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Reese Choosing SidesIn the movie This Means War, Reese Witherspoon is having a hard time choosing between CIA agent love interests played by Tom Hardy and Chris Pine. She just doesn’t know whom she prefers. Only when faced with a death defying moment, a flaming truck hurdling towards her, is she forced to choose her man by leaping into his arms. Her allegiance reveals itself only when she is pushed to the absolute, emotional limit.


In the area of insider threat, figuring out where individuals’ alliances lie can be a challenge. When dealing with prevention of espionage, theft and workplace violence, knowing your employees is absolutely critical.   Employees may not even know how they really feel or, what it would take to coerce them into bad behavior.


Closed Lipped


U.S. culture is such that many topics are off limits. Sex, politics, religion and money are the top four subjects people know to avoid at a cocktail party, PTA meeting or at the office. As a result, we are less apt to know where our acquaintances, colleagues and even friends stand in regard to certain important matters. Yet typical leverage to subvert someone to conduct crimes include money troubles, sexual deviance, religious fervor and political ideology. In this way, American cultural norms limit readily available, corroborative intelligence in areas that could be of security interest.


Interview Strategies


Security and Human Resource personnel are at the forefront of the fight against internal threat. In a society where asking an applicant about their marital status or birth country is illegal, what paths are left to us? Often, interviews be they for employment or security clearance purposes end up being rather technical. A checklist. The dearth of intel makes having good interview and awareness skills all the more important.


Pushing emotional limits will definitely reap answers, as was the case with our movie heroine. A well trained interviewer can simulate emotional intensity or provoke meaningful answers in a way that is deliberate yet respectful.


Keep in mind that the perpetration of a crime begins with a decision on the part of the perpetrator to act, fueled by their personal justification which is informed by their own moral compass. A really effective interview tries to tap into all those elements. The goal is to capture as complete and detailed a picture as possible, one that reflects the interviewee in context of the security threats with which we are concerned.


One method is to begin by establishing a baseline. For example, whose advice do you always listen to and respect? Perhaps it’s a parent or priest. Then present a scenario where that allegiance would be tested. Perhaps the priest has made it clear that he stands counter to what the company is requiring – what would the interviewee do then? Yes, it’s a kind of an intellectual trap. Another line of questioning could be around justice versus rule of law. Which is more important? In the case of Snowden, for example, clearly he felt that his notion of justice trumped regulations.


Note that it’s not only a matter of content but also of form and, if you like, rhythm. You ask a question. Get an answer. Don’t leave that answer on the table: drill down deeper by asking for examples, ask for clarification, ask under which circumstances the answer would not be valid.


How an interviewee deals with this approach – they get stressed out or angry, are nonchalant or calm, and how they go about trying to resolve the dilemma presented to them, is in and of itself interesting information. How do they deal with the trap? What is their self-awareness level? Did they state that their family trumps all and then do a 180 reversal claiming that the company would always come first? And if so, what does that kind of switch mean?


There is always a way to formulate a question that works. Laws that dictate what can and cannot be asked are meant to combat discrimination. One irony is that the entire purpose of an interview is to discriminate between the applicant and all other candidates, and between the information on the page and gleaned from a personal encounter.


Chameleon’s next Countering Insider Threat seminar takes place in Virginia on April 14-15. Link here for full curriculum and registration information: