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Who will spy?

ESPIONAGE is a major problem for both industry and the government. During the last decade the number of incidents reported has grown dramatically. A data base maintained at the Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center contains information on more than 60 Americans who committed espionage against the United States since 1981. This figure does not include the presumably much larger number of industrial espionage cases that also occurred during that period.

The problem of espionage is likely to get much worse over the next few years. On the supply side, numerous Americans with access to classified information and industrial secrets may suffer from industrial, military, and civil service reductions in force. Many of them will have acquired life-styles and statuses that depend on their comparatively high-paying and important positions as well as on the high levels of credit they have been granted. After being laid off they may face a depressed job market with little demand for their skills, a depressed housing market that is further glutted by the homes of their laid-off coworkers, and reduced levels of available credit and government services.

On the demand side, fierce competition among companies and nations for technological advantages will be compounded by reductions in money available for research and development. The fall of the Iron Curtain will reduce the travel restrictions that have impeded the East's efforts at technological espionage.

Having a human intelligence structure already in place and facing desperate economic conditions at home could further increase espionage activity by former East bloc countries. In addition, there will always be companies and countries that feel threatened, seek revenge, or covet the property of others and are willing to engage in espionage to gain an edge.

This article presents a cognitive model that addresses the conditions that I believe must occur for a person to engage in espionage. While the focus of the model is on personal influences, the influence of situational factors can also be derived from the model.

The theory illuminated by the model integrates the earlier contributions of several criminologists and psychologists, including Cesare Beccaria, Donald Cressey, Edwin Lemert, David Matza, Robert Merton, Walter Reckless, Ted Sarbin, Edward Sutherland, and Gresham Sykes. The theory was developed in 1987 and has benefited since then from the input of my colleagues at the Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center as well as others working in government, industry, and academia.

The theory draws numerous theoretical insights into a single integrated model that is tailored specifically for espionage. However, the theory has not undergone systematic empirical testing.

While reviewers familiar with espionage cases have commented favorably on the model and have not reported any cases where it did not appear to hold, the model should be viewed with the same degree of skepticism appropriate for any other fledgling theory. Nevertheless, the model may stimulate more effective personnel security practices for combating espionage in both industry and government.

The model, as shown in the Exhibit 1, addresses five major components. As with some strings of Christmas tree lights that operate under an electrical series, if just one of the five components in the model does not occur, theoretically no act of espionage will take place on that particular occasion. That may explain why espionage is so rare compared to most other crimes.

Less than 1.5 percent of Americans have access to classified information. Additionally, being a traitor is repugnant to virtually all segments of society, and those who are convicted of espionage face serious penalties. Hence, comparatively few Americans will ever be tempted to engage in espionage against their country.

Industrial espionage, however, does not result in the same magnitude of social and legal sanctions. This relative tolerance increases the need for industry to take preventive actions. In addition, once a person has committed an act of espionage, the internal and external control mechanisms associated with that person are greatly weakened, increasing the probability that the person will continue committing the offense.

What follows is a detailed outline of the model. The various ways in which each of the required components can be satisfied are also described. Given that several different conditions could satisfy the components, the considerable diversity among traitors is not surprising.

Perceived opportunity. This is the perception that one can commit the act and have the desired outcome. Situational factors affecting the perceived ease of committing the offense include the person's access to classified information, the locations where it is stored, or individuals who might be willing to assist in the act. Assessment of relevant capabilities, past experiences in similar situations, and relevant information previously provided by other sources are all subfactors.

Contemplation of the criminal act. At least one of the following is needed:

* an externally generated notion to commit espionage (The idea to commit the offense comes from someone else, such as a friend, a family member, a colleague, or an agent of a foreign country.)

* an internally generated notion to commit espionage (The idea to commit the offense is developed by the person independently, usually as a result of related past activities or the influence of movies, television, books, magazines, or daydreaming.)

Strong desire to obtain outcomes that are likely to stem from the act. The strength of the motivator is important in determining the outcome and is affected by the person's level of need and by the immediacy and magnitude of the payoff. At least one of the following conditions is needed:

* A desire for revenge. This is the desire to harm others or a lack of concern for whether they suffer; it's the feeling that they " have it coming. "

When revenge is the primary motivator, the individual feels mistreated by at least one of the following types of people: someone who represents the government, someone who would be singled out for punishment by the government if the act were accomplished, or someone who would be proven wrong or fallible if the act occurred.

* A desire to punish the government or a subunit of it. This is the desire to harm the United States or a lack of concern for whether it suffers. When punishment is the primary motivator, all of the following factors must be present: the person perceives injustice on a large scale; the person blames the country or the agency involved for the injustice or for not correcting the problem quickly enough; the person identifies with the group he or she feels is suffering from the injustice; the person does not feel the injustice can be remedied or remedied quickly enough through the legal and political avenues provided by the Constitution or does not consider using those mechanisms; and the person views the country or one of its subunits as his or her enemy.

* A desire to avoid the physical, monetary, or emotional harm (to the person or others) that would stem from the exposure or fruition of an immediate, critical "nonshareable problem. " A nonshareable problem is one that the person perceives as too threatening to his or her ego, image, status, or position to be able to talk about with others.

Such a problem might be blackmail, financial difficulty, drug addiction, threatened harm to oneself or a loved one, or threatened loss of affection from, for example, an illicit lover, a "swallow" (a sexually attractive spy who compromises the person), or "friends" (who have expensive tastes or are hostile to the government).

* A desire to satisfy one's monetary, physical, or emotional needs. Such needs include the desire to contribute to a competing or hostile cause or entity or to leak classified information with the idea that doing so is in the best interest of the cause or entity to which the person owes allegiance; an abnormal desire to experience new thrills or challenges; and other strongly felt needs, such as recognition, power, sex, affection, affiliation, or relief-especially those felt needs that the person believes are unlikely to be satisfied through conventional ways.

An insufficient internal control mechanism to prevent the act. The person does not have sufficient fear that his or her conscience would bother him or her; the person feels too little anticipatory shame and guilt. When envisioning the act, the person must see it as falling within the limits of his or her self-image, or the act will not be done.

The nature and strength of the individual's moral beliefs are important in determining the outcome. At least one of the following conditions is needed:

* Disbelief that the act is morally wrong. A foreign spy or undercover officer who is loyal to his or her true country or a person who feels a greater loyalty to certain people, groups, or religious or philosophical beliefs would not believe the act of espionage to be wrong. The act's perceived reprehensibility is generally affected by the degree of selfishness involved, the act's potential for harming others on one's side, the person's intent, and the extent to which the person was coerced.

The person may be faced with competing role demands, as in the case of a mother whose child is held hostage by a hostile intelligence service that demands classified information. The determinant is the relative strength of the role that condones the act compared to the strength of the role that opposes it.

* Rationalization of the act a priori. People often rationalize with such comments as "This is a one-time violation just to get me through this rough period, and I will never do it again," " They have it coming, " " It's for their own good," "It's for the good of humanity," "It really isn't anything the other side doesn't already have," and "If I don't do it, somebody else will. "

* Belief that person is "special. " The person believes that special circumstances or personal attributes entitle him or her to disregard the applicable laws, policies, and doctrines.

* Impaired mental reasoning. The person is insane, is addicted to or influenced by drugs or alcohol, or has a low level of cognitive ability.

* Undersocialization. The person is a psychopath or sociopath.

An insufficient external control mechanism to prevent the act. At least one of the following situations must be present:

* The individual perceives his or her locus of control to be external (that is, the person does not feel personally responsible for consequences of his or her acts).

* The person does not consider the risks associated with committing the act and with being caught (that is, the person responds impulsively or immaturely).

* The person believes he or she has little status to lose. Either the person has little current status and does not envision that proceeding down the legitimate occupational paths open to him or her will satisfy his or her goals ever or quickly enough, or the person feels his or her life is sufficiently messed up or has sufficient potential to unravel that the person does not care whether he or she is punished.

Also, the person is not concerned about the impact the offense would have on others. Those with whom the person primarily identifies would not view the offense negatively, and the person has insufficient emotional ties to those who might be harmed by the act, such as family, friends, or colleagues.

* The person strongly believes that he or she will not be caught.

* The person strongly believes that he or she will not suffer any significant negative consequences even if caught (that is, the person does not feel sanctions will be imposed or does not fear them).

COUNTLESS INTERVENTIONS CAN BE taken to decrease the likelihood that employees will engage in acts of espionage. Each of the model's five major components provides a target for intervention. Once again, the theory suggests that all it takes is for espionage to be avoided is for one of the five required components not to be realized. The next section provides examples of a few objectives pertinent to preventing espionage as well as some of the steps that could be taken to reach them.

The following are examples of organizational objectives and interventions:

* Reduce people's perception that certain problems are nonshareable. Do so by promoting employee assistance programs, increasing the perception that the organization and its employees will stand by its members, fostering career security, encouraging employees to come forward with their problems, and not punishing them when they do.

* Reduce the likelihood that people will desire revenge against supervisors or the organization. Do so by treating employees well and fairly and providing effective and diverse methods of airing differences. Also, frequently evaluate superiors.

* Strengthen people's emotional bonds to coworkers, supervisors, and the organization. Do so by promoting employees' feelings that they are part of a team.

* Defuse rationalizations that might enable people to commit espionage. Do so by establishing clear security and work policies (reducing gray areas) and by using group role-playing techniques to depict realistic situations in which employees might be tempted to compromise classified information.

* Decrease people's opportunity to commit espionage, and increase the difficulty. Do so by having excellent programs in security awareness, physical security, and information security.

* Decrease people's unmet needs. Do so by seeing that employees' needs are discussed and are being met.

* Increase people's status. Do so by developing workplace pride, by recognizing good performance in all worker categories (including those often taken for granted, such as clerical, custodial, and maintenance workers), by ensuring that plaudits are both deserved and spread around so that all employees are eventually honored (assuming every employee makes a contribution, excels in some way, or will be helped to find another position), or by emphasizing ritual (signaling passage, intensifying significance, and increasing feelings of commitment and responsibility) for those who join the ranks of secret-sharers.

* Increase the certainty that violators will be caught and punished severely. Do so by seeing that employees who commit espionage and do not come forward are punished as quickly and severely as possible,

* Increase people's perception that their goals and those of their families will be realized. Do so by offering stock incentive and other employee ownership programs (in private sector companies); by providing scholarships, tuition assistance, summer employment, and other family benefits so even the lowest-ranking member of the organization will feel that his or her family will benefit from his or her toil; and by stressing a dedication to quality, honor, and respect for others throughout the entire organization.

* Increase the likelihood that symptoms that a person may be more susceptible to committing espionage will be detected and dealt with before problems arise. Do so by closely monitoring employee performance and job satisfaction, conducting and emphasizing exit interviews, conducting social and security awareness programs for family members and former employees, and periodically assessing employees' financial well-being.

ANOTHER PERSONNEL SECURITY APPROACH to thwarting espionage is to prevent people who may be predisposed to satisfy the model's conditions from being granted access to sensitive information. While many of the following preaccess issues are currently used as criteria for adjudicating government security clearances, many others are not directly considered.

Most of the issues that are not considered bear at least as much on the applicant's suitability to hold a given position as they do on security issues. Consequently, not only would their incorporation make acts of espionage less likely, but the resulting work force would be more productive and freer of interpersonal conflict.

Expanding the criteria to include these issues would, however, necessitate developing objective procedures to assess the factors properly. See Exhibit 2 for a list of desirable attributes.

An additional measure is continuing evaluation. People and their circumstances change over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

According to the model, all it takes for a person to engage in espionage is for all five conditions to be met just once during that person's life. Therefore, it is essential to continue to assess whether employees in sensitive positions are becoming more susceptible to committing espionage as well as whether they may have already committed the offense.

Continuing evaluations should look for any changes or problems in the screening criteria. In addition, evaluators should monitor behaviors that may reflect whether an employee has already engaged in espionage. The following categories of criteria are among those that should be considered:

* Behavior suggesting discontent with one's present situation. Examples include poor job performance, feeling a need to hide job performance and the activities engaged in both during and after work, not finding work challenging or exciting, increased absenteeism, feeling one's supervisor does not care what one does or is out to get one, increased preoccupation with personal problems, pessimism, the feeling that one has to turn to strangers, going to bars to escape, feeling trapped, having unfavorable views about the organization or the government, and feeling that the organization no longer appreciates one's potential to contribute meaningfully.

* Behavior related to outcomes of espionage. Examples include changes in financial condition, the purchase of luxury items inconsistent with one's income, association with people who demand or expect high-ticket items, and associations and romantic involvements with people hostile to US policy.

* Behavior suggesting an inability to resolve the guilt and fear stemming from the act of betrayal. Examples include excessive drinking, use of drugs, excessive risk taking, the desire to be caught, suicide attempts, and other signs of emotional stress.

* Behavior related to changing one's self-image to that of a person who commits espionage against the United States. Examples include taking pride in one's espionage achievements, skills, and knowledge; acquiring espionage skills that serve to increase one's haul or decrease risk through planning, preparation, and careful target selection; acquiring additional contacts with the hostile or competing country; developing skills in dealing with security personnel; monetary, physical, or emotional dependence associated with committing acts of espionage; choosing work and assignments that facilitate espionage; enjoying life in the fast lane; devaluing commitment to honor, country, and legitimate work; justifying acts of espionage; becoming friendly with handlers; poor or superficial relations with family, friends, colleagues, and superiors; and choosing reading material and films that provide technical information about espionage or support one's role.(1)

Hopefully this model will generate further research and stimulate thought and discussion on how government and industry can more effectively prevent the members of their work forces from engaging in acts of national or industrial espionage.

About the Author . . . Howard W. Timm, PhD, is a program manager at the Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center PERSEREC) in Monterey, CA. He was previously an associate professor at Southern Illinois University's Center for the Study of Crime, Delinquency, and Corrections. He is a member of ASIS.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the US government.

(1) The subsection on self-image was modified from an analysis of the changes occurring over time to successful burglars as presented in Crime and Justice, ed. M. Tonry and N. Morris (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1985), Vol. 6., and further discussed in The Reasoning Criminal: Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending, ed. D. Cornish and R. Clarke (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1986).

Characteristics to Look for Before Granting Access to Sensitive Material

Before granting a person access to sensitive material, evaluators should examine whether the individual

* has a good work record,

* is able to get along well with colleagues and superiors,

* has a tendency to discuss important issues and problems with superiors,

* is not prone to grudges, revenge, or conflict,

* is a team player,

* has no alcohol or drug addiction,

* has no close personal identification with those who link the government with widespread injustice and who advocate illegal acts to remedy that perceived injustice,

* is not a problem gambler or risk taker,

* is not susceptible to blackmail,

* is not susceptible to threats to relatives or friends in hostile countries,

* has a tendency to associate with people in the same economic situation,

* has good relations with family members,

* is not a loner-has and values good, close, long-term friendships,

* is financially responsible,

* has few or no friends or family members who are hostile to US policy or who are allied with hostile or competing countries,

* has friends and family who would view espionage in extremely negative and unforgiving terms,

* is happy with his or her present situation,

* is considerate of others,

* is optimistic,

* views espionage against one's country as the ultimate act of betrayal and as morally wrong,

* has a conscience that acts up when he or she does something wrong,

* believes he or she makes a valuable contribution to the organization,

* tends to reject sleazy rationalizations for committing improper acts,

* is not prone to emotional problems or insanity,

* is not prone to acts of betrayal or walking away from commitments,

* takes responsibility for the consequences of his or her acts,

* is not impulsive or immature,

* is almost always satisfied with his or her current situation,

* is comfortable with his or her status and career outlook,

* enjoys work and the other activities in which he or she engages, and

* believes that if he or she committed a crime, he or she would eventually be caught and punished.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:the five conditions that must be met before an employee commits espionage
Author:Timm, Howard W.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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