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Coleen Rowley

Coleen Rowley

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OMB Orders Government Agencies to Monitor Disgruntled Employees -- What's Next?

Posted: 01/10/11 12:42 PM ET

Do Grumpy or Despondent Workers Even Become Spies?

How nonsensical is it to try to zero in on "grumpy" workers in the government's massive national security apparatus as the new "insider threat"? Even when so many in the Post Office were "going postal," OMB didn't lose its mind and grasp at straws like this. The MSNBC article that broke the story quoted Steven Aftergood, a national security specialist for the Federation of American Scientists, as saying, "This is paranoia, not security." Aftergood also questioned whether the guidance in the OMB memo--based as it is on programs commonly used at the CIA and other intelligence agencies to root out potential spies--would work at other agencies.

What Aftergood didn't say was that the CIA and FBI were dismal failures in detecting their own top level spies during the prior three decades. For instance, CIA official Aldrich Ames spied for the Soviet Union with impunity from 1985 to 1993--he even passed two CIA polygraphs. CIA Chief of Station Harold James Nicholson was eventually tripped up when he failed a polygraph but is believed to have acted as a Soviet-Russian spy from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. Incredibly enough, only a few months ago, CIA spy Nicholson was convicted a second time for operating his son as a Russian agent to collect the "pension" he was due for his prior spywork for the Russians. FBI Supervisor Earl Edwin Pitts conveyed classified documents and "everything else he was aware of" to the Russians from 1987 to 1992. Finally, there is the broadly smiling example of GS 15 FBI Unit Chief Official Robert Hanssen, who spied for Soviet and Russian intelligence services against the United States for 22 years from 1979 to 2001. Hanssen, a fervent Catholic, extensively involved in Opus Dei, would have undoubtedly aced the military's new "spiritual fitness" portion of its new CSF test. He was seen as so apple pie and in tune with the FBI mission that he was given the task of looking for the spies in the FBI. That meant he was assigned to look for himself. (For obvious reasons, Hanssen ensured that he did not unmask himself, but instead turned over the entire study, including the list of all Soviets who had contacted the FBI about FBI moles, to the KGB in 1988.) The happily self-enriching Hanssen enjoyed a perfectly unfettered, successful spy career spanning three decades despite the factually-based complaints made about him by other FBI officials, including his own brother-in-law.

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CIA Officer Aldrich Ames spied for the Soviets-Russians from 1985 -1993.


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CIA Officer Harold James NIcholson spied from mid-80's to 90's and a second time from prison in 2009.

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FBI Agent Earl Edwin Pitts gave classified documents to the Russians from 1987 to 1992.

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FBI Unit Chief Robert Hanssen spied for the Soviets/Russians from 1979 to 2001.


So just examining these famous case histories--but of course limited to these four who were eventually exposed (and my personal opinion is there must exist many more who were never found out)--the FBI and CIA were anything but effective in "rooting out" their insider threats during the decades these four were making money off the Soviets! More importantly and counter to OMB's simplistic advice, the FBI's and CIA's own traitor-spies did not, by all accounts, appear to be anything but well adjusted, spiritually fit and as happy as one can be with a government job!

Albeit they all shared certain money-hungry, capitalistic tendencies. And Ames had an exceptionally bad drinking problem. But OMB knows if it was to put alcoholism down as one of its "insider threat" warning signs, the false positives in Washington DC alone could decimate the US government. Just looking at their photos, however, OMB would have a hard time seeing the grumpy, despondent traitor who lurked behind the smiling faces with one notable exception, the rather glum Pitts (who everyone acknowledged was weird in just quietly doing his job and keeping to himself). But even Pitts ostensibly enjoyed a happy marriage to a female FBI agent--an early form of the "co-pilot policing" mentioned in the OMB memo?!