Why spy? Often, American spies do it for the money. But is that the whole reason? Have you ever wanted to ask them? Excitement? Adventure in the mysterious secret world? Cleared personnel, like most of our fellow countrymen, cannot believe a colleague would spy. Espionage is for places like Washington, Baghdad, Beijing, and Berlin, not San Jose, CA, or St. Louis, MO. Yet there is a body of information available which shows not only that espionage could happen anywhere, but might happen in our workplace.

In fact, it might happen more readily today than during the Cold War, when espionage was more difficult. Back then, the electronics for collating documents were not so vast and miniaturized as today. Let’s examine what a captured American spy, Christopher Boyce, said about his espionage ‘career’. Perhaps the most remarkable take away from his testimony is how he inadvertently suggests a way to encourage a spy give himself up: Hope.

Boyce tells the story of his year and a half espionage career as a warning to other Americans considering the crime. He offers red flags to those who might witness espionage, but not know it. He spoke before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations ten years after his arrest in 1977.

Why Did Boyce Spy for the soviets?

Boyce found he had a product people wanted. He had a top secret clearance and access to huge amounts of classified information which belonged to the communications of the National Reconnaissance Office. Boyce worked in the most secret part of TRW Corporation’s center known colloquially as the ‘Black Vault’. He gave the secret documents to his friend, Andrew Daulton Lee, who in turn passed them to Soviet officials in Mexico City for cash. Lots of cash. Later claims that Boyce was motivated by a high-minded desire to expose CIA misdeeds cannot be substantiated.

“I was a totally naive amateur. I lacked even the most rudimentary skills (associated with) espionage. Even today I am still astounded at how easily the thing was to begin and given the security system, how near impossible it was to prevent. Regardless of the expensive and elaborate security systems, I suggest that espionage arrests are made mainly when beginners make artless blundering mistakes….”  Lee’s demise came when he was arrested for littering outside the Soviet embassy, and was found by Mexican police to have top secret film in his possession. He led authorities to Boyce.

“I got the job through what one might call the ole boy network.” Boyce got his start in national security because his father, a former FBI agent, helped him get hired by another former colleague at TRW. This is good reason to think seriously about who you hire – and the value of references and family connections.

Boyce maintained that he carried no red flags in his background, no debts, no extravagances. He was educated, courteous, well spoken. Missing was his connection to drug culture, which the background investigation failed to address. They never interviewed a single friend of his from that underworld.

“I was never polygraphed.”

When we think of companies where this is a common practice, we must ask why it is not more widely used. Often we hear of government employees who must take ‘random’ drug tests. Why not random polygraphs? He was not given an interview to clarify discrepancies, for apparently they found none. As far as physical security: “In my view, and I believe in the eyes of my fellow workers there, security was a joke, certainly nothing to be taken seriously.”

Indeed, almost every measure of security was either not enforced, or ignored by the workers, knowing there were no consequences for violation. His comings and goings, even to secure areas, were at his choice, and never double checked. Badges were virtually never scrutinized for access. Like Jonathan Pollard, who stole secrets for Israel, Boyce was never checked on his courier duties, even to places to which he had no access in the CIA building itself.

“Within the TRW vault, management had effectively compartmentalized security away. By making the vault such a highly secret area, those of us inside had been given, in effect, total autonomy.”

The list goes on, but most severe were misdirected messages for projects for which the recipients weren’t cleared to read. The follow up message to ‘destroy’ could as well have been followed by ‘read and steal’. Boyce did, over and over. He goes on and on indicting lackluster methods of control of codes, and general security incompetence such as not determining why a seal was broken. He suggests that perhaps if measures were enforced in his highly secured area as elsewhere in the building, indeed the least supervision expended, maybe he’d not have become a spy, having thought he might get caught. None of this ever happened. Instead, he continued sending information to the Soviets.

From my own career, I remember a European intelligence service’s poster. It showed a beautiful young lady walking with difficulty in high heels on a street. It said “Still feeling the pinch? Feel you can’t get out of the commitment to espionage you made? Think again. We’re here to help you.” For many spies, what begins as a move of desperation, or thrill, or mystery, or intrigue, their betrayal comes to haunt them. Oh, not at first when the money rolls in, or they ‘get back’ at someone, or ‘revealing the truth’ about some misdeed. No, if the spy begins to waver, kind reminders are offered by the foreign spy handler. He’ll remind him how he’d already betrayed his company, his friends, his country. ‘Oh, and did I show you these photos? And this receipt?’ And, he will purr, betrayal of country means ‘death’.

I hope this is clarified in security briefings. Remember, you are trying to prevent espionage, or help a current spy give himself up. There are ways out of the predicament he’s put himself in, but a spy won’t know this. His handler will convince him he will die if he doesn’t continue delivering secrets. He plays on fear. If a person fears death, he might go on spying even though execution for espionage has not been the case since the 1950s.

In most cases, the spy feels trapped. Boyce made fun of a ‘surreal’ briefing he heard by a security presenter.

“Here I sat with the KGB monkey on my back”….while the briefer spoke of ‘exotic seductions’ which had nothing to do with the reality of espionage.

“Where was the despair? Where were the sweaty palms and shaky hands? This man said nothing about having to wake up in the morning with gut gripping fear before steeling yourself once again for the ordeal of going back into that vault. How could these very ordinary young people not think that there was a panacea that could lift them out of the monotony of their everyday lives, even if it was only in their fantasies? None of them knew, as I did, that there was no excitement, there was no thrill, there was only depression and a hopeless enslavement to any inhuman, uncaring foreign bureaucracy. I hadn’t made myself count for something, I had made my freedom count for nothing. For whatever reason a person begins his involvement, a week after the folly begins, the original intent and purpose becomes lost in the ignominy of the ongoing nightmare.”

A certain self confident pride still leaks though in Boyce’s testimony. Just like Rick Ames, the CIA spy arrested for espionage, who said, while in prison, that he considered himself smarter than his colleagues, “…..and while I still believe that….” It is informative that Boyce realized he’d made a massive failure, a tremendous error. Perhaps when your company addresses your employees, they might emphasize there is always a way out of espionage. There is always hope. Hope is what the foreign handler wants to take away from his spy.

If you look out over the crowd when you give a briefing, believe that one of your fellow employees might be a spy. He wants to give himself up, if only to make the pain end. His foreign handler wants him to believe his life is over and he must continue spying. Your briefing can offer hope, and induce him to surrender to authorities.

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John William Davis was commissioned an artillery officer and served as a counterintelligence officer and linguist. Thereafter he was counterintelligence officer for Space and Missile Defense Command, instructing the threat portion of the Department of the Army's Operations Security Course. Upon retirement, he wrote of his experiences in Rainy Street Stories.