Excerpt from NOIR: A White Paper – Proposing a New Policy for Improving National Security by Fixing the Problem of Insider Spies by David L. Charney, MD

NOIR White PaperA punch in the gut.

Intelligence professionals say this is what it felt like for them when they first heard that a fellow officer was all along an insider spy. They also felt stunned, infuriated, depressed, and of course, betrayed. Finally, they felt stupid for having missed it happening right under their noses, on their watch.

In the movie Breach, loosely based on the Robert Hanssen case, one FBI Special Agent assigned to counterintelligence bitterly stated that because of the losses due to Hanssen, as much as her career was devoted to strengthening national security, she “could have just stayed home.”

Yet counterintelligence, the activity designed to thwart insider spying, has historically been the stepchild of the intelligence community. Positive intelligence, targeted at discovering our adversaries’ secrets, has always been the intelligence community’s fair-haired child, its most highly valued activity. Generally, that makes good sense.

Unfortunately, on too many occasions because of insider spying, advantages we were happy to gain as a result of our positive intelligence triumphs were annihilated. When a hostile intelligence service penetrates us, our adversary gets a low-cost “heads up” regarding not only our secrets, but also a great deal of what we know about their secrets. Goodbye, intelligence advantage. Worse, it gives them the opportunity to play us for fools. No wonder insider spying is a critical threat to our national security.

Fixing the problem of insider spies has been frustrating. Conventional policies have proven less than satisfactory. There always seem to be more spies coming out of the woodwork. Efforts to improve matters have focused mainly on trying ever harder to develop profiles or other indicators for detecting potential or current insider spies, these days favoring high-technology methods.

While profiling has achieved its successes, the Law of Diminishing Returns enters the picture. Investing more and more into profiling and detection starts to approach limitations due to minimal added effectiveness, at the expense of rapidly escalating costs, which include negative impacts on workforce morale due to intrusiveness and false positives.

Time and again, human ingenuity seems able to defeat the most stringent protection regimes. For us to prevail over insider spying, we have room for improvement. There is room for something new.

If anything, recent events have increased the urgency. While the focus here will be on “classic” state-sponsored spying, the recent notorious “whistleblowers,” Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, have shown how easy it is to abscond with vast quantities of classified documents, given our reliance on electronic files. They went for one-time showy splurges of secrets, which is bad enough. Worse still are the usual practices of classic spies, who are still very busy out there.

Despite what intelligence professionals like to claim, they are not really in the business of stealing secrets.

Stealing is actually grossly ineffective, since the victim knows what’s been lost, and who likely stole it. True espionage is much more like embezzling. The victim doesn’t know it’s even happening, so it continues unabated. Reversing the notion of a “victimless crime,” truly effective espionage produces a “crimeless victim.”

This highlights the real challenge: how to protect our secrets when we don’t know what secrets have been given away to our enemies by unidentified insider spies, working in the shadows for years on end with no outward drama.

Now, make room for something new.

The purpose of this paper will be to advance novel, probably controversial proposals for changing government policy to better manage the problem of insider spies. I consulted with and treated employees from all corners of the intelligence community for about twenty-five years, an immersion in the world of espionage. Along the way, I had the opportunity to be engaged as a consultant to the defense of three captured insider spies, including the notorious Robert Hanssen. Meeting in jail with all three, a couple of hours a week, each for a full year, afforded me the unique experience that opened windows into the minds of insider spies and contributed the basis for what follows.

This is Part Two of a two-part White Paper. Part One, entitled “True Psychology of the Insider Spy,”1 provided the foundation for an enhanced understanding of the minds of insider spies. Ideally, it should be read first. Part One was published in the Fall 2010 issue of the AFIO’s Intelligencer and is also posted on the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive website (ncix.gov) and my website (NOIR4USA.org). The proposals advanced in this paper make use of the concepts put forward in Part One and flow logically from them.


Taking guidance from the world of medicine, the concept of triage directs that attention be paid first to fixing immediately life-threatening conditions. Stopping insider spying, akin to stanching catastrophic but hidden hemorrhage, must be regarded as the most urgent concern, so this topic will be addressed in Section A.

Stopping insider spying must be rapidly followed by getting a thorough Damage Assessment. It cannot be overstated: a top quality Damage Assessment is absolutely crucial. Without it, how can the specific losses due to an insider spy’s treachery be identified, much less mitigated?

Preventing insider spying, the second level of concern because it operates on a different time scale of urgency, will be addressed in Section B.

NOIR will stand as a quick reference term for all the ideas and concepts presented in this paper. NOIR derives from the name of the proposed new government entity that would actually implement these ideas and concepts: the National Office for Intelligence Reconciliation. Details of NOIR will be addressed in Section C. (See the endnote for discussion of why the name, and its acronym NOIR, were chosen). . . .

Read More: NOIR: A White Paper – Proposing a New Policy for Improving National Security by Fixing the Problem of Insider Spies (.pdf)

For comments, questions and other feedback, please contact us.

Feel free to distribute it in your organization, provided it is properly credited.

What do you think?