Cavanagh

bullet A Northrop engineer wanted to be independently wealthy but was caught before he could cause damage. Document and copier controls limited the amount of material he could remove from the plant.

Cavanagh Wanted
To Be Wealthy

Thomas Cavanagh had secrets to sell, and his motive was money. ''Before our relationship ends, I want to be independently wealthy,'' he told the prospective buyers whom he thought were Soviet KGB agents. Cavanaugh knew espionage was a serious crime: he was aware of the recent FBI arrest of several people now in jail. To clear up mounting debts, and make himself rich, the Northrop engineer was still willing to take some chances.

The First Meeting

At the first meeting on 10 December 1984, Cavanagh introduced himself to his contacts as ''Mr. Peters.'' Two topics dominated his conversation: his financial problems and worries about getting caught. ''They're real security conscious (at Northrop) . . . ,'' he remarked, ''So somehow we have to come to an agreement on money.'' He added that he needed several thousand dollars, ''Just to get the bill collectors off my back.'' He thought he could bypass the document controls and random searches at the plant.

Hampered by Tight Security

He did not want to talk about his contacts on the telephone ''because it's constantly being bugged; they bug it with microwaves.'' His biggest source of anxiety, however, was the security program at Northrop. He was extremely concerned about his accountability for documents. He refused to turn them over to the KGB agents because he wanted to get them back to the plant as quickly as possible. ''I can't give you the documents and have them back in time. They have audits. A guy just came by today and asked me how many secret documents I have.'' He was afraid that Security might open his safe and check his documents at any time. By sheer coincidence, Cavanagh had a surprise audit of his classified documents on the very day he first met with the KGB. It was strictly a random check by a company security representative who had no suspicion that the material he reviewed was about to be sold to the Soviets. The security officer found everything in order, but Cavanagh was visibly shaken, according to co-workers interviewed after the arrest.

Reproduction controls at Northrop hampered Cavanagh. ''You can't run your own copies in the plant. They got that regulated too.'' Northrop Advanced Systems Division controlled document reproduction through a system of ''fully controlled machines.'' There is no self-service because special operators handle all copying machines under the oversight of security. These operators guarantee that all requirements meet authorization, marking, and accountability regulations. The KGB agents had to obtain a camera and a portable copier to make copies in the motel room.

Northrop employees were subject to random searches of anything carried in or out of the plant. Cavanagh worried about that as well. ''I had to stick it in my shirt and walk out with it.'' He could not always fit things under his shirt, but he thought he could get through exit searches without detection because they were sufficiently infrequent and predictable.

Subsequent Meetings

When he arrived for a second meeting on 12 December, his ''friends'' greeted him warmly. He again mentioned the difficulty of getting documents out. He pressed anxiously for quick payment and wanted several thousand dollars in two days, but the Soviets would not make any promises. Concerned because his background investigation was due to begin, Cavanagh wanted to cover his debts.

The third and final meeting with the KGB agents occurred on 18 December. When Cavanagh arrived, he asked about the money. Cavanagh showed them the documents. He spoke of his financial bind and displayed bitterness that he could not get a business loan for his AMWAY distribution, although foreign immigrants easily got them.

The agents suggested that future meetings be held outside the United States. Cavanagh refused by saying that he did not want to keep his documents out that long. Besides, he said that unexplained foreign travel might flag his activities with security.

Nabbed by the FBI

After copying the documents, the agents handed Cavanagh the payment in small bills. He counted it eagerly. He wanted to have monthly meetings with substantial payment each time. After they finished their business, there was a knock on the door. When they opened the door, FBI agents entered the room and arrested Cavanagh.

Through its counterintelligence operations, the FBI had learned of Cavanagh's intention to sell secrets before he reached the Soviets. The persons he met with were actually FBI agents posing as Soviets. Charged and convicted on two counts of espionage, Cavanagh was sentenced on 23 May 1985 to concurrent life terms in prison.

Important Lessons

Northrop security did its job in curbing the range of his activities through document accountability and control, and effective enforcement of need-to-know. Particularly notable is the taming of the ''Xerox'' machine. Many people felt that ready access to photo reproduction made document control obsolete. Northrop effectively controlled its copiers, which forced Cavanagh to use original documents that were under accountability. This exposed him to detection through random audits, and it limited the number of documents he could compromise and the length of time he was willing to keep them outside the plant.

Greed and indebtedness were the major motivations for Cavanagh, but he showed some traits seen before in other spy cases. Job and career dissatisfaction are big ones, especially when it involves a sense of resentment toward the organization. In addition, Cavanagh showed some tendency to violent or disruptive behavior, some instances of dishonesty, and a general lack of respect for authority and procedural process.

Still, none of this rose to the level where supervisors considered reporting it for security purposes. Cavanagh was not a model citizen, but his behavior was within tolerable limits. He went over the edge, quite suddenly by all indications, and tried to sell out the country to make himself rich.

How do we distinguish the Cavanaghs, before the fact, from the many other cleared people who are simply having difficulties with life's normal trials and tribulations? Unfortunately, we do not often distinguish them until after the fact, and we cannot -- until and unless we know a lot more about human psychology.

We can protect the documents and the information, as Northrop did, by applying the proper measures for accountability and control, as well as physical safeguards. None of that will completely prevent espionage. A clearance, like any other kind of trust, always carries the potential for betrayal. Controls, however, can make spying a lot tougher, a lot more expensive, and a lot more risky.

Related Topics: How Spies Are Caught.

Reference
Quoted from article published by National Counterintelligence Center, Counterintelligence News and Developments, March 1996.

 

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