving Information: During the Cold War, most espionage was conducted by the Soviet Union and associated Communist countries in Eastern Europe. The surprising thing is how many other neutral or allied countries have also been involved in espionage against the United States. American citizens have been arrested for conducting espionage on behalf of South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Israel, Netherlands, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Ghana, Liberia, South Africa, El Salvador and Ecuador. Information is based on the 111 cases in which offenders succeeded in passing information.
Espionage Target: Information from the following organizations was compromised, or, in the case of unsuccessful espionage attempts, was intended to be compromised. The number after each organization is the number of offenders who targeted that organization. Navy, 38; Army, 32; Air Force, 22; CIA, 16; Defense contractors, 15; NSA, 7; State, 7; FBI, 4; Marines, 4; DoD civilians, 4; DIA, 2; INS, 1. Six offenders compromised materials from more than one agency and are, therefore counted twice. Information is available for 146 cases.
Payment Received: Although money tops the list of motivations for espionage, it is interesting to see how few spies received significant payments. Most foreign intelligence services are mistrustful of volunteers and are tight with their money, except in the most important cases. Most spies received relatively little, despite the high risk of getting caught and the monumental cost of espionage to the nation. Of the 111 cases in which spies succeeded in passing information to a foreign intelligence service, information on payments is available for 92 cases. Sixty-four of those receive some monetary payment, while 28 are believed to have received no monetary payments. Offenders who received no monetary payment include those who provided information after defecting to the other side, women who helped their husband or boyfriend, some who appeared to have been motivated only by a desire to help the other country, and others who sought some non-monetary quid pro quo such as help for a local business, post-retirement employment in the country that received the information, or release of a spouse from prison.
Of the 64 spies known to have received cash payments, 11% received less than $1,000; 17% received $1,000 to $9,999; 26% received $10,000 to $99,999; 12% received $100,000 to $999,999; while 4% received $1,000,000 or more. It is noteworthy that some of these payments were made as long as 50 years ago, and that the payment figures have not been adjusted for changes in the value of the dollar over the years. They also represent only the amount that the spy is known to have received. After their arrest, spies often try to minimize the amount of money they received in an effort to minimize their crime.
Length of Sentence: The percentages for each initial sentence length are as follows:18% less than 5 years; 20% 5 to 9.9 years; 18% 10 to 19.9 years; 10% 20 to 29.9 years; 7% 30 to 30.9 years; 2% 40 years; 12% life in prison. Sentencing information is available for 127 cases. Twenty cases are known to have had other outcomes such as defection, suicide, or immunity from prosecution.
Date Arrested or Exposed: Five spies were arrested or otherwise publicly exposed during the decade of the 1950s. This increased to 13 in the 1960s and 13 in the 1970s. Arrests and other public exposures mushroomed to 56 in the 1980s and remained at a high level, with 29, in the 1990s. Information is available for all 150 cases.
Large variations in the number of arrests from one time period to another may be determined more by the nature of the counterintelligence sources and tools that are available during a given period than by changes in the prevalence of espionage. The 1980s have been called the Decade of the Spy because of the number of successful spies exposed during that period. However, it was also the decade of the unsuccessful spy. Many young, unmarried military enlisted personnel were caught before they succeeded in selling any secrets. Of the high number of cases in the 1990s, many were successful spies exposed by sources that became available after the end of the Cold War.
Indicators of Security Risk
Past espionage cases can be analyzed to determine the prevalence among spies of behaviors or circumstances often considered indicative of potential security risk. U.S. Government decisions to approve or disapprove security clearances for access to classified information are based on a set of thirteen Adjudicative Guidelines. These guidelines cover behaviors commonly associated with security risk, such as alcohol and drug abuse, criminal behavior, emotional or mental problems, financial problems, and vulnerability to foreign influence.
Behavioral information may be reported in the publicly available sources only if its presence or absence is particularly noteworthy, or if the case is an important one that receives in-depth media coverage. As a result, information on behavioral indicators of potential security risk is available for only a portion of the cases.
Alcohol Abuse: An offender was considered to have engaged in "excessive alcohol use" if he/she was described in one or more open sources as having an alcohol problem, being a heavy drinker, or having been under the influence at the time of first contact with a foreign intelligence service.
Forty offenders reportedly used alcohol to excess. This is 27% of all offenders or 51% of the 79 cases for which information is available about alcohol use. These are minimum figures. It is quite possible that some of those for whom no information is available on alcohol use actually had an alcohol problem.
Drug Abuse: The numbers on illegal drug use are similar to those for excessive alcohol use. Information is available for 76 of the 150 cases. Of those cases for which information is available, 53% of the subjects engaged in illegal drug use while 47% reportedly did not. The current relevance of such statistics on drug use is uncertain, as the prevalence of drug use, especially within the military, has varied greatly over the years.
Spending Inconsistent with Known Income Level: Spies who obtain significant amounts of money may be tempted to spend their illegal income in ways that attract attention to their unexpected or unexplained affluence. To examine this subject, one can look at the 64 cases in which payment was received. In 23 of these cases (36%), the offenders were reported to have demonstrated financial affluence not consistent with their known income. For the 26 cases in which the spy was paid $40,000 or more, unexplained affluence was reported in 20 cases (77%). As usually happens, unfortunately, this information was not known until after the offender was arrested.
Foreign Interests: The national guidelines governing adjudication of security clearances require consideration of any foreign relationships that may make an individual potentially vulnerable to coercion, exploitation, or pressure. This includes foreign attachments such as family ties, other emotional attachments or obligations to foreign persons, and financial, business, or professional interests abroad. There is concern that conflicting loyalties or conflicts of interest can make a person vulnerable to foreign pressure.
A large percentage of offenders had foreign backgrounds or connections. For example:
At least 33% had close foreign relatives. In many cases, the relative was a relative of the spouse, not of the offender.
At least 44% had emotional attachments to foreign persons such as spouse, fiancée, lover, friend, or relative other than a parent or sibling.
At least 16% had foreign financial, business, or professional interests.
At least 17% were naturalized citizens
At least 7% lived in a foreign country during part of their formative childhood years, and an additional 8% during their entire childhood.
For analytical purposes, offenders with foreign relatives, foreign emotional attachments of various types, and foreign financial, business, or professional interests are combined as a group called offenders with foreign interests. This group includes 76 (51%) of the offenders.
These offenders with foreign interests can be compared with offenders who had no such interests. Those with foreign interests were more likely to have been recruited directly by a foreign service than those without such background or connections (41% versus 32%), and less likely to have volunteered their services to a foreign intelligence service (59% versus 66%). Of the 76 offenders with foreign interests, foreign relatives played a role in recruiting 26% of them.
Offenders with foreign interests were significantly more likely than other offenders to have been motivated by ideology (34% versus 10%). Recall that in this context the term ideology includes a set of beliefs based on common ethnic or national background. On the other hand, they were less likely to have been motivated by money (61% versus 78%).
It is not surprising that 51% of espionage offenders have foreign interests. This does not indicate that Americans with foreign background or connections are less loyal than other Americans. In considering the security risk associated with foreign interests, it is important to distinguish between susceptibility to recruitment and vulnerability to being targeted for recruitment. Foreign interests do not make one more susceptible (less loyal), but they do make one more vulnerable. Americans with foreign interests have valuable language skills and area knowledge. Because of these skills, they are more likely than other Americans to be in positions where they have access to classified information. They are more likely to have contact with foreigners and more likely to feel comfortable dealing with foreigners. They are also more likely to be accessible for assessment and to be targeted for recruitment by foreign intelligence services.