The following article by John Irvin appeared under the title NOIR: Neue Strategien zur Erkennung von Insiderspionen in Vol.10, Nr.1/2016 of the Journal for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies [JIPSS], published by the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies [ACIPSS].[1]   ACIPSS was founded at the University of Graz, Austria, in 2004, “in order to promote research and understanding of the complex and often interrelated issues pertaining to intelligence, propaganda and security with which man and society are confronted in private and public life.” 

NOIR: New strategies for the detection of insider spies

The psychiatrist had mixed feelings before his first meeting with FBI Special Agent turned Russian spy Earl Pitts.  As director of his own Alexandria, Virginia, psychiatric counseling center, Dr. David L. Charney already had over a decade of experience counseling members of the United States intelligence community who had been referred to him.  This time it would be different.  This time his “patient” would be someone who had betrayed those other patients, someone who had betrayed his own country.  This time he would be working with someone who had gone over to the “other side.”

Nevertheless, when the opportunity arose to work on the defense team for Pitts’ upcoming trial for espionage, Dr. Charney knew it was a unique opportunity as a psychiatrist.  In spite of sensational media reports, the kind of insider espionage Pitts had engaged in was still a relatively rare occurrence.[2]  Moreover, when a spy was caught, few people would have access to him apart from the government damage assessment team and, of course, his own lawyers.   For Dr. Charney, this was his chance to find out what makes traitors tick.[3]

Whatever trepidation he may have felt disappeared and his role as mental health professional took over when one of Pitts’ defense attorneys expressed concern that her client seemed extremely depressed.  Who wouldn’t be depressed sitting in jail, accused of spying for the “other side,” losing his job and reputation, not to mention the damage it would indirectly cause his friends, family, and co-workers?  Charney feared that the devastating consequences of his actions might lead Pitts to consider suicide.  He also knew that one way of countering the hopelessness of Pitts’ situation would be to offer him some small ray of hope.  Perhaps he could offer Pitts a way to redeem himself somewhat, to make some small amount of restitution.

In his first meeting with Pitts, Dr. Charney offered him precisely that opportunity.  He explained to Pitts that one way he might try to partially redeem himself would be to speak openly with Charney about his real motivation in turning to a life of espionage.  As a trained psychiatrist, Charney hoped to go beyond the black and white mindset of law enforcement or the cold analytic assessments of government psychologists.  Charney sought to find a human solution to an all-too-human problem.  Pitts could help him do this and, in the process, pay back those he had betrayed by providing insight that might prevent others from doing the same.  Pitts’ answer was simple, “I’ll be your guinea pig.”

In the following years, Dr. Charney would also serve on the defense teams of another FBI Special Agent turned spy, Robert Hanssen, as well as Air Force Master Sergeant turned spy Brian Regan.  Spending hours and hours delving into the psyche of all three men gave Charney a unique opportunity for someone who was not a federal government employee.  Journalists and authors might also speak with the men, but for much less time and without Charney’s training in psychiatry.  What he learned from them, combined with his decades of experience as a psychiatrist and the insight he gained by working with both former and active members of the US intelligence community, led him to develop a theory of the true psychology of the so-called “insider spy.”  He also proposed a new government office that would use that theory in a groundbreaking effort to prevent insider espionage and mitigate the damage that results when it does inevitably take place.[4]

The True Psychology of the Insider Spy

To clarify, insider spies can be defined as those individuals who have passed employment screening and have been placed in positions of trust.  In the corporate world, that would include access to valuable corporate resources or sensitive, proprietary information.  In the case of government employees (and the private contractors who, very often in the United States at least, support federal agencies), this would include those who have obtained clearances to access classified information.

What Dr. Charney actually discovered flew in the face of conventional theories of motivation and moralistic attitudes that suggested spies are intrinsically flawed, untrustworthy people.  Motivation was much more complex than the traditional MICE categories (M-money, I-ideology, C-compromise, E-ego).  Moreover, despite the best pre-employment screening, employees who had been cleared and vetted and legitimately determined to be trustworthy did, on occasion and under certain circumstances, become untrustworthy.  In most cases, it wasn’t so much a matter of traitors somehow slipping through the system, but more a matter of essentially normal, justifiably trustworthy people making very poor choices under very specific circumstances.

What Dr. Charney did find to be a common trait among the insider spies he worked with and researched was much more subjective than objective, and internal rather than outwardly discernable.  He identified this as the True Psychology of the Insider Spy, which is an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person.  Obviously, everyone faces personal and professional setbacks.  Whether a given individual perceives that setback as a personal failure that warrants drastic action (such as treason in the case of the insider spy) is entirely subjective.

Furthermore, since that perception arises in the mind of the individual, it may be completely invisible to everyone else.   What a supervisor, co-worker, friend or family member may consider a minor setback, in the mind of the nascent insider spy at least, may be viewed as a devastating blow to his sense of self.  The failure may be professional, such as being passed over for promotion or the belief on the part of the insider spy that he is not being appropriately recognized for what he believes to be outstanding personal qualities or exceptional performance.  The failure may be personal, such as financial or marital problems.  Whatever the reason, it is perceived by the individual as a genuine failure and that feeling of failure is intolerable and must be relieved.  Some may turn to alcohol or even suicide.  For the insider spy, relief comes through the decision to commit espionage.

The Ten Life Stages of the Insider Spy

Through his work with insider spies, Dr. Charney developed a psychological theory of how individuals come to the decision to commit espionage and the common experiences they have upon making that decision.  He identified them as The Ten Life Stages of the Insider Spy, which begin before the decision is ever made and continue beyond the end of the espionage career.

First Stage: The Sensitizing Stage

While it would be simplistic and inaccurate to assume personal life events predestine any individual toward future espionage, some experiences may sensitize a specific person to the thought processes that may contribute to such a decision.  A dysfunctional family environment or specific traumatic events may contribute to a mindset that rationalizes the betrayal necessary for espionage, but such experiences are hardly determinative.  This is demonstrated simply by the sheer volume of individuals who have had such experiences who do not later choose espionage.

Recent research in the field of epigenetics[5] may suggest one reason why the task of identifying specific traits that would effectively screen out potential spies is an inevitably imperfect endeavor.  Human behavior is almost infinitely complex, being the culmination of a unique lifetime of experience, belief, and conscious or unconscious bias.  While screening for personality traits may be effective in identifying overtly undesirable ones, a particular trait like a genetic predisposition, may lie more or less dormant until activated by a specific set of circumstances.  In the case of the insider spy, this occurs in the Second Stage.

Second Stage: The Stress/Spiral Stage

A problem with “common sense” approaches to the problem of insider espionage is a tendency toward a black and white view of human nature.  In this view, insider spies are simply “bad apples” waiting for the opportunity to let their character defects play out.  This view provides the comforting myth that the answer to insider espionage is simply to screen these defective human beings out of positions of trust.

In reality, at least in the US intelligence community and with the exception of so-called “moles”, employees rarely if ever join with the conscious intention of later betrayal.  Rather, they join with every intention of keeping their promises and commitments.  Unfortunately, in the case of a small but extremely harmful minority, something happens to undermine that commitment.  This is why employee screening, while vitally necessary, often fails dramatically.

Everyone suffers stressful personal or professional experiences.  For the insider spy, as suggested in the core psychology of insider spies (an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person) under the right circumstances he will perceive these stresses as overwhelming.  He may feel life is spinning out of control.  The reasons may be professional, financial, or personal.  They may be the result of marital problems, problems with coworkers, or disgruntlement with management that (as far as the spy is concerned) does not recognize or reward his exceptional talent.  The reasons are likely to be complex and multiple, but the one universal factor is that the individual insider spy perceives the situation psychologically intolerable.

Third Stage: The Crisis/Climax/Resolution Stage

At some point the stresses become overwhelming and the nascent insider spy experiences what Dr. Charney refers to as a psychological perfect storm.  External circumstances and the individual’s perception of his personal situation combine in a manner that, in his mind, opens the door to an option that was previously never considered or simply out of the question.  The individual comes to the conclusion that the best, or at least the most immediate, means of relieving the sense of failure, to resolve his intolerable personal situation, is to commit espionage.

To the outside observer, this will clearly be viewed as a foolhardy decision in response to circumstances that, when considered objectively, are not that bad.  For the insider spy, however, objectivity and logic are irrelevant.  The decision is based on ego and a profoundly subjective perception of personal failure that is emotionally intolerable.   For the insider spy, espionage is a reasonable, perhaps even a brilliant resolution to an unacceptable personal situation.  As with many decisions made in “the heat of the moment” and based on ego and emotion, a rational assessment of potential consequences is not likely to occur until much latter

Fourth Stage: The Post-recruitment Stage

Having come to the conclusion that espionage is a reasonable way out of an intolerable situation, the nascent insider spy is ready for recruitment by a foreign intelligence service or other individuals and organizations seeking classified information.  In most documented cases, the insider spy actually seeks out the recruiter, often showing up at a foreign embassy or passing cryptic notes.

For the insider spy, this is an exciting time.  His external problems, such as financial issues, appear to be solved.  More importantly, he has taken decisive action and regained a sense of efficacy and control over his life.  His ego is boosted not only through his apparent value to his new handler, but also through his seeming cleverness in deceiving and besting those he considered responsible for his former unacceptable psychological state.  A new chapter has opened in his life.

Fifth Stage: The Remorse/Morning-After Stage

Unfortunately for the insider spy, decisions made in a state of psychological stress are rarely the best decisions.  When the crisis that triggered the decision to engage in espionage has passed or is seemingly resolved and when the initial thrill of a new life as an insider spy has worn off, he is left with the realization that he has crossed a bridge of no return.

Espionage is a serious crime with equally serious consequences if discovered.  The insider spy is unlikely to get away with a simple apology and the acknowledgement that he made a mistake while acting on emotion and in desperation circumstances.  The employer he has betrayed and a law enforcement community that views serious punishment as a deterrent to similar crimes are unlikely to view his case sympathetically.  While initially helpful and affirming, his handler and the foreign intelligence service that employs him are not likely to let their new-found, valuable asset go so easily.  If he expresses second thoughts, the insider spy may even find that his new “friends” begin making threats to him or his family.[6]

At this point, the insider spy realizes that he is stuck.  His effort to regain control of his situation and boost his sense of self has backfired irretrievably.  What seemed a brilliant decision during his psychological perfect storm has proven a self-imposed trap from which there is no viable escape.  To turn himself in to authorities almost certainly means a lengthy prison sentence and public dishonor.  His handler is unlikely to simply let him go and may, in fact, make more serious threats.

The sense of personal failure that led him to consider espionage has led to another failure.  He no longer has full control of his life.  He no longer has any desirable options.  To add to this sense of failure, the savvy insider spy knows that most spies are exposed not through meticulous counterintelligence work or unsound tradecraft on the part of the spy or his handler, but through defectors from the “other side.”

This adds a new element to the psychological makeup of the insider spy – a constant sense of anxiety.  A defector from the intelligence service handling the insider spy may show up at any time and there is simply nothing he can do about it.

Sixth Stage: The Active Spy Career Stage

An insider spy may be active for anything from a few days to decades.  Early exposure may, in fact, be a blessing of sorts, because every day of his career the insider spy is under the stress of maintaining a secret life and aware of the possibility of being discovered without warning.  For the long-serving spy, the original motivation for turning to espionage may fade.  His personal or financial circumstances may improve.  The ideology that struck him as worth betraying those who trusted in him may seem less attractive over time.  His issues with his employer or coworkers may simply go away.

Even if the original motivation fades, however, what remains is the reality that the insider spy is stuck in a web of deceit and criminal activity from which he cannot extract himself without facing unacceptable consequences.  For years or decades the insider spy has to endure a constant sense of insecurity, never sure whether he is under suspicion, anxious over the unpredictability of being exposed by a defector, under the constant mental stress of keeping his espionage a secret.  That doesn’t change.

As time progresses, the insider spy is subject to the mental stress of justifying his decision and his duplicity.  What may have been an exciting “second job” in the beginning is now marked by the drudgery of tradecraft, taskings, and meetings with his handler, all of which have to remain hidden from view.  How well a given insider spy is able to hold up under this constant stress is probably related directly to his ability to rationalize his behavior, which is tested over and over again.

Seventh Stage: The Dormancy Stage(s)

On one or more occasions the insider spy may, at least temporarily, seek his dream of finding a way out.  Harboring fantasies of escape, he hopes that by reducing his productivity, his handler will consider him less useful and perhaps forget about him.  So much for assumptions that insider spies are relentless, evil geniuses.  Or, for security reasons, his handler may direct him to “go to ground” and become inactive for a period of time.  A change of circumstances may place him in a position with no access to valuable information.  Even in this case, however, the handler is likely to either direct him to seek a position with access or to reactivate him in the event circumstances are more favorable.

In any event, these dormancy stages are usually temporary.  Despite any desire the insider spy may have to break free of his “stuckness,” he is always at the mercy of his handler.  Moreover, even if in a state of dormancy, he still risks the chance that his previous activities may be exposed.  That exposure may come years or decades after his active spy career.  While perhaps somewhat diminished, the psychological stress remains a part of his daily life.

Eighth Stage: The Pre-arrest Stage

Insider spies aren’t stupid.  Because their lives depend upon it, they learn to be very observant.  They are quick to notice indicators of surveillance.  When their ability to rationalize their behavior wears thin, they will eventually come to realize that the writing is on the wall and exposure is likely, if not inevitable.  Law enforcement and counterintelligence officials will later comment on their poor tradecraft or imprudent lifestyle.  What is more likely is that insider spies were simply burning out and want to get it over with.  Physical stress is difficult to deal with; over time, psychological stress is perhaps even more difficult to bear.

Ninth Stage:  The Arrest and Post-arrest Stage

Very often when an insider spy is arrested he will respond with bravado or insolence, making statements such as “What took you so long?” and disparaging law enforcement and his former employer.  This is the original motivation for becoming an insider spy come full circle.  Having become an insider spy in order to save a threatened ego or self-image, he now attempts to defend his ego in the face of his final failure – getting caught—but now this exposure, his final failure, is very public.

Faced with the virtual certainty of a long prison sentence, having his reputation destroyed publicly, and having brought embarrassment on his family, the insider spy has essentially nothing left to lose at this point.  He may be uncooperative simply as a means of maintaining some degree of control over his situation.  Ironically, he may also experience a sense of relief.  The threat of exposure is gone and the long, dreary nightmare of treason is over.

Tenth Stage: The Brooding in Jail Stage 

Most developed nations do not execute caught spies, yet will impose harsh prison sentences both as a deterrent and as a means of demonstrating moral outrage at such a despicable crime against society as treason.  Therefore, the former insider spy turned prison inmate has years of self-reflection (or self-deception) to look forward to.  Now the insider spy is completely out of options.  He is now forced to reflect on the entire sorry arc of his life.

Using The Ten Life Stages to Address Insider Espionage

Fortunately, the three insider spies Dr. Charney worked with – Pitts, Hansson, and Regan – did cooperate, at least for the time he served on their defense teams.  Their cooperation began the process that eventually led to his articulation of the core psychology of insider spies (an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person) and the Ten Life Stages.  While a small number from a statistically small group, he was able to build on their subjective experience through the stories of other insider spies, the ground-breaking efforts of PERSEREC and Operation Slammer to study spy psychology,[7] and interaction with both former and serving intelligence professionals.

As a mental health professional rather than a law enforcement of intelligence community officer, Dr. Charney brought a different perspective to the issue of insider espionage.  What he discovered after articulating the Ten Stages was that certain stages provided windows of opportunity to address and perhaps resolve the psychological dilemmas that either led an individual to become an insider spy or contributed to his remaining one.  Specifically, understanding and exploiting the mindset of the potential or actual insider spy during stages one, two, five, six, and seven offered the chance to either prevent or mitigate potential damage.

In a general sense, understanding Stage One life events and the possible worldview they might give rise to offers the opportunity to identify and address issues well before they become the basis for a decision to commit espionage.  Understanding the private, subjective mindset that contributes to the perception of failure in Stage Two provides an opportunity to deflect the potential insider spy away from an emotional, illogical and ill-fated decision.  Understanding the sense of being “stuck” with “no way out,” and facing the reality of yet another failure (discovery, disgrace, prison) during Stages Five, Six and Seven, provide the opportunity to mitigate the damage done by a spy during his active spy career.

However, Dr. Charney also realized that to take advantage of core insider spy psychology and the opportunity for intervention provided by the Ten Life Stages would require a focus on individual psychology that had never been seriously attempted (or, in the case of PERSEREC and Project Slammer, attempted in the 1980s-‘90s before being largely abandoned).  Moreover, for institutional and cultural reasons, such an effort would require establishing an independent organization that had never previously existed.

Proposing an Organization Designed to Stop or Mitigate Insider Espionage

It was clear that current counterintelligence methods such as screening, periodic review of security clearances, and technical monitoring were necessary but inadequate.  The personal circumstances and psychological conditions that led an otherwise reliable employee to turn to treason were too situationally dependent and unpredictable for “one-size-fits-all” methods.  The dilemma of preventing insider espionage wasn’t necessarily a matter of a “bad guy” slipping through the net, but rather one of a “good guy” making an emotional and irrevocable decision under certain circumstances for reasons known only to himself and largely hidden from view.

Law enforcement could provide swift and harsh punishment when treason was discovered, but was only effective in as much as the insider spy believed he might be caught.  Experience with incarcerated insider spies demonstrates that the individual’s mental state prior to turning to espionage is not necessarily one marked by clear judgement and an appreciation of consequences.  It more resembles a state of panic.  As for technical monitoring of employee behavior, while it may reveal some clues, there is no guarantee it will be effective against long-serving employees who already know how to evade detection.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are often designed specifically to address the personal issues that may lead to a decision to turn insider spy.  They are, however, hampered by a reality of human psychology.  For one, an employee may perceive that acknowledging personal difficulties to his employer, even via an EAP, may threaten his career or his standing among peers and managers.  As illogical as it may seem, turning to a secret life of espionage may appear the better means of preserving both his career and ego.

Secondly, the insider spy is often motivated by a deep disgruntlement with his home agency or organization.  Feeling himself unappreciated, unrecognized, or otherwise ill-treated by the organization, he is not likely to seek out the assistance of an EAP or rely on the sympathy of management.  Unfortunately, this is often a justified belief in organizations that maintain a “zero defects” mentality.

Acknowledging these realities, Dr. Charney realized that there was no organization in existence that provided the insider spy with what he most desired during the active part of his espionage career – a way out that would preserve at least some of his personal freedom and sense of self-worth.  In a black and white world where the individual was viewed as either “good” or “bad”, guilty or innocent, and where prevention was largely focused on the threat of lengthy prison sentences (or worse) and little expectation of sympathy from a home organization whose prestige was threatened by public revelations of espionage, there was simply no recourse for the insider spy who realized too late that he or she had made a disastrous decision.  There was no one to turn to and no way out.

National Office for Intelligence Reconciliation – NOIR

With this in mind, Dr. Charney developed the concept of a new organization that would be part of the United States government, but independent of existing Intelligence Community (IC) member organizations.  Drawing on the success of the United States Federal Witness Protection Program, also known as the Witness Security Program or WITSEC, he proposed a National Office for Intelligence Reconciliation (NOIR).

The focus of a NOIR would be what he termed reconciliation.  Dr. Charney repurposed an existing word for an event that lacks a word—because as things currently exist, it never happens that insider spies voluntarily turn themselves in.  In this usage it refers to the process by which an insider spy voluntarily turns himself in to authorities in order to escape from the dilemma he has placed himself in.  He must agree to rigorous terms and punishments.  However, he will avoid the most serious consequences of his crime – a lengthy prison term, the ignominy of being exposed publicly as a traitor, the negative impact on family and associates, the loss of any future employment possibilities.  He will be required to provide information and assistance to mitigate the damage he has done and/or counter the efforts of hostile intelligence services.

As a separate organization, a NOIR would be viewed by the insider spy seeking a way out as an “honest broker” rather than simply a branch of the home organization he likely already viewed as treating him unfairly and, through his betrayal, would be unlikely to view his situation dispassionately.  Even his genuine remorse would not likely mitigate the damage his home organization would perceive as having been done to its reputation and prestige.  A NOIR, being an objective third-party, would be perceived by the insider spy as a viable option for breaking away, even if at a high price.

In promoting a NOIR, it would also be made clear that it was not simply a “get out of jail free” card.  An insider spy who sought its assistance might be able to avoid public ignominy, but would not walk away unpunished.  Much as in criminals who sought the protection of WITSEC, the reconciled insider spy would be subject to a binding agreement that would demand his cooperation and curtail any benefits he may have sought through his espionage.  Moreover, while not publicly acknowledged, his treason would be a matter of (classified) record.

As an organization based on actual human psychology, a NOIR would not seek “one size fits all” outcomes, but approach each case as the outcome of unique and subjective experiences and worldviews.  It would seek to understand but not excuse individual behavior in order to generate outcomes that were in the best interest of the US government and assist in preventing future cases of espionage while mitigating the damage and exploiting the counterintelligence opportunity presented by repentant insider spies.

In offering repentant insider spies the opportunity to escape their untenable situation in exchange for their full cooperation and acceptance of a life-long binding agreement, a NOIR would acknowledge that even the insider spy is still of potential value and harsh punishment is not always in the best interest of those he has betrayed.  It acknowledges the reality that justice and vengeance are not necessarily the same thing.

Much as WITSEC often used criminals to fight crime, a NOIR would use the reconciled insider spy to fight the larger threat to national security posed by hostile intelligence services, terrorist organizations, and other entities seeking to do harm.  Turning to a NOIR would come at a price for the insider spy seeking a way out, but would still be preferable to the public disgrace and almost certain lengthy prison term he would face by continuing his espionage career.

The Benefits of a NOIR

In general terms, establishing a NOIR offers benefits that can be considered either tactical or strategic in the struggle against espionage.  The tactical benefits derive from a new method of handling specific cases of individuals engaged in insider spying, while strategic benefits derive from the impact a NOIR could have on the ability of outside actors to successfully engage in espionage against the home country.

Tactical Benefits

Cessation:  Quite simply, a NOIR encourages and enables the insider spy to stop spying.  Absent a NOIR, experiencing “stuckness” and seeing no option to ending his espionage that does not involve public disgrace and prison time, the insider spy experiencing regret simply continues spying in a fatalistic manner.  There is no way out.  A NOIR offers a way out that, while imposing serious constraints and demands, is still the best option on offer.  Now the insider spy actually has an opportunity to walk away from that life and salvage a shred of his sense of self-worth.  The penetrated government or organization benefits because a “stuck” spy will simply keep spying, whether he wants to or not.  Reconciliation stops the spying in a decisive manner.

Mitigation In all cases where an insider spy is caught, a damage assessment is conducted in order to determine what information or operations may have been compromised.  A caught spy may or may not cooperate in the hope that his sentence will be less harsh, but once the sentence is passed his motivation for further cooperation disappears.  Furthermore, any hope of sparing his family from public embarrassment or saving his reputation is already gone simply by virtue of his public trial.  To fully mitigate the damage an insider spy has wrought requires long-term and unlimited cooperation of the sort a damage assessment, however thorough, cannot in itself provide.  Reconciliation provides leverage that guarantees complete and on-going cooperation from the insider spy who seeks it.

Exploitation The insider spy who seeks reconciliation through a NOIR does so without the knowledge of the foreign intelligence service or hostile organization handling him.  This offers the intelligence community and law enforcement the opportunity to use the reconciled insider spy against his unwitting former handlers.  The reconciled spy changes from being a threat to being an asset in thwarting other cases of espionage.  Self-perception matters, and reconciliation offers the former insider spy something he could never hope for during his active espionage career or while sitting for years in a jail cell.  It offers him a chance for at least a degree of redemption.

Strategic Benefits

Weakening Spy/Handler Relationships:  The insider spy lives a lonely, double life in which one side is understood and shared only with his handler.  While the handler may initially seem friendly and sympathetic, the insider spy eventually discovers that it is not a friendship but, rather, a business arrangement in which he is sole employee.  He becomes dependent on his handler, who exercises complete control over him and may actually threaten him with exposure or harm if he attempts to end the relationship.  The very existence of a NOIR undermines the spy/handler relationship by providing the insider spy with a way out.  Furthermore, the handler will never know for certain whether the spy he is handling has sought reconciliation and is, in reality, no longer under his control.  Handlers will be forced to relate to their agents is a less warm and friendly manner, which will degrade and weaken their relationships.

Exposing Spy Networks  A reconciled former insider spy is an asset counterintelligence and law enforcement officials can employ in an effort to discover and expose broader hostile espionage efforts.  The reconciliation agreement ensures the former insider spy cooperation and assistance during the entire course of what may be a very lengthy investigation into wider spy networks.  Because the reconciliation process is confidential, there is also no reason for the hostile intelligence service to believe they are under scrutiny, as would be the case when an insider spy arrested publicly.

Promoting Readiness to Reconcile While a NOIR’s activities would remain classified, its existence and mission would be broadcast widely.  The simple fact that there is such an organization is a seed planted in the mind of those who have reached stages 6, 7 and 8.  This also promotes timely reconciliation, since the insider spy also knows that the opportunity for reconciliation disappears when he is caught and arrested, which he must admit may happen at any time and through no misstep on his part.  In reality, most insider spies have been exposed through defection my members of hostile intelligence services.  The insider spy lives in constant threat of discovery.  Reconciliation offers him a window of opportunity for escape that could close at any time upon his exposure.

Decreasing Insider Spy Productivity:  The insider spy considering reconciliation has less incentive to please his handler.  As a result, the amount of information he is willing to provide his handler is likely to decrease.

Improving Morale in the Intelligence Community  A NOIR that views insider spies as imperfect human beings who for various reasons have made disastrous and criminal mistakes rather than as simply caricatures of evil and deceit demonstrates to intelligence community employees that they are valued individuals, not mere cogs in a machine.  The NOIR’s focus on psychology offers a human rather than bureaucratic, institutional approach to counterintelligence.  It lets employees know that, while serious mistakes have serious consequences, those consequences need not be the most punitive.  It provides individual justice rather than organizational vengeance.  All of these perceptions are likely to increase the morale, the job satisfaction, and hence the performance of employees.  It also increases loyalty to the employer, which is one of the main factors in avoiding insider espionage in the first place.

Predomination  No society is perfect and no government is without its faults, but nations that are dedicated to the rule of law and recognition of human rights hold a distinct advantage over less-open nations, where laws and actions are dictated by the often-changing and self-interested whims of a dictator, dominant party, or small ruling elite.  Dr. Charney terms this advantage predomination, and it is the reason a NOIR can be considered a legitimate resource in free societies, while most hostile nations cannot offer anything similar.  The reconciliation process is based on an agreement that the insider spy wishing to seek it must consider trustworthy, safe, and legitimate.  He must believe the NOIR will uphold its end of the bargain.  A NOIR is an asset to free societies that dictatorial states simply cannot legitimately offer.

Ancillary Benefits:

In addition to these main benefits, establishing a NOIR also offers several ancillary benefits.

  • Non-prosecutable spies. NOIR partly solves the problem of the spy who is suspect, but who is never prosecuted because of a lack of definitive evidence.  The non-prosecutable spy, knowing he is under suspicion but not that he is non-prosecutable, is likely to view reconciliation as an attractive option.
  • Difficult cases. By focusing on core insider spy psychology, a NOIR gains traction in cases often considered especially difficult, such as religiously or ideologically-motivated spies and sociopaths.
  • Borderline cases. A NOIR is also an option for those individuals who have engaged in an activity that is not actually espionage, but which they may consider damaging to themselves if exposed.  Examples would include being “pitched” by a foreign intelligence organization or failure to report incidents that are not criminal but potentially career damaging.  As an “honest broker,” a NOIR would be an option to individuals who do not believe they could receive a “fair shake” from their home organization.  The NOIR effectively becomes the EAP of last resort.

Educating the Public on the True Psychology of the Insider Spy

New concepts often face considerable suspicion or misunderstanding, if not opposition.  With the exception of efforts like Project Slammer and PERSEREC, psychology has played a secondary role in counterespionage, offering after-the-fact explanations for behaviors that have already landed someone in prison.  The psychological approach Dr. Charney has developed is intended to enhance rather than replace, compete, or merely supplement traditional counterintelligence efforts.

To address confusion, misconception, and unwarranted criticism, Dr. Charney created a non-profit 501(c)3 organization under the United States Internal Revenue Code.  He named this organization NOIR for USA to reflect the benefits to US national security of establishing a NOIR, and created a website ( that would educate both intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as the general public, on the psychological concepts behind a NOIR and the benefits of bringing one into existence.

It has been many years since Dr. Charney first met Earl Pitts.  Since then his dedicated effort to understand the mind of the insider spy, not simply in order to provide superficial explanations for inexcusable behavior, but to understand the complex and subjective mindset that on rare but devastating occasion leads an otherwise trustworthy individual to turn to espionage, have resulted in concepts that hold the promise of using psychology to halt, mitigate, and prevent insider espionage.

In an age of increasing technology, it is often difficult to remember that espionage is a profoundly human endeavor.  Regardless of the ends or means, all insider espionage begins with a thought arising in the unique, subjective, often irrational mind of an individual.  The mindset that leads an individual into a career as an insider spy, Dr. Charney’s core psychology – an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person – can be considered a psychological or perceptual malady.  As with any malady, to bring it to an end requires not merely treating the symptoms, but to address the root cause.  The NOIR concept is an effort to do just that.






[5] Epigenetics involves genetic control by factors other than an individual’s DNA sequence. Epigenetic changes can switch genes on or off and determine which proteins are transcribed. (“What Is Epigenetics? How Do Epigenetic Changes Affect Genes?” Retrieved from epigenetic-influences-and-disease-895, May 8, 2014)


[7] David L. Charney, M.D. and John A. Irvin, A Guide to the Psychology of Espionage (AFIO, 2015)