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EASI-Consult's work with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence

September 5th, 2017 - by EASI-Consult, LLC | Share on:

The recent cases of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden display all the complexity of the problem the U.S. government has in protecting its classified information. Countless millions of documents are classified, millions of people are granted legitimate access to them and all are expected to not disclose any of it. But then some do. Is there a way to identify who will before they do?

In the past few years EASI-Consult® has completed two year-long projects with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) looking at the likely efficacy and possible improvements to the current process the federal government uses to decide who is granted security clearances. The current security screening process dates back to the 1950s - with some modest changes along the way - and uses 13 criteria to evaluate the riskiness of clearance candidates. In the first project we evaluated the behavioral-science research relevant to most of these criteria and concluded that most have a reasonable foundation in scientific research. In the second project we evaluated the possible value of psychological assessment instruments as a part of the routine evaluation of clearance for candidates. At present, the clearance process only uses psychological assessments as part of ad hoc clinical evaluations for candidates with personal histories that signal some risk rooted in psychological considerations.

Both the Manning and Snowden cases point to likely limitations in the value and possible applications of any screening criteria, including psychological assessments, designed to help grant clearances. One significant limitation is that early good intentions can change. By all accounts, neither Manning nor Snowden appear to have had risky motives at the time they were granted their clearances or began their work with classified information. A second limitation is the "base rate" problem. Even a psychological assessment tool that successfully predicted the behaviors of 99.999% of all cleared people - and no psychological assessment can come anywhere close to that level of accuracy - would still result each year in scores of instances of unpredicted attempts at espionage, simply because millions of people have clearances.

Furthermore, the "base rate" problem is geometrically more severe in today's world of huge databases of classified information. Both Snowden and Manning were low-level operatives each of whom who had access to and disclosed several hundred thousand documents. For these and other reasons, the government does not rely entirely or even mostly on screening strategies such as security clearances or employment decisions to eliminate the loss of classified information.

EASI Consult's work on the second ODNI project began to explore the possible value of well-developed behavioral assessments used to gather systematic information about workplace behavior relating to the use of classified information. Clearly, systematic vigilance about workplace behavior must be a significant component of any strategy for managing disclosure of classified information. A critical question is, what form should this vigilance take to be effective, acceptable to people in the workplace, legal and feasible?

For example, Alliya Sternstein's 11/21/13 Nextgov Newsletter article on this topic described an FBI insider threat analyst's concern that preferred clinical psychological testing as part of the employment process or part of a "for case" assessment is not a feasible option. The analyst's concern was based on HIPAA laws protecting access to individuals' medical information including clinical psychological assessments. In addition to this legal concern, EASI Consult's work with ODNI found virtually no unclassified research evidence about the validity of psychological assessments for predicting violations of classified information. The research showing the validity and utility of psychological assessment has not been done. While much psychological research about counter-normative workplace behavior has been done, it is not at all clear how much this tells us about violations of classified information given the unique contexts and stakes in the world of classified information.

The complexities of the Manning and Snowden cases tell us at least two things. The tools and methods of workplace psychology should be an important but incomplete part of any overall strategy to protect classified information. But there is not one solution to one type of behavior. Only a multifaceted set of solutions is likely to be effective. Workplace psychology tells us this strategy must have several fronts that address the following objectives.

• Avoid risky people (Selection)
• Diagnose emerging patterns of risky behavior (Management)
• Catch the attempt before it succeeds (Vigilant Enforcement)
• Publicly punish violators (Warn of Consequences)
• Build cultures of protection (Strengthen Norms)
• Enlist support of the surrounding community ("See something, say something")

The problem of preventing spies is highly complex and needs several approaches, but will benefit from the science of workplace psychology more than it has already.

About EASI-Consult, LLC:
Jerard F. Kehoe, Ph.D., is a senior consultant with EASI-Consult®. EASI-Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI Consult's specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, call 800.922.EASI or email ContactUs@easiconsult.com.

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Article Number: 1459

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