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Wikileaks: CIA studied why people steal secrets

Officials and others pondering why U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning allegedly leaked reams of classified documents to Wikileaks need look no further than a 20-year-old CIA study on moles.

Project Slammer, now partially declassified, was based on extensive prison interviews with some 30 former military and intelligence personnel who had been convicted of spying for Russia, China and other hostile powers during the Cold War, from the lowest enlisted men to senior CIA officers like Aldrich Ames. It sought to answer why they had violated the trust their agencies had bestowed on them.

Two of the most important factors in a mole’s decision to steal secrets were present in Manning’s situation, if Wired.com’s report is true: The 22-year-old’s alleged emotional distress, and lax military security.


According to e-mail traffic between Manning and a former hacker, the military intelligence analyst “discussed personal issues that got him into trouble with his superiors and left him socially isolated, and said he had been demoted and was headed for an early discharge from the Army.”

Likewise, the authors of the highly classified Project Slammer report, delivered to CIA management on April 12, 1990, emphasized that behavioral changes were often associated with acts of espionage.

“Heavy drinking, drug dependence, signs of depression or stress, extramarital affairs and divorce could be warning signs of a security problem,” I wrote in 1994 when, ironically, still-classified portions of the report were leaked to me by a former counterintelligence officer who was concerned that important lessons were being missed in discussions of why people spy.

“The authors believe that if co-workers and bosses could be educated to intervene with a troubled employee early on, damaging espionage might be prevented.”

Manning detailed security lapses at his Iraq duty station: ”Weak servers, weak logging, weak physical security, weak counter-intelligence, inattentive signal analysis…" according to his e-mails Wired obtained.

He called it "a perfect storm,” as if the Army deserved punishment, another trait common to moles -- a belief that they're the smartest guy in the room.

Of course, there are important differences between someone who volunteers to work for a foreign intelligence service, and a person who leaks to the media for “moral” reasons, even if the FBI and federal prosecutors usually find little to distinguish the two.

But there are striking parallels, too. One is that the usual calls for security crackdowns and punishing the media that follow events like these are usually misplaced.

The Project Slammer report said it was "not possible to determine whether employee assistance, private counseling or other therapeutic applications would have made a significant difference ..." But it pointed out that no traditional counterintelligence methods -- background investigations, lie detectors, surveillance -- worked either.

“Project Slammer findings offer us some of the best verbal ammunition available for promoting the concept of co-worker responsibility and continuing evaluation” of troubled employees, the DoD Security Institute’s Lynn F. Fischer wrote in 2000.

“[W]e are learning that people who have fallen into the trap of espionage are like the guy in the next office or the trusted technician on the assembly line. As mentioned earlier, no offender studied so far has entered into a position of trust with the intention of betraying that trust.”

Personal demons drive people to leak, as well as to spy. And one of those demons can simply be a highly tuned sense of moral outrage at certain kinds of government conduct.

"He didn’t want to do this just to cause a stir..." Manning allegedly confided to the former hacker, who alerted the FBI.

"He wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again.”

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