No Good Excuses
For Not Reporting

One thing that most espionage cases have in common is that before the arrest, there were indicators either that the individual was suffering from serious personal problems or indicators of the spying activity itself. In a number of cases, reporting of these indicators by a friend or co-worker helped catch a spy. In other cases, timely reporting has helped a valued employee solve their problem before it led to big trouble. See People Who Made a Difference. Far too often, however, counterintelligence and security indicators are not reported.

Security officers have collected a list of excuses people use to avoid fulfilling their responsibility to report counterintelligence or suitability indicators.1 These are common and understandable human reactions. None of us want an organization full of snitches. But we do want to help colleagues with problems before those problems get completely out of control. And we do want to prevent espionage if we can, and catch the spy if we can’t.

cartoon
Don't put yourself here. Report security issues ASAP.

The following excuses often come to mind when someone notices a problem. They must be recognized for what they are – excuses. They are not rational reasons for failing to act when you observe reportable behavior.

"I should mind my own business and not get involved."

Mind your own business is often good advice, but security is a shared responsibility.  It is everyone’s business – including yours. Like it or not, you are involved, because you hold a privileged position of trust, and that imposes certain responsibilities.

"Someone else will report it. I don’t have the time."

Don’t try to shift the responsibility to someone else. Security is part of your job. Just do it!

"If I report it, they’ll either ignore it or go off the deep end about it. They won’t take me seriously."

All reports are seriously evaluated and acted on discretely as appropriate. That’s security’s job.

"If people find out that I reported information about a co-worker, it’ll only cause tension and mistrust in the office."

The Privacy Act allows individuals who provide information to investigators to request confidentiality. If you so request, your information will be held in confidence and you will not be identified as the source. If you are concerned about confidentiality, confirm this with security before making your report.

"It’s not right to tell on someone."

That’s not what Sgt. Jeffrey Carney thinks. He needed help, but no one listened, so he is now serving 38 years in prison for espionage. Here's Carney's message.

bullet  Voice of Experience
"If you want to do these people a favor who have problems -- and I'm talking from experience -- say something. If somebody had said something to me and put a block in front of me and said, ‘I think Jeff’s got a problem and I don’t think that he’s handling it very well,’ that would have been enough to stop the process….I lost everything -- my dignity, my freedom, my self-respect."
                               Jeff Carney
                               Convicted Spy

"I can’t believe John would ever betray us. He’s a loyal American."

Most Americans arrested for espionage have found a way to rationalize to themselves that they are still loyal Americans. The mind does weird things, and it’s hard to know what goes on in another person’s head. Just report the observed behavior, and let security and the psychologists check out what it means. Your report of an apparent indicator is not an accusation of wrongdoing. It’s just something that needs to be checked out. It may turn out to be nothing important. But no one knows until it is checked.

"He has a clearance, so if he wasn’t okay he wouldn’t be here."

Almost all spies have gone bad after they got their clearance. The security office is not all-knowing. It depends upon you to note changes in people’s behavior, and to alert your security officer to things that need to be checked out.

"It’s not my job. I don’t have all the facts. It’s just not my problem."

Of course it’s your job. And it will be your problem if you are held accountable for not reporting significant counterintelligence or security concerns. You are not expected to have all the facts and should not try to investigate on your own. That’s security’s job, to get the facts and evaluate whether there is a basis for concern.

Reference
1. The statements of excuses are drawn mainly from No Good Reasons Not to Report, undated NSA brochure.

 

<-- PrevNext -->
SECURITY BRIEFING TABLE OF CONTENTS