After many security awareness briefings, those in attendance walk out less than convinced that espionage is an issue. Their recently attended briefing told a ‘spy story’ which highlighted an actual case. Often these briefings conclude with a film clip of the spy being nabbed by G-Men at an airport. We are told our spy, bearing a blank expression while being led away by officers of the law, was en route to deliver his thumb drive full of classified information to a foreign government. And there it ends. Briefing concluded until next year.

If Employees Need a Security Briefing, so does the Boss

The intent of such briefings is to raise awareness of security. To engage the listener. Studies have shown that most, if not all those in attendance noted several things, and none of them geared toward the intent of the presentation. First, they all note whether the ‘boss’ was present for the briefing. The boss could be anybody the observer considers the boss. “If the senior staff, the Chief Executive Officer, and his entourage are not there, why am I?” a typical employee might ask. Such absence demonstrates that the boss has more important things to do. The subtext is that the security briefing is a requirement, and one the boss believes he can dodge with impunity. Clearance holders are left with the distinct impression that their time is not important because they are sent to things not important enough for the boss. His absence just cost the company money. His absence just wasted his employees’ time. I’m sure the Chief Executive doesn’t see it that way, but his workers do.

An Hour Is Never Enough, So What Can You Do?

How can you engage your employees, once you realize an hour a year is not really going to make them security aware? Use that hour for the ‘annual security briefing’ as a sort of launch pad. Show how spies delight in finding out how you operate, because they will try anything to gain access. A briefer should be a senior person. The briefer should be able to illustrate examples of how the spy came to be a spy in the first place.

1. Money Hungry Example

Consider. Recent espionage cases have revealed that one spy was sought out through his constant search for money. The man had sought to capitalize on the foreign job market, but had not landed a real job abroad. Suddenly, he found himself not only with opportunities to give paid advice, but free publicity about his presentations. He never stopped to ask why this largesse came about.

2. Journalist with a Different Angle

Another man was befriended by a newsman. The journalist was known to the community as a legitimate reporter, linked to a known newspaper. Everyone’s friend. Everyone’s interested party who would quietly pay for information, not a normal journalistic practice. This man was perhaps one of the world’s most successful spies because his ‘cover’ was so convincing. And when he showed the clearance holder the money, the potential cleared source asked no questions.

3. The Foreign Contacts Who Help You Out

Then there was the art dealer. He knew people, and those people knew people. His offer to help ‘sophisticated’ clearance holders financially precluded them from finding out why his travels took him out of the country, a lot. Or what about the translator/fixer. Overseas, such men are godsends. Who do they really work for? Or what about your house servants? Who do they really report to once they leave your house after work?

No contact with Foreigners? Think Again

I remember one American cleared personnel presentation I attended in a foreign country. Asked, ‘How many people here have daily contact with foreigners?’ only two out of some 50 raised their hands. Next asked, ‘How many went to bars or restaurants after work?’ Almost everyone raised his hand. ‘How many had foreign servants in their home?’ All 50 admitted to it. Their interactions with foreigners in these latter circumstances were so common, but they simply weren’t aware of them anymore. Talk about security awareness! A good briefing is only the beginning of an awareness which should go on forever. It should create a state of mind that places the listener in the start block, to be aware of those who might try to elicit information from him or her all year long.

We’ve seen where one man thought his humorous, back slapping bar associates were most attentive to his commentaries. Was there any way they could follow up? Say in a private meeting somewhere? Or in another case, a man in the United States said that his colleague would be intrigued to know more about the work they were discussing at a cocktail party. Could that be arranged? Sad to say, many Americans will not only follow up on such offers, but do it with gusto. They see a charming nest egg at the end of the branch. And why not, isn’t that how business works? Yes. However, we need to know that’s also how espionage works.

Don’t Miss the Briefing – No Matter Who You Are in the Company

We should know because we’ve been told in meaningful security briefings. Briefings such as the security awareness briefing the CEO thought he could afford to miss, because after all, he had a major golf date with a colleague. Spies know all about the business meetings on golf courses, too. And why was the look of bland resignation on the spy’s face in the film clip? He was not shocked he was caught. He’d been recruited years before, had enjoyed the high life it brought him, but intuitively knew that this day would come. He thought he had no way out, and continued to spy. That’s another part of the security awareness briefing that the CEO missed. There’s always a way out, no matter how long it has been going on. Report any suspicious incidents to your security manager or government liaison. They will help, no matter how long it has been. That too is in the briefing.

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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.