Benefits of the NOIR Concept

The benefits of NOIR can be divided into two categories: Tactical and Strategic. Tactical refers to benefits that derive from improvements in the management of individual insider spy cases. Strategic refers to improvements in the world of espionage writ large. Click on each benefit to read more information.

Cessation means getting insider spies to cease their spying, sooner rather than later. The special contribution of reconciliation: creation of a mechanism, for the first time, that provides a credible, safe way out for stuck insider spies.

Owing to the reconciliation agreement, we get a more rapid and complete Damage Assessment, with teeth ensuring real cooperation.

The reconciled insider spy can participate in double agent operations, can feed disinformation, and otherwise manipulate hostile services.

Degrading spy-handler relationships of all adversary intelligence services, an advantage exclusive to our intelligence community, and our closest allies.

NOIR shifts the international balance of espionage operations in favor of the United States, giving us a global strategic competitive advantage.

Historically, the United States has not enjoyed a robust advantage vis-à-vis other intelligence services in human intelligence (HUMINT). We have compensated for this shortfall by superiority in technical intelligence. NOIR helps to level the HUMINT playing field by making our intelligence community, as compared to other nations, more impenetrable.

Standing up a NOIR capability is culturally congruent for the United States.

The only countries that can match our capacity to credibly stand up an NOIR happen to be our allies, the democracies that value individuals and that share our culture: our “Cousins,” such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, etc. Our adversaries around the world cannot possibly compete. NOIR requires a culture that is humane, trustworthy, innovative, credible, reliable, and open to forgiveness, second chances and comebacks. While not perfect in these respects, the United States is uniquely situated because our national culture makes a NOIR workable.

By comparison, it’s hard to imagine that our opponents around the world-Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and others-could culturally pull off a NOIR. Nations that are totalitarian, harsh, punitive, untrustworthy, unreliable, or corrupt will not be able to stand up a credible NOIR capability. Their own citizens simply wouldn’t trust them. Trust is the critical factor without which a NOIR cannot operate successfully. Simply put: We can do it; they can’t.

Other factors that give us an advantage: The United States is geographically a big country to hide in, which is useful for concealing reconciled insider spies. Psychologically, we are an island nation. Americans love living here and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Promises by handlers of refuge in Russia, Iran, or North Korea would not be terribly attractive to an American insider spy. Even under the reduced circumstances of a reconciliation agreement, spies would rather live here in the United States. NOIR is a mechanism only the United States and our closest allies can stand up.

Bridging stovepipes within the intelligence community by sharing a community-wide resource.

Redefining the shared meaning of insider spying so no one will want to cross that line.

All such relationships get weakened because with NOIR, there is a permanent option of escape always available to newly recruited or veteran spies. Any hostile intelligence service would have to assume that at least some of its insider spies have gone bad on them and opted to reconcile. Even if that weren’t so, they must operate as if each of their recruited American agents was teetering on the edge of compromise.

Constant availability of an escape hatch will get in the way of handlers getting away with posing to their recruited agents as the sole reliable source of support, recognition, appreciation, money, etc. Handlers must always be concerned about whether their fish will slip off the hook.

Handlers will constantly seek reassurance that their agents are still on the hook and would have to constantly work against NOIR. They will tend to become pushy, demand other reassurances, all of which will counter the atmosphere of warmth and friendship they have worked so hard to cultivate. This will have the opposite effect of pushing their American agents further away. Over time, NOIR, merely by existing, works to contaminate, undermine, and degrade all spy-handler relationships.

Handlers have another worry. They must also constantly be on guard, even when a case seems to be running smoothly, whether their recruited agents have been doubled. For all these reasons, the mere existence of NOIR will negatively alter the interpersonal dynamics between all insider spies and their foreign handlers.

The biggest negative reaction to the establishment of NOIR will come from all the hostile intelligence services of the world. Their jobs will get much harder.

NOIR’s reconciliation puts pressure on still-hidden insider spies. There would be a kind of snowball effect, because each of them will now have more reason to fear that they may get unmasked. As each new insider spy steps forward to reconcile, more information not previously known gets disclosed. Thus, more chances that counterintelligence teams will roll up more spies and spy networks. This knowledge would work on the minds of still-hidden insider spies, weakening their resolve to stay hidden.

With every reconciled spy there would be a strategic dividend. With NOIR, identification of insider spies would no longer be dependent on random or lucky events—it would start to occur more frequently.

NOIR will bring to all spies mindfulness of their impossible life situations. This effect may not be immediate, because a spy may just not be ready yet for reconciliation. However, the mere existence of NOIR can plant the first seeds of doubt—and hope—for later consideration. NOIR can influence the spy’s thinking, channeling it to interpret their life condition as it really is: stuck, trapped, and constantly worried about when the other shoe will drop. This will foster readiness to reconcile.

From the moment insider spies consider reconciliation, it will change their behavior. They may start to reduce cooperation with their handlers and dial down their productivity. During this deliberation phase, insider spies will turn over fewer intelligence assets.

Intelligence agencies fail to detect insider spies for years. Eventually, when the news of a disclosed spy explodes in screaming headlines, the victimized agencies come to be thought of as incompetent and suffer embarrassment, ridicule and diminished reputation. This has negative internal effects on the agency workforce. With NOIR, these public revelations are headed off.

Defections are necessarily handled quietly, behind closed doors, preventing unwelcome public reaction. Oversight authorities will have to know, but this will remain classified. An added bonus: no inspiration for copycat crimes.

Numerous cases of persons highly suspected of being spies are never prosecuted for want of evidence that will stand up in court. Despite case files filled to the brim with almost conclusive proof of spying, the evidence does not quite meet the threshold for charging these suspects with espionage. To quote one professional: “Most cases die in the file because we don’t have a prosecutable case.” Meanwhile, full surveillance is undertaken in the hope of catching suspects in the act. Once suspects notice they’re under scrutiny, they get more vigilant, and then go dormant. Now what? This is very frustrating for security and counterintelligence professionals.

Given current policy, spies choose non-cooperation. Punishments for espionage are so onerous that conflicted spies find it preferable to play the game out and admit nothing.

What to do? Only half-measures are possible, which at least limit further damages. Suspects can have their accesses reduced and they can be harassed. Hardly satisfying. Finally, they can be fired on some grounds and be harassed some more (viz., the Felix Bloch case). With non-prosecutable spies, it’s messy: disturbingly inconclusive, lacks the satisfaction of bringing these cases to trial, and places gaining critical Damage Assessments out of reach.

With NOIR in place, there would be new options. Insider spies who know they are under strong suspicion, but do not know that they are non-prosecutable, may on their own initiative decide to put an end to their uncertainty by turning themselves in. With NOIR, the balance shifts strongly to their availing themselves of NOIR protections.

Counterintelligence professionals can deliberately nudge suspected but non-prosecutable spies in the NOIR direction through hints. Better a reconciled spy than a non-prosecutable spy. Now, at least there would be a chance to gain the many advantages of debriefing the reconciled spy and getting a full Damage Assessment. As a bonus, we can “PNG” the spy’s handler from the United States, thus disrupting that hostile intelligence service’s recruitment operations against us.

These three categories of insider spy are the hard cases. Their motivations are more deeply rooted, making them more difficult to thwart. Even so, if NOIR were in place, there would be points of leverage that could work.


Time changes the outlook of all people, including ideological spies. Youthful passions cool over time. With maturity, black and white thinking fades to shades of gray. From the clearer perspective of one or two decades later, any ideology can be appreciated as too rigid and out of touch with reality. Passions for an ideology that once ran hot now become like old, cold potatoes.

Added to that are family concerns. The insider spy worries that if he gets caught, his grown children will find his original ideological motives merely ridiculous. These changes can soften even ideological spies and make them ripe targets for NOIR.


These are harder cases because ethnic spies’ motivations differ from the more typical insider spies whose motives are personal and idiosyncratic. Foreign intelligence officers who recruit by playing the ethnic card appeal to loyalties that have tribal power. Even so, candidates for this kind of recruitment are also subject to all the stresses highlighted in the earlier of the Ten Stages; they don’t succumb for the sole reason of ethnic solidarity.

As with ideological spies, time shifts the inner calculations of even ethnic and religious spies to weaken their affiliation with their old country or faith. Many foreign cultures strongly emphasize family integrity, duties and obligations, and respect for elders. Protecting the family from dishonor and shame is highly valued. What will happen if they get caught and their spy story leaks out? How will it affect their children who are Americanized? As heads of their families, they would feel even more like failures if their children were harmed by embarrassment, shame, and other negative treatment.

With NOIR in place, even ethnic or religious spies would eventually become potential candidates for reconciliation.


Psychopathy can be defined as the absence of a capacity for guilt, accompanied by minimal empathy for other people. Psychopaths see other people as two-dimensional cutouts, to be used, manipulated and exploited, like pawns on a chessboard. They are expert at reading other people to take advantage of vulnerabilities. They are like wily reptilian predators. They are upset only by the prospect of being caught or punished. If that happens, they may appear to be unhappy, sad and depressed, but only because they have been thwarted, not because of inner self-condemnation or guilt.

Psychopathy is often used as a key descriptor for insider spies. However, that may be an overused explanation. It’s not all wrong, just incomplete as an explanation, as explained in Part One. Intelligence professionals at the higher levels of the pyramid of the intelligence community are less likely to be constituted that way. Many years of motivated hard work and demanding schooling, which is required to qualify for these higher positions, tends to select out psychopathic candidates. Because of less selectivity, there may be more psychopathic types at lower levels of the pyramid.

Psychopathic spies, because they lack strong morals and are self-absorbed and exploitative, may appear to be much harder for NOIR to manage. Surprisingly, that may not be true. Who knows better than a psychopath which side of the bread is buttered? NOIR does not require the spy to possess a conscience!

Psychopaths may avail themselves of NOIR not for reasons of guilt, but just to save their skins. Reconciliation for them would mainly be for their own convenience, and out of the fear of being accidentally betrayed. Psychopaths will make their decisions based purely on calculating what works to optimize their self-interest.

So what? From a counterintelligence point of view, the net outcome is still better. The spying stops, the spy spills out useful information during the Damage Assessment, and he is neutralized as a continuing security threat. If he had not taken advantage of NOIR, he might never have been identified or caught so soon. Or, if identified, he might have been non-prosecutable (see previous), and unwilling to divulge his knowledge.

NOIR provides a mechanism for managing difficult “gray zone” problems, incidents just below the threshold for terminating intelligence officer careers.

For example, when our own intelligence officers come close to crossing certain lines—not necessarily into spying—but into zones where questionable decisions and judgments weaken the integrity of operations. When such incidents are not reported, it creates the problem. To report them may risk serious career setbacks, and for the lack of a safer way to report these matters, our intelligence strength suffers. With NOIR in place, with safer-to-use reporting mechanisms, some of these matters could be better managed. Two examples follow:


Being pitched and not reporting it because of worries it could negatively affect career. The intelligence officer may fear it would be interpreted by management that he is broadcasting signals of vulnerability, so he prefers to never mention it. Or, an intelligence officer may simply not want to have to leave the country where he’s serving, so he stays silent. In both cases, the details of what happened would be useful to know.


An intelligence officer may cross the line romantically with a recruited agent, or with another intelligence officer, adversary or ally, and for obvious reasons, not report it. No need to explain why this can be a problem. A safer reporting mechanism would serve all parties better.

Fair or not, EAPs inside intelligence community agencies are not well trusted. EAPs are suspected of divulging personal problems to agency management or security offices. Unfortunately, sometimes there are grounds for these concerns. This gives an excuse for many who could really benefit from getting help, especially men. Male pride and ego, with tendencies to deny and delay, offer excuses for men to avoid getting help from internal EAPs.

Most of the time internal EAPs can serve their clients well. Agency personnel may self-refer for services, and management, or even fellow employees, can urge their colleagues to get help. Personnel with serious problems showing overt disturbing behaviors may become so obvious that management will simply demand that they check in with EAP, and then good things can happen. These case categories are not the big concerns.

For counterintelligence purposes, the real worries are the cases of personnel who feel desperate and overwhelmed by the Psychological Perfect Storms referred to in Part One. Some can endure these storms but somehow retain the ability to conceal outward signs of distress. These are the true worries. They can invisibly snap into a Personal Bubble Psychology, marked by massively distorted thinking, resulting in bad decisions, like crossing over into spying.

Distrust of internal EAPs is the key problem. If an external EAP were made available as a last resort option for help, a certain number of these hardcore cases might take advantage of it to get help—knowing that they would not necessarily be immediately reported to their home agency’s management. NOIR would be the perfect entity to house this functionality. This will be discussed in more detail in Section B, which addresses Prevention.

What to do about “hot potato” employees? These are the ones who can’t seem to stay within reasonable boundaries of behavior. They are “loose cannons,” who may be quite brilliant, but whose judgment doesn’t match up. They are unstable, unpredictable; at times very effective, at other times placing themselves or their home agencies at major risk of causing embarrassing operational failures or worse. After countless efforts to straighten them out, managers may lose hope and finally, out of need to protect important equities, conclude such persons have to go.

How can this be accomplished safely?

If pressed too hard, these unstable persons can get pushed over the edge, react with bitter fury, and become even bigger problems than before—to include the risk of turning to espionage. On the other hand, not doing anything to clip their wings may give mixed messages of tolerance, adding the risk that they will cause further damage. It’s a no-win situation for managers. In the private sector, a whole new niche industry has evolved to help deal with this: outplacement.

Here’s how it works: First, the problem employee meets with a manager who delivers the hard news—he is being fired. No long story is presented about why. Just a firm: “It’s not working out.” Then the employee is told: “But we want you to transition into another position where you fit better and you can succeed. We’ve engaged another company that is expert in helping people like you to make a smooth transition, and that company’s representative is waiting right now to be introduced to you.”

Immediately, the employee is escorted into another office and introduced to the outplacement professional, who takes over. The former manager quietly leaves. This outplacement professional is calm, friendly and respectful. The newly fired employee gets a chance to vent his shock, hurt, anger and his other intense emotions to this new, caring, sympathetic and supportive person who is not an employee of the firing company. This allows for a graceful, soft landing, and a diversion of attention away from the firing company to the new supportive entity.

The next meeting takes place off-premises, in the offices of the outplacement firm. There, more support is offered to the fired employee, and more opportunity for venting. Also, he is given daily access to a well-appointed office, where he can explore new job options. The key idea is to cushion sensitive feelings, restore dignity, and rebuild confidence.

As an office external to any of the intelligence community agencies, NOIR can be used for outplacement. NOIR can choreograph the exiting of unstable or difficult employees who would be permitted to bow out gracefully, avoiding unwelcome trouble. Costs would be tiny compared to undoing the costs of espionage.

What do you think?