My friend was a senior flight-line mechanic in the Air Force. He arrived at his new station, and told his airmen on the flight line that he wanted to walk with them as they went through their regular pre-flight aircraft checks. They carefully showed him the steps as they marked off their pre-flight checklist. After they finished walking around the aircraft, he paused. “Can I see that list?” he asked. He carefully checked it over. Then he walked to a plug on the side of the aircraft. It hung from a chain, affixed to the side of a valve. “It says here it is supposed to be out,” his airmen said, pointing to the checklist.

“Yes it does. Somehow, that doesn’t’ seem right,” he commented. He then went to the office, and got out the technical manual. Sure enough, the plug was supposed to be in. For years, the printed checklist was wrong. My friend saw the situation with new eyes, and questioned even the printed document. The correction was immediate.

Cleared personnel should care about this anecdote is because it exists across the government and national security workforce. Clearly, in this case, it could have endangered pilot and aircraft. In cleared jobs, there are also significant costs to assuming the status quo.

‘Seeing with new eyes’ must be encouraged. If you belong to an organization that maintains ‘It has always been this way,’ you, too, might fail. Why exactly should this be so? It is because spies determine patterns in their targets. If I am an insider, I’m particularly aware of ‘how things normally are, the better to subvert them.’ This means they know how they can defeat the systems, steal documents, surreptitiously fill thumb drives, take photographs, or perform any of countless means available to them to escape with your materials.

It’s time to take a look at how we do things, and ask ‘why?’

Notice Your Colleague’s Behavior

Do you notice changes to the behavior of colleagues? Do they stay late, when before they didn’t? One spy made ‘doing extra work around the office’ on weekends, holidays, even after hours his new stock in trade. Most associates thought he was trying to look good for a performance report. To be sure, he was a razor sharp soldier. Instead, he was photocopying documents by the dozens. Seeing with new eyes – asking why these changes in work hours occurred – helped counterintelligence capture the man, but not before he moved highly classified documents to his handler.

Does someone check in remotely when on vacation? Why? Does anyone know how to check this? Is there an established procedure to control this? Has anyone ever asked?

Or consider this. Many companies encourage their employees to meet foreigners or make friends while living overseas. Even so, clearance holders must report foreign contacts, just to be on the safe side. But do you have employee reporting  requirements for any contacts? What about those contacts made by your cleared personnel with competitors, business partners, or others they might encounter? Normally, this is corrected by having an established procedure for keeping the security staff apprised of contacts. One American spy covered his contacts with foreign spies by pretending to meet socially for lunch during business hours. He had no requirement to report it. When challenged, said he was conducting an assessment of the counterpart for possible future assistance. Assistance, indeed. Remember, cleared personnel need to know who to report, and how. Have a policy for that.

Working from Home and the Status Quo

Particularly applicable today, what are your policies for working from home? Where is the delineation for what can and can’t be taken from the office? Be aware, a spy will ‘lawyer up’ and demand to see where he was denied authority to take classified work home. Yes, this has happened. Make sure even these presumably ‘known’ procedures are documented. Your annual security briefing should cover all of this, and there should be a sign in sheet for all who attend. There should be no excuses for not attending.

What about practices and policies already in place? Who checks them with new eyes every now and then? Do you review your classified practices at least once a year?¬† Have emergency contact numbers changed? Here’s an idea that will make the ‘new employee’ feel needed and a part of the team right away: Ask the new hire to review the standard operating procedures to see if it makes sense. Here we aren’t just talking about substantive change, but simple clarity, too. He will definitely feel an active member of the cleared personnel ‘squad’ if his ideas are solicited, then perhaps even implemented before he’s been on the job a week!

These are only a few of the considerations a security team should begin with. Consider the professionalism of your employees. Make it easy, inconspicuous, and a matter of professional responsibility for them to come in to advise security personnel of any practices they might consider suspicious, or which might make the reporter suspicious to others. Control computer use, and know how to best implement this. And who are you going to call on if you feel unsure of questions you should ask? Contact your supporting government counterintelligence office on a military post, or the FBI.

They can help you ‘walk around the aircraft with new eyes’.

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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.