Intelligence Agencies Don’t Want Intelligent Employees

Intelligence Agencies Don’t Want Intelligent Employees That’s my takeaway from Noah Shachtman‘s story on the Office of the Director of Intelligence’s research on employee screening procedures.

With the growing prominence of information technologies (IT) in the home and work place, individuals spend an increasing proportion of time engaging in computer-mediated activities and communications. Many computer-mediated activities provide opportunities for individuals to behave in ways different than they might in brick-and-mortar contexts, including opportunities to present oneself in a light different than that of one’s true identity and to act anonymously in relatively consequence-free environments.

From the perspective of personnel security, cyber-behavior represents an emerging area of behavior that should be considered as an important part of the adjudication process for granting security clearances for personnel working in national security positions. To address these challenges, adjudication policies must be modernized to incorporate a better understanding of the type and frequency of personnel IT activities. This necessitates identifying which specific cyber-behaviors are normative, acceptable, or favorable as well as identifying those that may be associated with risky or problematic cyber behavior within the workplace.

[…]

Areas of potential interest include, but are not limited to: social network usage; disclosure of information in computer-mediated activities; extent of on-line contact with foreign nationals; cyber behavior that suggests an unwillingness to abide by rules; compulsive internet use; involvement in computer groups (especially those allied to stigmatized practices); providing false information within computer-mediated communications about oneself or others; procurement and distribution of pirated materials; engaging in deviant cyber-behaviors with the intention of causing harm to others including “hacking” and sabotage.

So, essentially, people who like to use computers to share information with other intelligent people, who display dogged task focus and outside-the-box thinking are the kind of people we want to avoid hiring for intelligence work? Somehow, that doesn’t sound right to me.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. legion says:

    Are you kidding? That sounds like exactly what this administration wants. People who actually think might notice that their superiors have been bald-facedly lying to the American people for the last few years about what threats this country is facing…

  2. Michael says:

    So, essentially, people who like to use computers to share information with other intelligent people, who display dogged task focus, and outside-the-box thinking are the kind of people we want to avoid hiring for intelligence work?

    No, but it’s the people who are smart enough to hide the fact that they do those things that they should be hiring. Anyone who can get caught downloading pirated movies isn’t someone you want, but the one that uses Tor to do it, well he’s a bit smarter than your average pirate.

  3. JKB says:

    Looks to me that the list is the standard red flags in the adjudication process put in internet terms.

    social network usage; disclosure of information in computer-mediated activities – inability to keep things to themselves

    extent of on-line contact with foreign nationals; – extent of contact with foreign nationals when traveling abroad.

    cyber behavior that suggests an unwillingness to abide by rules – behavior that suggest unwillingness to abide by the rules, i.e., protesting, disorderly conduct, drug use.

    compulsive internet use; – compulsive behaviors such as gambling, spending, drinking etc.

    involvement in computer groups (especially those allied to stigmatized practices); – involvement in groups especially those that suggest non-conformity

    providing false information within computer-mediated communications about oneself or others; – lying to others in any context flags.

    procurement and distribution of pirated materials; engaging in deviant cyber-behaviors with the intention of causing harm to others including “hacking” and sabotage. – criminal or rule-breaking activity

    The problem is that with technology young Mindy from Minneapolis who never left the farm until signing up can have as many or more red flags as Bradley from Boston who spent that semester studying abroad. As Bradley might have been noticed if he associated with the wrong crowd in Berlin but not Mindy in her bedroom. Being able to get out in the world from the comfort of your own home is a good thing; creates a smaller world. But it will drive the counter-intel types who are by the nature of their work paranoid, insane trying to sort through all the contacts and behaviors that look a lot like someone vulnerable to espionage or who is a foreign agent.

  4. Part of this smacks of old-fogies who don’t fully understand the new tech, or its effects on the way people communicate/live.

  5. DC Loser says:

    Sounds to me like the Counter Intelligence bureaucracy staking out new territory. Nothing new here, there’s always been the technology Luddites within the system.

  6. capital L says:

    Lets see: a “compulsive” internet user who associates with groups “allied to stigmatized practices” such as “deviant cyber-behaviors with the intention of causing harm to others including “hacking” and sabotage”– yeah who wouldn’t want them in our intelligence service.

    I only hope you also accept the compulsive television watcher who hangs out with people in a dog-fighting ring and plots petty larcenies on the weekends– you know, for consistency.

    I just don’t see the outrage with this story.

  7. Ron Johnson says:

    “Are you kidding? That sounds like exactly what this administration wants.”

    That is some pretty narrow thinking. You make it sound like the evil Bush sits around all day thinking of ways to stymie everything that is good. Well, your wrong… Neither the president, nor any of those perceived archdukes of hell that you think of as sitting in the Whitehouse administrative offices can dictate policy with the security background checking in the intelligence services. The intelligence folks have built up quite the insular bureaucracy on their own over the years that effectively impedes any meddling from the Whitehouse, regardless of who is currently occupying the office.

    To put it bluntly, our government is ineffective and ham-fisted no matter who is the figurehead leader.