U.S. intelligence agencies may have trouble recruiting young people in the future if a campaign to ferret out disgruntled insiders grows too intense, a former national spy chief said Wednesday.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, who served as director of national intelligence until January, warned that young people may see spying as an unattractive career option.
“We need to attract new people, new young people, to the intelligence community. And they’re going to say, ‘You know, there’s too much Big Brother. There’s too much invasiveness and intrusiveness in my life, so I don’t think I’m going to work here.’ I worry about that,” Clapper said.
Clapper is the second spy veteran in recent weeks to suggest that intelligence agencies must do more to recruit millennials, and not taint them – along with outside contractors – as prone to leaking classified information.
Leaks of secret information are “hugely damaging,” Clapper said, noting that they were “one of the banes of my existence” during a five-decade career in the Air Force and intelligence.
U.S. intelligence agencies have suffered repeated leaks of highly sensitive documents in recent years, most notably when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden spilled secrets on a series of domestic and global surveillance programs in 2013. Earlier this year, another NSA contractor, Harold Martin, was accused of amassing classified files in his Maryland home, shed and automobile, and he faces trial.
With all the fancy algorithms, it takes people to interpret what’s really going on.
James Clapper, former national intelligence chief
In the past month and a half, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks has divulged a dump of 8,761 confidential documents and files it says it obtained from a CIA hacking unit, presumably from a disgruntled contractor.
Another group, which calls itself the Shadow Brokers, has published since mid-2016 numerous highly secret hacking tools it says were extracted from the NSA.
Clapper said major agencies with intelligence functions – such as the CIA, NSA and FBI – had implemented a “pretty aggressive insider threat detection program” that monitored the electronic behavior of employees at the workplace and outside of it.
Other, smaller agencies have been slower to implement the program, which he said was costly and required a lot of staff to run.
“With all the fancy algorithms, it takes people to interpret what’s really going on,” he said.
I don’t care how many mousetraps we build into the system, if people are committed to spilling sensitive information, they’ll find a way to do it.
Former intelligence chief James Clapper
Other factors affect morale and recruiting in the intelligence community, Clapper said, including a security clearance system that “is broken.”
He said the intelligence community would never plug all the leaks.
“In the end, our whole system, though, is based on personal trust. I don’t care how many mousetraps we build into the system, if people are committed to spilling sensitive information, they’ll find a way to do it,” Clapper said.
The government’s top spy catcher, William Evanina, said in a speech April 10 that neither contractors nor younger employees should be treated with unusual suspicion.
“We need to quickly, and I will say urgently, eliminate this mindset that the only insider threats are contractors. It’s not true. We have no empirical evidence, no data, to show two things: that the majority or the propensity for insider threat is a contractor and we have no empirical evidence or information to tell us that it’s a millennial,” Evanina told a meeting of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, a nonprofit trade group.
A lot of folks in the media want to say, ‘Oh, the millennial groups, they’re more willing and they want to be leakers, insiders.’ We have no evidence of that to be true.
William Evanina, director of National Counterintelligence and Security Center
“A lot of folks in the media want to say, ‘Oh, the millennial groups, they’re more willing and they want to be leakers, insiders.’ We have no evidence of that to be true,” said Evanina, who is director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.
Last year, FBI Director James Comey said the bureau needed skilled young hackers for its cybersecurity division but that an anti-marijuana hiring policy had been problematic. He said the bureau might need to loosen its no-tolerance policy.
One in five Americans now live in states where it is legal to smoke marijuana. Eight states have approved recreational marijuana use, and they are among 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana use.
On its website, the CIA notes that applicants for a job may be refused a security clearance over marijuana use even if they live in a state where such use is legal.
“Regardless of whether an individual is located in a state that has legalized marijuana or in a foreign country where local laws allow it, and regardless of whether the Department of Justice enforces applicable federal criminal prohibitions in those jurisdictions, any use of marijuana may adversely impact that individual’s eligibility for a security clearance,” the site says.