Exposing Russian Trolling and Information Warfare Tactics

Do NOT Take Boris Word for It

Exploiting Tragedy: The Shameless Attempt by Foreign Subversives on Social Media to Capitalize on Politics before and after Dallas

First of all, I hesitated to write this article. It seemed like talking about the events that happened in Dallas, and how foreign agents were using domestic proxies to stir political divisiveness was inappropriate. I didn’t want to be guilty of the exploitative charges that I was launching at the propagandists. I didn’t want to be a propagandist, or a hypocrite. However, balance, and exposure seem very important at this time. A time when media outlets are belching out news, information, pundit opinions, and the trolls roam social media, looking to lay blame on POTUS, Democrats, Whites, Jews, Blacks, Police, and Poverty.


The rhetoric is heavy. Every side has its dug in opinion. Just as we’ve seen before in Fergusson, social media has become a conduit for real time agitation. The more “likes” a post has, the more susceptible young, impressionable minds are to thinking that the actions of their peers ok, and that at the very least, they should continue spreading the message. You know the routine, it’s called “going viral”. The youth aren’t the only ones that get caught up in things “going viral” , and the message behind the posts. Reasonable, otherwise sane adults are manipulated by the quick blurb found in a meme.


It should come to no one’s surprise that media, political, and social groups are well aware of the simple, yet surprisingly effective power that a social media post “going viral” can have. There are blogs filled with how to use social media for marketing.


Besides the standard memes found on social media, there is also a marketing tool used by governments, and political groups to influence, distract away from, or otherwise manipulate opinion. They’re called trolls. Trolls come in many sizes and intellects. Some push a line, some bully, some create posts that are so confusing, that the reader abandons the thread. Trolls come complete with their own sources to cite from, and they will share them as a refutation against honest debate.


Russia’s Right Wing Drives Right Wing Movements Across the Globe, especially the US

If you know anything about the USSR’s past foreign media involvement, forget what you know. Well, that’s to say, forget the intended audience. It’s flipped 180 degrees. Putin’s propaganda and troll army now aims to strengthen Russia’s political goals through Right Wing politics and pundits. Here are some external sources demonstrating Putin’s foreign propaganda campaign:

The main body of Putin’s propaganda aimed at a global Right Wing audience is spread through actual organizations, either political or journalistic. However, the chorus, the most important part, is spread by scores and scores of trolls. These trolls have the debates, cheer up the party line, and destroy dissent. They are the masses that really move the message.  This message rarely deviates from its intended directive, subvert current political opinion in favor of that of the Kremlin’s. So, when a tragedy like what happened in Dallas occurs, right wing trolls are ready to jump all over it. As a matter of fact, neither Russia, or domestic Right Wing news sources need publish an article. Their domestic trolls will go to work for them, blaming Obama, stating that it’s a false flag operation to deprive American’s of their civil liberties, and furthering racial tensions. This is the dangerous beauty of propaganda spread by Active Measures. The trolls become so pre-conditioned on how to think, that they only require a small bit of reinforcement, and head-patting to further their divisive propaganda mission.


Featured post

Voting: Use Your Hard Earned Right

This article is a republish of a Facebook post by my former DET Commander, and a friend. I did not ask his permission to publish his post. So, I hope he doesn’t mind! His words and experiences are powerful reminders of our need to exercise our god given right.

I just wanted to post a note on voting.

On January 30, 2005 I had the privilege of flying Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over city of Mozul, Iraq. It was then that the Iraqis were given an opportunity to vote in their country’s first ever free elections.

In the weeks that led up to that historic event Al Qaeda made death threats over radio and TV to anyone who dared to vote. Despite the very dangerous conditions and threats of death, the people of Iraq came out to vote. Many waited for hours and hours to cast their vote, and there were many armed attacks on polling places across the country. 44 people were killed, including 9 suicide bombers on that day. But the people were proud they voted and held their blue fingers up to us as we flew over to prove they voted. I remember there was a vehicle ban in the city that day. No one was allowed to drive and all moving vehicles were suspects. We found a car driving toward a polling station and asked for ground guys to stop it since they had not fired on us we could not shoot first. When the car was stopped it had three middle aged brothers taking thier elderly father to vote. When we were told this by our guys on the ground we made sure that polling place got a little more of our attention to make sure this one old man got to vote.

If I remember correctly, between 60% and 70% of those eligible to vote, voted that day.

Tomorrow is an important day for our country. The worst thing that could happen tomorrow is that you may have to wait in line for 30 minutes. Exercise your privilege to vote. It is your chance to have a say in the direction of this great country of ours.


Thanks for reading…apache-iraq

A Short Story about the Value of Narrative in Afghanistan


Paul Cobaugh
Vice President at Narrative Strategies

I wrote the article following these comments last year for the Narrative Strategies Website and it is based on my experiences in Afghanistan working as an IO Officer(Informations Operations) for a Special Operations Task Force

I am sharing it today because with so much excellent commentary the past couple of days regarding what “comes next” after Mosul is retaken from ISIS/ DAESH I felt like the article would be relevant.

Stability Operations post conflict, be it a battle or a war requires a complex strategy to resestablish infrastruce, governace, security and so on and so on. Even if we get it right with our actions, it is difficult to achieve a lasting stability with an effective communications Strategy that helps target audiences, be it local or back home truly understand the meaning of all that is occurring.

Any good communication strategy can be made great if a true narrative strategy is at it’s core because in short, professionally developed narrative connects to the collective identity of a target audience and explains in terms that particular identity can relate to the meaning of what is occurring in their environment. This is the power of narrative and how it differs from conventional target audience analysis.

If we want to succeed, post Mosul Ops, we will need for the complex cultures in Mosul, Iraq, the Region and even at home to truly understand the meaning of all that it involved.

The following is about learning the value of narrative the hard way;

I would like to begin this article by extending a hearty thank you to Dr. Maan for the opportunity to participate here at Narrative Strategies. It is a high honor indeed to be invited to contribute alongside the likes of Dr. Ajit Maan, Dr. Patrick Christian, and Alan Malcher, MA whom I consider to be the defacto experts regarding applying Narrative as a tool of both conflict resolution and as the unifying element of a National strategy.

I have struggled to decide what to contribute to this blog but have settled on some lessons I’ve learned actually employing Narrative as a tool of IO (Information Operations) during my yearly Deployments to Afghanistan 2009-2013. The point being, that as I began my IO career with the Army, Narrative as a tool of IO was nearly completely overlooked and not actually taught at any of the schools or courses I attended. From personal experience, inclusive of early, less successful results in IO planning, I learned the intrinsic value and requirement for Narrative as the foundation of any IO strategy.

To lay the groundwork for this piece, I must explain a few basics for those not intimately familiar with US Military Operations. First, as we discuss narrative as applied to US Military Operations it is important to note that the US Military operates at three basic levels; Strategic, Operational and Tactical. For this piece I’ll speak briefly to the Operational—essentially one AO, (Area of Operations with Afghanistan being the example) and mostly, Tactical, referring to a specific (generally much smaller than and a piece of the Operational)—area. I also will carefully avoid all classified references, only speaking about the role narrative played in some planned IO strategies.

My first Afghan deployment was spent working across the spectrum of Strategic, Operational, and Tactical levels. I was posted to Bagram Airfield but had responsibilities planning and executing IO campaigns for several areas of the country where Operations were ongoing and also for the country as a whole. My primary focuses though were the East, South, and Northern areas.

While there were some successes in this initial campaign regarding influence on all 3 levels, overall we, The US Military, failed to actually “touch a nerve” with Afghan “locals” or adequately explain what exactly the US or the nascent government in Kabul was trying to do. We could explain or highlight specific acts in disparate Provinces, stave off negative Taliban IO and highlight successes but ultimately, we were in a reactive mode simply feeding the Public Affairs “news cycle”. Our desired effects of empowering a “toddler” government and in influencing rank and file Afghans to both have confidence in and/or join that government I would have to admit were relative failures.

As that no one much likes to achieve anything less than resounding success from a tough endeavor, it is also true that if you do not carefully critique your efforts you’re doomed to suffer the same results the next time around. In the 7 months before my next deployment and in between recurring training, I dug deep into the data and lessons of the previous Afghan “vacation”. The answer to improving performance was not merely in improving processes for the things that succeeded but also in identifying the demonstrable gaps in what we had failed to achieve. The answers, though simple to see in hindsight were far more difficult to master in the short time-frame prior to deploying again. As with any task, prioritizing to achieve what is most important first when constrained by time left but two tasks to focus on. The highest priority tasks that best identified our “gaps” were Narrative and in depth Cultural understanding.

At first glance two topics appear unrelated but truth be told, one does not exist without the other. I and my colleagues had all but failed in one of the first imperatives of the Special Operations world; we had failed to adequately understand our environment. Secondly, we had failed to tell a story (narrative) to a “story telling” culture that explained what we were doing, why it mattered to local folks and tied it together at all three levels of Operations.

First let’s look at the Narrative gap. IO campaigns built primarily on reacting to events by default cede the initiative to the enemy. The best that can be achieved is the “bad guys” do as little harm with their IO campaign as possible. The little proactive work we’d done was largely centered around “getting ahead of predictable events, such as Ramadan attacks, imminent operations in a specific area etc… Additionally, merely feeding the “Public Affairs cycle” explaining Operations to primarily Western audiences with western terminology often times left Afghan audiences confused.

With the above said, we began our next tour with the intent to build an overarching Narrative for all of Afghanistan. Building the narrative is an excellent opportunity to highlight the connection between understanding local culture and telling a story that resonates with a TA (target audience). As we settled into a “deep dive” on Afghan culture it became all too apparent that Afghanistan, the region, the International community and select areas in Afghanistan all have significantly different cultures. Afghanistan alone is a complex fabric of culture, religion and ethnicities. For example, the US military much like the US government had spent much time post 9-11 learning about Islam. In the execution of messaging, just talking about Islam in Afghanistan is as productive as trying to discuss Christianity in the West. There are just too many sects, cultures and local customs to actually “touch” an audience. The bottom line here is that generic is just plain ineffective to most audiences and resulting in “talking at” rather than “talking with” the selected TA.

It is also important to add another note regarding the link between Narrative and Culture as it pertains to Afghanistan. Narrative, in many respects is a story. Story telling in Afghanistan, regardless of ethnicity but especially among Pashtuns is an art form and one of the most significant threads of the cultural fabric. Not only is Narrative critical to any IO strategy but in Afghanistan, telling a story is a powerful tool.

As that most of my second deployment was at the Tactical level in far eastern Afghanistan—Khowst Province to be exact—I focused my pre-deployment education on rural Pashtuns as that it is they that dominate the region. Rural Pashtuns live by an honor code called Pashtunwali (the way of the Pashtun) that they see as nearly synonymous with Islam. For experts, there are distinct differences but another cogent point is that to a rural Pashtun, those differences are immaterial. Now that I understood this important fact, I knew what would shape my narrative.

As that Pashtunwali was the filter rural Pashtuns viewed life by, then I determined that the central tenet of my narrative would revolve around the issue of Honor, Pashtunwali’s core or in some cases, the absence of honor. The name of both my IO campaign and my narrative then became “Honor and Shame”.

Honor and Shame was actioned under the umbrella of a narrative that highlighted the all-important tenets of Pashtunwali which regulates daily life by a complex code designed to maintain the honor of individuals, their families and their tribe, sub-tribe, clan and sub-clan or Khels. While all of the caveats of Pashtunwali were not necessarily productive in supporting a national government in Kabul, they were productive in stabilizing resistance to a form of the Taliban trolling the valleys of Eastern Afghanistan. For example, by reinforcing the power of the “first among equals” at the tribal level meant that any act committed by the Taliban, HIG or the Haqqani group that usurped local tribal governance was highlighted as “shameful”. Shame is a powerful coercive weapon when properly utilized against those beholden to the constraints of Pashtunwali. Conversely, highlighting the “honor” of individuals that protected their tribes/ clans/ Khels against dishonorable Taliban fighters ignoring Pashtunwali only served to empower the code itself. The defacto outcome was that strengthened, traditional tribal structure became a stalwart defence against the Taliban and denied Taliban fighters safe haven in more villages and valleys than prior to employing an “honor and shame” strategy.

This employment of a culturally attuned narrative strategy my second tour in Khowst province demonstrated beyond a doubt for me that culture determined how well messaging was received and of its critical role in employing a successful narrative. “Honor and Shame” was a sub narrative to the overarching Operational and Strategic Narratives employed at the National and International level. As I often explained to my Commander, regardless of what we call local success, stabilized local governance supports the National Government; therefore, if our narrative succeeds we are supporting whatever is being said in broad brush strokes in Kabul.

With this powerful new non-kinetic weapon proven, I vowed to employ it in similar fashion in following tours. As luck would have it, my following tours were again at the Tactical level and focused on northern Afghanistan. Repeat tours in the same location provided me the opportunity to see long term results rather than a single application such as I’d experienced in Khowst.

In pre-deployment training for my following tours I again dove deeply into understanding Northern Afghanistan and its significantly different cultural make-up that I’d seen in the East and South. While I’d hoped to use a similar approach regarding “honor and shame”, I quickly learned that the complexities of the North would require a different approach and therefore a different narrative.

In 2011, the North was far more stabilized than the rest of the country. Mazar-i-Sharif or MES as it’s known in military circles was doing well, growing and economically self-sufficient. The hinterlands of the North from the Iranian border to the mountainous regions in the far northeast and outside MES and Kunduz still was very much at war from a disparate enemy mostly comprised of IMU (Islamic Mujahidin of Uzbekistan) and Taliban (both Tajik and Pashtun). Their pragmatic alliance was often held together by sheer force of IMU leadership due to deep cultural differences. This period also was in the time frame where Reintegration was on the rise in the north, especially among Tajik and Pashtun fighters tired of war, and mostly on the losing end of fighting.

Generally speaking, IMU fighters are ideologues and not as open to reintegration as their Tajik and Pashtun colleagues. As previously noted, there is also no love lost between these disparate elements. Again, analysis provided me with what was to become the core of my Northern Narrative. As always, one of the first rules of warfare is to “divide and conqueror”. The natural divisions between the three main components of the northern resistance, exacerbated by the weariness of being on the losing end of a long war were rife with opportunity to further split the insurgency and encourage more Reintegration. It is import here to note that Reintegration or at least the theory of negotiated conflict resolution is a natural course for Pashtuns by way of a Jirga/Pashtunwali system. This will become important as we go further into the Northern IO strategy.

Criminals and Terrorists became my Northern IO strategy for the ensuing campaigns. Yes, it’s an odd name for a strategy but the logic, based on cultural and situational analysis is sound. In the complex north there is a generalized secularism that does not exist in the East and South. Even in Uzbek communities there is an aversion to the heinous terrorist acts nearly always attributable to IMU fighters. These fighters, although preferring to be called insurgents are commonly seen by locals as terrorists and therefore deprived of any honor or respect. While most people in the North see the Taliban as insurgents there is at least a reluctant view of them as at least somewhat behaving as soldiers rather than terrorists.

The core of the narrative and my strategy then focused on both proactively and responsively labeling all IMU fighters as “terrorists” in media and personal engagement while labeling both Tajik and Pashtun Taliban as “criminals”. This is the “divide and conqueror” I spoke of earlier. This allowed for some specific positive developments in the northern “battle-space”.

One, it contributed to increasing the natural rift between Tajik, Pashtun and Uzbek fighters. Since “terrorists” and especially IMU terrorists don’t or very rarely Reintegrate, it “cut them out of the herd” or segregated them further from the Tajik/ Pashtun fighters oft times brutally dominated by IMU commanders.

Secondly, Pashtun and Tajik fighters splintered further over domestic issues in the villages and valley where Tajiks were often more favored by government assistance than Pashtun villages. Tajik Taliban stealing the paltry government assistance to Pashtun villages and homes to Pashtun fighter’s families also exploited the natural divisions. When using media to highlight these acts, it triggered the natural dishonor dynamic of Pashtuns demanding that they restore their honor, taken so publicly by their Tajik colleagues. Pashtuns in the north have a much checkered history but this is another story entirely.

Third, and as noted above, reintegration is a natural method of conflict resolution for Pashtuns operating within the bounds of Pashtunwali. Using a narrative and IO efforts to label all non-IMU fighters as “criminals” rather than “terrorists” opened the door to Reintegration by Pashtun fighters as well as some Tajik fighters. As here in the States, we see often see a rehabilitative opportunity with criminals but none with terrorists. So long as all fighters were labeled as terrorists, the Reintegration door was wedged firmly closed to non IMU fighters. In the north with most of the population sadly all too familiar with IMU terror against citizens they were all too ready to “buy in” to the IMU being permanently labeled as terrorists.

As to the use of the labeling systems as a narrative, native media with guidance was all too ready to support the campaign. The advantage lay in using what locals perceived as true, responsible and honorable. The IO effort mostly lay in “shaping” local media to run with the concept and providing them with the facts of increased Reintegration by “criminal” Pashtun fighters, exploitation by Tajik fighters and condemnation of IMU “terrorists”. Military successes against IMU “terrorists” were highly publicized and generated increased support to Afghan National Forces (who received most of the credit). With the local media onboard as our “credible messengers”, delivering and amplifying the “truth” albeit shaped by our focus 2001-13 provided ample validation of the value of culturally shaped and delivered Narrative.

The bottom line to this brief recounting of select strategies is two-fold. 1. Narrative becomes the baseline for all actions taken under its umbrella. When discussing narrative to the uninitiated, I often will use the analogy of sports. Many of my friends love sports and so it is easy for them to understand that regardless of how much they like, for example, baseball and football, it would be hard to get their attention about football if they were deeply involved in the World Series”. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s just that it’s not their current focus. Narrative when applied to IO really means that you’re ensuring that you are discussing what you want the TA to understand at a time and in a manner that the TA is invested in.

I willingly concede that there is so much more to Narrative Strategy than my last sentence. The purpose of this article though was to link cultural understanding to the application of an effective Narrative strategy in real world experience. As Dr. Maan, Dr. Christian and Alan Malcher, MA have already and will discuss further at this blog, the intricacies of Narrative are often the difference between success and failure. I’ve learned these few lessons by trial and error in a real world environment. My sole regret is that I didn’t encounter this blog and its associated team of experts much sooner.


Is there a connection between Russia’s “Hybrid War” and the fentanyl epidemic in America?


Foreword by Eric Tallant

Typically, I only share information warfare related stories, or analysis. The following thesis by Michael Hotchkiss really jumped out at me, though. This young man has an eye for data, and “gets” the total concept of hybrid warfare. Since information warfare is part of hybrid warfare, Mr. Hotchkiss’s analysis does not diverge from the standard fare found on this website too much. Anywho, I hope you all find value and insight in the following thesis.

M. Hotchkiss

Since 2011, there has been an exponential increase in opioid and heroin related deaths in the USA (1). Many of these deaths can be traced to the rapid rise of fentanyl consumption – oftentimes in tainted heroin (2). Research shows most of this product comes to the US via Mexico, from clandestine factories in Mexico and China (2, 3).

Based on their use of the drug as an incapacitant, it has clearly occurred to Russian intelligence services that Fentanyl can be weaponized. It was first used publicly in the tragic 2002 Nord-Ost standoff which resulted in the deaths of many hostages (20% mortality or so) because of the government’s choice to use the tactic (4).

Estonia, which entered the Eurozone in 2011, is a classic a target of Russia’s hybrid war in its former sphere of influence (5). Estonia has one of the worst fentanyl epidemics in Europe, considered driven largely by production factories across the border in Russia (6, 7).

Intelligence services in the Caribbean have noted the close associations between Russian Mafia, Colombian, and Mexican cartels (8). There is a tremendous amount of research and evidence showing close collusion between Russian intelligence and Mexican and Colombian drug cartels in the US too. Some of the largest drug busts in US history highlight these connections – such as the seizure of the Svesda Maru in 2001 (9) and plots involving Soviet era submarines sold to cartels by Russian intelligence in the late 90s (10, 11).

Vladimir Putin was notably an advisory member of the SPAG Group which was PROVEN connected by German and Lichtenstein law enforcement to drug trafficking (12). Before his murder at the hands of the Putin regime, Alexander Litvinenko also made similar allegations about Putin’s direct connections to cartels in Colombia, and alleged the head of Russia’s equivalent of the DEA (Viktor Ivanov) was in on it (13).

If we ask ourselves, what kinds of geopolitical events might inspire an effort to “spike” overdose and addiction rates in America by the Russians in 2011, we get a clear answer: The Arab Spring (Color Revolutions) which continued the devolution of Russian power in former Middle Eastern spheres of influence, and resulted in the deaths of Kremlin-friends like Muammar Kaddafi (14). The official position of the Kremlin state media seems to be that the west is responsible for the instability and terrorism in the middle east as a result of these 2011 actions (15).

It must be acknowledged, that despite the easy availability of fentanyl for many years, the spike in deaths and abuse of the drug have correlated strongly with the amplification of Russian Hybrid War strategy which became pronounced around that same time. Russia has a history which includes weaponization of fentanyl, and may include attempts to destabilize regional neighbors with it. Russia’s close connections to South and Central American cartels which provide the bulk of heroin and fentanyl to US black market consumers may deserve more scrutiny in light of Russia’s general geopolitical games elsewhere.




How Conservative Psychology is Manipulated by Russian Geopolitics and is Causing Our Right Wing Populist Crisis

By Michael Hotchkiss



In light of the recent revelations that the US intelligence community has officially and publicly said that Russia is interfering in US elections and using tactics which have influenced “public opinion” across Europe in the past, let’s look at a plausible scenario of how a nation like Russia might be attempting to influence public opinion and election outcomes without directly engaging in vote count manipulation. My intention here is not to pigeonhole anyone psychologically, nor to offend, but to remove some of the mystery around this perplexing election season (and national security threat) for people who aren’t familiar with current events and social psychology.

The theory has been offered that Putin’s right wing efforts are analogous to the Comintern under Stalin ( The Comintern was the worldwide organizing body and intelligence gathering operation of the communist movement, and was based in Russia. The difference between the Comintern of yesteryear and Putin’s loose network of right wing populists is that populism isn’t mostly a seductive ideology or moral cause like Marxism or communism was — this seems to be mostly applied social psychology that appeals to the unconscious desires of a certain subset of the population which is likely to bebiologically predisposed towards conservatism (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Over the past couple of years, psychological research has highlighted some consistent themes related to right wing voting tendencies:

Research tying intent to vote for Trump to mortality salience:

Research highlighting “resting” authoritarian personality traits in Trump voters:

Evidence in media and politics for promotion of the narratives which create subconscious salience of the psychological threats above:

Many of Donald Trump’s most controversial positions have been tied to hostility to immigrants from both Mexico and Muslim countries; as well as specifically the terrorist threat posed by Muslims and ISIS.

Evidence that Russia is amplifying the refugee crisis which is exacerbating right wing populist voting in Europe, called heretofore ‘weaponization’ of the refugee crisis:

The potential ‘statistical segment’ targets of this operation in the USA:

Conclusion and Analysis:

Think about the ‘gestalt’ themes of “rapist-murdering migrant Muslims and/or Mexicans” we’ve heard about so much in Europe and the US from controversial politicians. Now appreciate that that same theme is used globally in Russian propaganda, playing directly into the concepts of authoritarian control, manipulation of fear, and terror management as we’ve learned above. Talking about immigrants, national decay (“Make America Great Again“), terrorists, and ‘different others’ trigger subconscious fears of death and revulsion which caused heightened states of arousal in (some) conservatives.

In addition to these very factors being potent psychological “activators” for relatively large percentages of the population (~35%) in the US, we see a good amount of evidence that the geopolitical efforts of countries like Russia (and client states Iran and Syria) are the very ones driving the refugee crisis in Europe which is then amplified through proven Russian propaganda outlets like RT, Sputnik, and various others which are more loosely connected through paid advertising and family relationships — like ZeroHedge (who’s owner is the son of a Bulgarian pro-Putin propagandist). (

There has been lots of talk about how Donald Trump will plausibly benefit from terrorist actions. He has grandstanded for being “correct” when terrorist attacks have happened. He has portrayed Muslims and Mexicans as terrorists and criminals, respectively; enabling him to capitalize on events which are tied to these groups and amplify the psychological message.

It has been proven that for example, Russia is behind at least some aspects of the ISIS propaganda and hacking machine known as the “Cyber Caliphate”; which is arguably inspiring many home grown terrorist actions. In this case again, we can argue Russia is potentially fanning the flames which will benefit their apparently anointed candidate in the US. (

There is also significant research that shows that Russia released files to WikiLeaks following hacks of Democratic Party institutions, and has led to the cultivation of a classic Soviet-style “disinformation” operation around the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, which perpetuates a belief in a murder-spree by Hillary Clinton (aka the “Killary Narrative”). Trump’s informal campaign adviser Roger Stone claims to be in direct contact with Julian Assange and has publicly promoted this theory now churning in both left-wing (hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters) and right wing circles. (

My argument is, not only will this cause chaos and mistrust in the US political system — it will plausibly “activate” large portions of the conservative voting populace who will plausibly then turn out to vote for candidates like Donald Trump and thus enable “legitimate” democratic victories and isolationist regimes which are friendly to – and perhaps in some cases compromised by – Russia, and thus in Russia’s interests. Theytried in Scotland, it happened with Brexit, it nearly happened in France (and could still), and it can certainly happen here too.

I believe that the vociferous complaint by the Russians which was revealed to have recently occurred at the UN despite the speech which prompted it not having mentioned Russia at all apparently is indicative of their vested interest in this political strategic model. (

NOIR: New Strategies for the Detection of Insider Spies



Foreword by Eric Tallant

Former Army NCO/Project Manager & Foreign Military Trainer/Fellow at The Intelligence Community


In light of the arrest of the Booz Allen Hamilton/NSA contractor this week, and the ongoing Edward Snowden debate, it is important to double down on insider threat detection and prevention. The author of this article, John Alan Irvin, reintroduces an important aspect for recognizing insider threats. Namely, what makes them tick. There are four motives that CI experts agree cause someone to become an insider threat. The acronym known as MICE describes each:





As simple as these motives are to sum up, they are not always recognizable, or acknowledged in the workplace. Mr. Irvin does an excellent job breaking down these motives, and providing a down to earth, practical examples of insider threats that have actually been discovered. He reveals that yes, these things do happen, and that they are recognizable. Here is Mr. Irvin’s research:

By John Alan Irvin

(The following article appeared under the titleNOIR: Neue Strategien zur Erkennung von Insiderspionen in Vol.10, Nr.1/2016 of the Journal for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies [JIPSS], published by the Austrian Center for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies [ACIPSS].[1]  ACIPSS was founded at the University of Graz, Austria, in 2004, “in order to promote research and understanding of the complex and often interrelated issues pertaining to intelligence, propaganda and security with which man and society are confronted in private and public life.”)

The psychiatrist had mixed feelings before his first meeting with FBI Special Agent turned Russian spy Earl Pitts. As director of his own Alexandria, Virginia, psychiatric counseling center, Dr. David L. Charney already had over a decade of experience counseling members of the United States intelligence community who had been referred to him. This time it would be different. This time his “patient” would be someone who had betrayed those other patients, someone who had betrayed his own country. This time he would be working with someone who had gone over to the “other side.”

Nevertheless, when the opportunity arose to work on the defense team for Pitts’ upcoming trial for espionage, Dr. Charney knew it was a unique opportunity as a psychiatrist. In spite of sensational media reports, the kind of insider espionage Pitts had engaged in was still a relatively rare occurrence.[1] Moreover, when a spy was caught, few people would have access to him apart from the government damage assessment team and, of course, his own lawyers.   For Dr. Charney, this was his chance to find out what makes traitors tick.[2]

Whatever trepidation he may have felt disappeared and his role as mental health professional took over when one of Pitts’ defense attorneys expressed concern that her client seemed extremely depressed. Who wouldn’t be depressed sitting in jail, accused of spying for the “other side,” losing his job and reputation, not to mention the damage it would indirectly cause his friends, family, and co-workers? Charney feared that the devastating consequences of his actions might lead Pitts to consider suicide. He also knew that one way of countering the hopelessness of Pitts’ situation would be to offer him some small ray of hope.  Perhaps he could offer Pitts a way to redeem himself somewhat, to make some small amount of restitution.

In his first meeting with Pitts, Dr. Charney offered him precisely that opportunity. He explained to Pitts that one way he might try to partially redeem himself would be to speak openly with Charney about his real motivation in turning to a life of espionage. As a trained psychiatrist, Charney hoped to go beyond the black and white mindset of law enforcement or the cold analytic assessments of government psychologists. Charney sought to find a human solution to an all-too-human problem. Pitts could help him do this and, in the process, pay back those he had betrayed by providing insight that might prevent others from doing the same. Pitts’ answer was simple, “I’ll be your guinea pig.”

In the following years, Dr. Charney would also serve on the defense teams of another FBI Special Agent turned spy, Robert Hanssen, as well as Air Force Master Sergeant turned spy Brian Regan. Spending hours and hours delving into the psyche of all three men gave Charney a unique opportunity for someone who was not a federal government employee. Journalists and authors might also speak with the men, but for much less time and without Charney’s training in psychiatry. What he learned from them, combined with his decades of experience as a psychiatrist and the insight he gained by working with both former and active members of the US intelligence community, led him to develop a theory of the true psychology of the so-called “insider spy.” He also proposed a new government office that would use that theory in a groundbreaking effort to prevent insider espionage and mitigate the damage that results when it does inevitably take place.[3]

The True Psychology of the Insider Spy

To clarify, insider spies can be defined as those individuals who have passed employment screening and have been placed in positions of trust. In the corporate world, that would include access to valuable corporate resources or sensitive, proprietary information. In the case of government employees (and the private contractors who, very often in the United States at least, support federal agencies), this would include those who have obtained clearances to access classified information.

What Dr. Charney actually discovered flew in the face of conventional theories of motivation and moralistic attitudes that suggested spies are intrinsically flawed, untrustworthy people. Motivation was much more complex than the traditional MICE categories (M-money, I-ideology, C-compromise, E-ego). Moreover, despite the best pre-employment screening, employees who had been cleared and vetted and legitimately determined to be trustworthy did, on occasion and under certain circumstances, become untrustworthy. In most cases, it wasn’t so much a matter of traitors somehow slipping through the system, but more a matter of essentially normal, justifiably trustworthy people making very poor choices under very specific circumstances.

What Dr. Charney did find to be a common trait among the insider spies he worked with and researched was much more subjective than objective, and internal rather than outwardly discernable. He identified this as the True Psychology of the Insider Spy, which is an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person. Obviously, everyone faces personal and professional setbacks. Whether a given individual perceives that setback as a personal failure that warrants drastic action (such as treason in the case of the insider spy) is entirely subjective.

Furthermore, since that perception arises in the mind of the individual, it may be completely invisible to everyone else.  What a supervisor, co-worker, friend or family member may consider a minor setback, in the mind of the nascent insider spy at least, may be viewed as a devastating blow to his sense of self. The failure may be professional, such as being passed over for promotion or the belief on the part of the insider spy that he is not being appropriately recognized for what he believes to be outstanding personal qualities or exceptional performance. The failure may be personal, such as financial or marital problems. Whatever the reason, it is perceived by the individual as a genuine failure and that feeling of failure is intolerable and must be relieved. Some may turn to alcohol or even suicide. For the insider spy, relief comes through the decision to commit espionage.

The Ten Life Stages of the Insider Spy

Through his work with insider spies, Dr. Charney developed a psychological theory of how individuals come to the decision to commit espionage and the common experiences they have upon making that decision. He identified them as The Ten Life Stages of the Insider Spy, which begin before the decision is ever made and continue beyond the end of the espionage career.

First Stage: The Sensitizing Stage

While it would be simplistic and inaccurate to assume personal life events predestine any individual toward future espionage, some experiences may sensitize a specific person to the thought processes that may contribute to such a decision. A dysfunctional family environment or specific traumatic events may contribute to a mindset that rationalizes the betrayal necessary for espionage, but such experiences are hardly determinative. This is demonstrated simply by the sheer volume of individuals who have had such experiences who do not later choose espionage.

Recent research in the field of epigenetics[4] may suggest one reason why the task of identifying specific traits that would effectively screen out potential spies is an inevitably imperfect endeavor. Human behavior is almost infinitely complex, being the culmination of a unique lifetime of experience, belief, and conscious or unconscious bias. While screening for personality traits may be effective in identifying overtly undesirable ones, a particular trait like a genetic predisposition, may lie more or less dormant until activated by a specific set of circumstances. In the case of the insider spy, this occurs in the Second Stage.

Second Stage: The Stress/Spiral Stage

A problem with “common sense” approaches to the problem of insider espionage is a tendency toward a black and white view of human nature. In this view, insider spies are simply “bad apples” waiting for the opportunity to let their character defects play out. This view provides the comforting myth that the answer to insider espionage is simply to screen these defective human beings out of positions of trust.

In reality, at least in the US intelligence community and with the exception of so-called “moles”, employees rarely if ever join with the conscious intention of later betrayal. Rather, they join with every intention of keeping their promises and commitments. Unfortunately, in the case of a small but extremely harmful minority, something happens to undermine that commitment. This is why employee screening, while vitally necessary, often fails dramatically.

Everyone suffers stressful personal or professional experiences. For the insider spy, as suggested in the core psychology of insider spies (an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person) under the right circumstances he will perceive these stresses as overwhelming. He may feel life is spinning out of control. The reasons may be professional, financial, or personal. They may be the result of marital problems, problems with coworkers, or disgruntlement with management that (as far as the spy is concerned) does not recognize or reward his exceptional talent. The reasons are likely to be complex and multiple, but the one universal factor is that the individual insider spy perceives the situation psychologically intolerable.

Third Stage: The Crisis/Climax/Resolution Stage

At some point the stresses become overwhelming and the nascent insider spy experiences what Dr. Charney refers to as a psychological perfect storm. External circumstances and the individual’s perception of his personal situation combine in a manner that, in his mind, opens the door to an option that was previously never considered or simply out of the question. The individual comes to the conclusion that the best, or at least the most immediate, means of relieving the sense of failure, to resolve his intolerable personal situation, is to commit espionage.

To the outside observer, this will clearly be viewed as a foolhardy decision in response to circumstances that, when considered objectively, are not that bad. For the insider spy, however, objectivity and logic are irrelevant. The decision is based on ego and a profoundly subjective perception of personal failure that is emotionally intolerable.  For the insider spy, espionage is a reasonable, perhaps even a brilliant resolution to an unacceptable personal situation. As with many decisions made in “the heat of the moment” and based on ego and emotion, a rational assessment of potential consequences is not likely to occur until much latter

Fourth Stage: The Post-recruitment Stage

Having come to the conclusion that espionage is a reasonable way out of an intolerable situation, the nascent insider spy is ready for recruitment by a foreign intelligence service or other individuals and organizations seeking classified information. In most documented cases, the insider spy actually seeks out the recruiter, often showing up at a foreign embassy or passing cryptic notes.

For the insider spy, this is an exciting time. His external problems, such as financial issues, appear to be solved. More importantly, he has taken decisive action and regained a sense of efficacy and control over his life. His ego is boosted not only through his apparent value to his new handler, but also through his seeming cleverness in deceiving and besting those he considered responsible for his former unacceptable psychological state. A new chapter has opened in his life.

Fifth Stage: The Remorse/Morning-After Stage

Unfortunately for the insider spy, decisions made in a state of psychological stress are rarely the best decisions. When the crisis that triggered the decision to engage in espionage has passed or is seemingly resolved and when the initial thrill of a new life as an insider spy has worn off, he is left with the realization that he has crossed a bridge of no return.

Espionage is a serious crime with equally serious consequences if discovered. The insider spy is unlikely to get away with a simple apology and the acknowledgement that he made a mistake while acting on emotion and in desperation circumstances. The employer he has betrayed and a law enforcement community that views serious punishment as a deterrent to similar crimes are unlikely to view his case sympathetically. While initially helpful and affirming, his handler and the foreign intelligence service that employs him are not likely to let their new-found, valuable asset go so easily. If he expresses second thoughts, the insider spy may even find that his new “friends” begin making threats to him or his family.[5]

At this point, the insider spy realizes that he is stuck. His effort to regain control of his situation and boost his sense of self has backfired irretrievably. What seemed a brilliant decision during his psychological perfect storm has proven a self-imposed trap from which there is no viable escape. To turn himself in to authorities almost certainly means a lengthy prison sentence and public dishonor. His handler is unlikely to simply let him go and may, in fact, make more serious threats.

The sense of personal failure that led him to consider espionage has led to another failure. He no longer has full control of his life. He no longer has any desirable options. To add to this sense of failure, the savvy insider spy knows that most spies are exposed not through meticulous counterintelligence work or unsound tradecraft on the part of the spy or his handler, but through defectors from the “other side.”

This adds a new element to the psychological makeup of the insider spy – a constant sense of anxiety.  A defector from the intelligence service handling the insider spy may show up at any time and there is simply nothing he can do about it.

Sixth Stage: The Active Spy Career Stage

An insider spy may be active for anything from a few days to decades. Early exposure may, in fact, be a blessing of sorts, because every day of his career the insider spy is under the stress of maintaining a secret life and aware of the possibility of being discovered without warning. For the long-serving spy, the original motivation for turning to espionage may fade. His personal or financial circumstances may improve. The ideology that struck him as worth betraying those who trusted in him may seem less attractive over time. His issues with his employer or coworkers may simply go away.

Even if the original motivation fades, however, what remains is the reality that the insider spy is stuck in a web of deceit and criminal activity from which he cannot extract himself without facing unacceptable consequences. For years or decades the insider spy has to endure a constant sense of insecurity, never sure whether he is under suspicion, anxious over the unpredictability of being exposed by a defector, under the constant mental stress of keeping his espionage a secret. That doesn’t change.

As time progresses, the insider spy is subject to the mental stress of justifying his decision and his duplicity. What may have been an exciting “second job” in the beginning is now marked by the drudgery of tradecraft, taskings, and meetings with his handler, all of which have to remain hidden from view. How well a given insider spy is able to hold up under this constant stress is probably related directly to his ability to rationalize his behavior, which is tested over and over again.

Seventh Stage: The Dormancy Stage(s)

On one or more occasions the insider spy may, at least temporarily, seek his dream of finding a way out. Harboring fantasies of escape, he hopes that by reducing his productivity, his handler will consider him less useful and perhaps forget about him.  So much for assumptions that insider spies are relentless, evil geniuses.  Or, for security reasons, his handler may direct him to “go to ground” and become inactive for a period of time. A change of circumstances may place him in a position with no access to valuable information. Even in this case, however, the handler is likely to either direct him to seek a position with access or to reactivate him in the event circumstances are more favorable.

In any event, these dormancy stages are usually temporary. Despite any desire the insider spy may have to break free of his “stuckness,” he is always at the mercy of his handler. Moreover, even if in a state of dormancy, he still risks the chance that his previous activities may be exposed. That exposure may come years or decades after his active spy career. While perhaps somewhat diminished, the psychological stress remains a part of his daily life.

Eighth Stage: The Pre-arrest Stage

Insider spies aren’t stupid.  Because their lives depend upon it, they learn to be very observant.  They are quick to notice indicators of surveillance.  When their ability to rationalize their behavior wears thin, they will eventually come to realize that the writing is on the wall and exposure is likely, if not inevitable. Law enforcement and counterintelligence officials will later comment on their poor tradecraft or imprudent lifestyle. What is more likely is that insider spies were simply burning out and want to get it over with. Physical stress is difficult to deal with; over time, psychological stress is perhaps even more difficult to bear.

Ninth Stage: The Arrest and Post-arrest Stage

Very often when an insider spy is arrested he will respond with bravado or insolence, making statements such as “What took you so long?” and disparaging law enforcement and his former employer. This is the original motivation for becoming an insider spy come full circle. Having become an insider spy in order to save a threatened ego or self-image, he now attempts to defend his ego in the face of his final failure – getting caught—but now this exposure, his final failure, is very public.

Faced with the virtual certainty of a long prison sentence, having his reputation destroyed publicly, and having brought embarrassment on his family, the insider spy has essentially nothing left to lose at this point. He may be uncooperative simply as a means of maintaining some degree of control over his situation. Ironically, he may also experience a sense of relief. The threat of exposure is gone and the long, dreary nightmare of treason is over.

Tenth Stage: The Brooding in Jail Stage 

Most developed nations do not execute caught spies, yet will impose harsh prison sentences both as a deterrent and as a means of demonstrating moral outrage at such a despicable crime against society as treason. Therefore, the former insider spy turned prison inmate has years of self-reflection (or self-deception) to look forward to. Now the insider spy is completely out of options. He is now forced to reflect on the entire sorry arc of his life.

Using The Ten Life Stages to Address Insider Espionage    

Fortunately, the three insider spies Dr. Charney worked with – Pitts, Hansson, and Regan – did cooperate, at least for the time he served on their defense teams. Their cooperation began the process that eventually led to his articulation of the core psychology of insider spies (an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person) and the Ten Life Stages. While a small number from a statistically small group, he was able to build on their subjective experience through the stories of other insider spies, the ground-breaking efforts of PERSEREC and Operation Slammer to study spy psychology,[6] and interaction with both former and serving intelligence professionals.

As a mental health professional rather than a law enforcement of intelligence community officer, Dr. Charney brought a different perspective to the issue of insider espionage. What he discovered after articulating the Ten Stages was that certain stages provided windows of opportunity to address and perhaps resolve the psychological dilemmas that either led an individual to become an insider spy or contributed to his remaining one. Specifically, understanding and exploiting the mindset of the potential or actual insider spy during stages one, two, five, six, and seven offered the chance to either prevent or mitigate potential damage.

In a general sense, understanding Stage One life events and the possible worldview they might give rise to offers the opportunity to identify and address issues well before they become the basis for a decision to commit espionage. Understanding the private, subjective mindset that contributes to the perception of failure in Stage Two provides an opportunity to deflect the potential insider spy away from an emotional, illogical and ill-fated decision. Understanding the sense of being “stuck” with “no way out,” and facing the reality of yet another failure (discovery, disgrace, prison) during Stages Five, Six and Seven, provide the opportunity to mitigate the damage done by a spy during his active spy career.

However, Dr. Charney also realized that to take advantage of core insider spy psychology and the opportunity for intervention provided by the Ten Life Stages would require a focus on individual psychology that had never been seriously attempted (or, in the case of PERSEREC and Project Slammer, attempted in the 1980s-‘90s before being largely abandoned). Moreover, for institutional and cultural reasons, such an effort would require establishing an independent organization that had never previously existed.

Proposing an Organization Designed to Stop or Mitigate Insider Espionage

It was clear that current counterintelligence methods such as screening, periodic review of security clearances, and technical monitoring were necessary but inadequate. The personal circumstances and psychological conditions that led an otherwise reliable employee to turn to treason were too situationally dependent and unpredictable for “one-size-fits-all” methods. The dilemma of preventing insider espionage wasn’t necessarily a matter of a “bad guy” slipping through the net, but rather one of a “good guy” making an emotional and irrevocable decision under certain circumstances for reasons known only to himself and largely hidden from view.

Law enforcement could provide swift and harsh punishment when treason was discovered, but was only effective in as much as the insider spy believed he might be caught.  Experience with incarcerated insider spies demonstrates that the individual’s mental state prior to turning to espionage is not necessarily one marked by clear judgement and an appreciation of consequences. It more resembles a state of panic. As for technical monitoring of employee behavior, while it may reveal some clues, there is no guarantee it will be effective against long-serving employees who already know how to evade detection.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are often designed specifically to address the personal issues that may lead to a decision to turn insider spy. They are, however, hampered by a reality of human psychology. For one, an employee may perceive that acknowledging personal difficulties to his employer, even via an EAP, may threaten his career or his standing among peers and managers. As illogical as it may seem, turning to a secret life of espionage may appear the better means of preserving both his career and ego.

Secondly, the insider spy is often motivated by a deep disgruntlement with his home agency or organization. Feeling himself unappreciated, unrecognized, or otherwise ill-treated by the organization, he is not likely to seek out the assistance of an EAP or rely on the sympathy of management. Unfortunately, this is often a justified belief in organizations that maintain a “zero defects” mentality.

Acknowledging these realities, Dr. Charney realized that there was no organization in existence that provided the insider spy with what he most desired during the active part of his espionage career – a way out that would preserve at least some of his personal freedom and sense of self-worth. In a black and white world where the individual was viewed as either “good” or “bad”, guilty or innocent, and where prevention was largely focused on the threat of lengthy prison sentences (or worse) and little expectation of sympathy from a home organization whose prestige was threatened by public revelations of espionage, there was simply no recourse for the insider spy who realized too late that he or she had made a disastrous decision. There was no one to turn to and no way out.

National Office for Intelligence Reconciliation – NOIR

With this in mind, Dr. Charney developed the concept of a new organization that would be part of the United States government, but independent of existing Intelligence Community (IC) member organizations. Drawing on the success of the United States Federal Witness Protection Program, also known as the Witness Security Program or WITSEC, he proposed a National Office for Intelligence Reconciliation (NOIR).

The focus of a NOIR would be what he termed reconciliation.  Dr. Charney repurposed an existing word for an event that lacks a word—because as things currently exist, it never happens that insider spies voluntarily turn themselves in.  In this usage it refers to the process by which an insider spy voluntarily turns himself in to authorities in order to escape from the dilemma he has placed himself in.  He must agree to rigorous terms and punishments.  However, he will avoid the most serious consequences of his crime – a lengthy prison term, the ignominy of being exposed publicly as a traitor, the negative impact on family and associates, the loss of any future employment possibilities.  He will be required to provide information and assistance to mitigate the damage he has done and/or counter the efforts of hostile intelligence services.

As a separate organization, a NOIR would be viewed by the insider spy seeking a way out as an “honest broker” rather than simply a branch of the home organization he likely already viewed as treating him unfairly and, through his betrayal, would be unlikely to view his situation dispassionately. Even his genuine remorse would not likely mitigate the damage his home organization would perceive as having been done to its reputation and prestige. A NOIR, being an objective third-party, would be perceived by the insider spy as a viable option for breaking away, even if at a high price.

In promoting a NOIR, it would also be made clear that it was not simply a “get out of jail free” card. An insider spy who sought its assistance might be able to avoid public ignominy, but would not walk away unpunished. Much as in criminals who sought the protection of WITSEC, the reconciled insider spy would be subject to a binding agreement that would demand his cooperation and curtail any benefits he may have sought through his espionage. Moreover, while not publicly acknowledged, his treason would be a matter of (classified) record.

As an organization based on actual human psychology, a NOIR would not seek “one size fits all” outcomes, but approach each case as the outcome of unique and subjective experiences and worldviews. It would seek to understand but not excuse individual behavior in order to generate outcomes that were in the best interest of the US government and assist in preventing future cases of espionage while mitigating the damage and exploiting the counterintelligence opportunity presented by repentant insider spies.

In offering repentant insider spies the opportunity to escape their untenable situation in exchange for their full cooperation and acceptance of a life-long binding agreement, a NOIR would acknowledge that even the insider spy is still of potential value and harsh punishment is not always in the best interest of those he has betrayed. It acknowledges the reality that justice and vengeance are not necessarily the same thing.

Much as WITSEC often used criminals to fight crime, a NOIR would use the reconciled insider spy to fight the larger threat to national security posed by hostile intelligence services, terrorist organizations, and other entities seeking to do harm. Turning to a NOIR would come at a price for the insider spy seeking a way out, but would still be preferable to the public disgrace and almost certain lengthy prison term he would face by continuing his espionage career.

The Benefits of a NOIR

In general terms, establishing a NOIR offers benefits that can be considered either tactical or strategic in the struggle against espionage. The tactical benefits derive from a new method of handling specific cases of individuals engaged in insider spying, while strategic benefits derive from the impact a NOIR could have on the ability of outside actors to successfully engage in espionage against the home country.

Tactical Benefits

Cessation:  Quite simply, a NOIR encourages and enables the insider spy to stop spying. Absent a NOIR, experiencing “stuckness” and seeing no option to ending his espionage that does not involve public disgrace and prison time, the insider spy experiencing regret simply continues spying in a fatalistic manner. There is no way out. A NOIR offers a way out that, while imposing serious constraints and demands, is still the best option on offer. Now the insider spy actually has an opportunity to walk away from that life and salvage a shred of his sense of self-worth. The penetrated government or organization benefits because a “stuck” spy will simply keep spying, whether he wants to or not. Reconciliation stops the spying in a decisive manner.

Mitigation: In all cases where an insider spy is caught, a damage assessment is conducted in order to determine what information or operations may have been compromised. A caught spy may or may not cooperate in the hope that his sentence will be less harsh, but once the sentence is passed his motivation for further cooperation disappears. Furthermore, any hope of sparing his family from public embarrassment or saving his reputation is already gone simply by virtue of his public trial. To fully mitigate the damage an insider spy has wrought requires long-term and unlimited cooperation of the sort a damage assessment, however thorough, cannot in itself provide. Reconciliation provides leverage that guarantees complete and on-going cooperation from the insider spy who seeks it.

Exploitation: The insider spy who seeks reconciliation through a NOIR does so without the knowledge of the foreign intelligence service or hostile organization handling him. This offers the intelligence community and law enforcement the opportunity to use the reconciled insider spy against his unwitting former handlers. The reconciled spy changes from being a threat to being an asset in thwarting other cases of espionage. Self-perception matters, and reconciliation offers the former insider spy something he could never hope for during his active espionage career or while sitting for years in a jail cell. It offers him a chance for at least a degree of redemption.

Strategic Benefits

Weakening Spy/Handler Relationships: The insider spy lives a lonely, double life in which one side is understood and shared only with his handler. While the handler may initially seem friendly and sympathetic, the insider spy eventually discovers that it is not a friendship but, rather, a business arrangement in which he is sole employee. He becomes dependent on his handler, who exercises complete control over him and may actually threaten him with exposure or harm if he attempts to end the relationship. The very existence of a NOIR undermines the spy/handler relationship by providing the insider spy with a way out. Furthermore, the handler will never know for certain whether the spy he is handling has sought reconciliation and is, in reality, no longer under his control.  Handlers will be forced to relate to their agents is a less warm and friendly manner, which will degrade and weaken their relationships.

Exposing Spy Networks:  A reconciled former insider spy is an asset counterintelligence and law enforcement officials can employ in an effort to discover and expose broader hostile espionage efforts. The reconciliation agreement ensures the former insider spy cooperation and assistance during the entire course of what may be a very lengthy investigation into wider spy networks. Because the reconciliation process is confidential, there is also no reason for the hostile intelligence service to believe they are under scrutiny, as would be the case when an insider spy arrested publicly.

Promoting Readiness to Reconcile: While a NOIR’s activities would remain classified, its existence and mission would be broadcast widely. The simple fact that there is such an organization is a seed planted in the mind of those who have reached stages 6, 7 and 8. This also promotes timely reconciliation, since the insider spy also knows that the opportunity for reconciliation disappears when he is caught and arrested, which he must admit may happen at any time and through no misstep on his part. In reality, most insider spies have been exposed through defection my members of hostile intelligence services. The insider spy lives in constant threat of discovery. Reconciliation offers him a window of opportunity for escape that could close at any time upon his exposure.

Decreasing Insider Spy Productivity:  The insider spy considering reconciliation has less incentive to please his handler. As a result, the amount of information he is willing to provide his handler is likely to decrease.

Improving Morale in the Intelligence Community:  A NOIR that views insider spies as imperfect human beings who for various reasons have made disastrous and criminal mistakes rather than as simply caricatures of evil and deceit demonstrates to intelligence community employees that they are valued individuals, not mere cogs in a machine. The NOIR’s focus on psychology offers a human rather than bureaucratic, institutional approach to counterintelligence. It lets employees know that, while serious mistakes have serious consequences, those consequences need not be the most punitive. It provides individual justice rather than organizational vengeance. All of these perceptions are likely to increase the morale, the job satisfaction, and hence the performance of employees. It also increases loyalty to the employer, which is one of the main factors in avoiding insider espionage in the first place.

Predomination:  No society is perfect and no government is without its faults, but nations that are dedicated to the rule of law and recognition of human rights hold a distinct advantage over less-open nations, where laws and actions are dictated by the often-changing and self-interested whims of a dictator, dominant party, or small ruling elite. Dr. Charney terms this advantage predomination, and it is the reason a NOIR can be considered a legitimate resource in free societies, while most hostile nations cannot offer anything similar. The reconciliation process is based on an agreement that the insider spy wishing to seek it must consider trustworthy, safe, and legitimate. He must believe the NOIR will uphold its end of the bargain. A NOIR is an asset to free societies that dictatorial states simply cannot legitimately offer.

Ancillary Benefits:

In addition to these main benefits, establishing a NOIR also offers several ancillary benefits.

  • Non-prosecutable spies. NOIR partly solves the problem of the spy who is suspect, but who is never prosecuted because of a lack of definitive evidence. The non-prosecutable spy, knowing he is under suspicion but not that he is non-prosecutable, is likely to view reconciliation as an attractive option.
  • Difficult cases. By focusing on core insider spy psychology, a NOIR gains traction in cases often considered especially difficult, such as religiously or ideologically-motivated spies and sociopaths.
  • Borderline cases. A NOIR is also an option for those individuals who have engaged in an activity that is not actually espionage, but which they may consider damaging to themselves if exposed. Examples would include being “pitched” by a foreign intelligence organization or failure to report incidents that are not criminal but potentially career damaging. As an “honest broker,” a NOIR would be an option to individuals who do not believe they could receive a “fair shake” from their home organization. The NOIR effectively becomes the EAP of last resort.

Educating the Public on the True Psychology of the Insider Spy

New concepts often face considerable suspicion or misunderstanding, if not opposition. With the exception of efforts like Project Slammer and PERSEREC, psychology has played a secondary role in counterespionage, offering after-the-fact explanations for behaviors that have already landed someone in prison. The psychological approach Dr. Charney has developed is intended to enhance rather than replace, compete, or merely supplement traditional counterintelligence efforts.

To address confusion, misconception, and unwarranted criticism, Dr. Charney created a non-profit 501(c)3 organization under the United States Internal Revenue Code. He named this organization NOIR for USA to reflect the benefits to US national security of establishing a NOIR, and created a website ( that would educate both intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as the general public, on the psychological concepts behind a NOIR and the benefits of bringing one into existence.

It has been many years since Dr. Charney first met Earl Pitts. Since then his dedicated effort to understand the mind of the insider spy, not simply in order to provide superficial explanations for inexcusable behavior, but to understand the complex and subjective mindset that on rare but devastating occasion leads an otherwise trustworthy individual to turn to espionage, have resulted in concepts that hold the promise of using psychology to halt, mitigate, and prevent insider espionage.

In an age of increasing technology, it is often difficult to remember that espionage is a profoundly human endeavor. Regardless of the ends or means, all insider espionage begins with a thought arising in the unique, subjective, often irrational mind of an individual. The mindset that leads an individual into a career as an insider spy, Dr. Charney’s core psychology – an intolerable sense of personal failure, as privately defined by that person – can be considered a psychological or perceptual malady. As with any malady, to bring it to an end requires not merely treating the symptoms, but to address the root cause. The NOIR concept is an effort to do just that.





[5]Epigenetics involves genetic control by factors other than an individual’s DNA sequence. Epigenetic changes can switch genes on or off and determine which proteins are transcribed. (“What Is Epigenetics? How Do Epigenetic Changes Affect Genes?” Retrieved from epigenetic-influences-and-disease-895, May 8, 2014)


[7] David L. Charney, M.D. and John A. Irvin, A Guide to the Psychology of Espionage (AFIO, 2015)

Has the Russian Mole Inside NSA Finally Been Arrested?

XX Committee

Image result for edward snowden russia picture

October 5, 2016

The FBI has a yet another defense contractor in custody on espionage charges—what did he really do?

Six weeks ago in this column I explained that the National Security Agency, our nation’s most secretive spy service, almost certainly remains penetrated by one or more Russian moles. Not only is Edward Snowden hardly the super-spy he’s claimed to be, in truth he’s no more than a patsy whose purpose has been to distract attention from the real Russian intelligence penetrations of NSA.

The idea that the Kremlin has more moles lurking inside NSA made front-page news in August with the public appearance of Top Secret hacking tools apparently stolen from the Agency. Embarrassingly, those were posted online bythe mysterious “Shadow Brokers,” which gave every appearance of being yet another front for Moscow and its spy services. How had it obtained such closely guarded secrets?

Today we learned from the Justice Department that, just four days after my column appeared, the FBI executed a search warrant on the residence of Harold Thomas Martin III of Glen Burnie, Maryland, which is an NSA bedroom community. The 51-year-old Martin was employed with Booz Allen Hamilton, the very same big-league defense contractor which employed Edward Snowden at the time of his fleeing Hawaii and subsequent defection to Moscow.

Inside Martin’s residence and his car, the FBI found evidence of criminal activity including possible espionage. The arrest affidavit (which on security grounds never mentions NSA, though that was Martin’s place of employment) spells out what Bureau agents found: information that was classified at the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information level—including six documents of recent vintage from an unnamed government agency which is certainly NSA.

Read the rest at The Observer….

Media and Terrorism: Why We Are Partly Responsible For The Monsters Among US

By Eric Tallant

Former Army NCO/Fellow at The Intelligence Community

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Not a day goes by that I don’t see someone sharing an article about a new domestic terrorist attack. Be it one pending, or one that has happened. Now, thanks to social media, and things going viral, we have a culture of people dressing up as clowns and attacking children. This is especially a real problem here in the Southern United States. It happened in Tennessee today. See look, I just did it. I just did what I shouldn’t have done. I gave it power through type. That’s my point people. We feed are monsters. We tell them what scares us, and they respond in kind.

We give the monster power.

Think about it. Everything needs something to feed off of. I need you to read my articles, and share them. It validates my work. The terrorist, “killer clown”, and nobody killer needs you to show your social media outrage to live. Television stations need it to sell products. Politicians need it to win elections. Just as you would never feed your children’s bad behavior with too much attention, why would you share the horrible news about a killer? I get it, to some degree. You want to inform, and you want to be the conduit from which news comes. Perhaps it’s you doing your part.

My final point is this, bad people will always be with us. Injustice will be too. Stop telling ISIS that what they are doing is getting attention by watching their videos. Stop giving the next terrorist a will (more than he/she has already) by posting articles about the horror of their events. The next time you’re shocked, scared, outraged, or otherwise concerned, consider not hitting the “share” button. Don’t feed the monster.

My Basic Primer on Intelligence Collection and Analysis


Eric Tallant

Former Army NCO, Fellow at The Intelligence Community, Project Manager at GovSource International


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A LAYMEN’S INTRODUCTION TO INTELLIGENCE COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS is a very basic primer describing rudimentary terms, concepts, and steps in intelligence collection and analysis. The primary function of this manuscript is to give the average person an idea of how, why, and for what purposes intelligence is collected. This work provides several brief analysis pieces, created by the author, to help visual what a potential final intelligence product may look like. This is not an academic book, rather a book to help with understanding basic intelligence concepts.



Firehose of Falsehoods


Foreword by Eric Tallant former Army NCO/fellow at The Intelligence Community

This article originally appeared in Newsweek. A friend of mine emailed this link to me to remind me of the importance of exposing a well orchestrated, many tentacled hydra. As the news informs us daily of the desire for The Kremlin to direct our democratic process, and our collective inability to deny the unfathomable is standard thinking, we must see the truth. We must jolt ourselves back to reality. We must see the truth. Ladies and gentlemen, this reality, and all it portends, is crucial!!


Russian propaganda is pervasive, and America is behind the power curve in countering it.

Firehose of Falsehoods

Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti/Government Press Service

By William Courtney and Christopher Paul

Sept. 9, 2016, at 5:30 p.m.

As Washington investigates alleged Russian hacking of U.S. political systems, Russian propagandists are also at work across a wide front aiming a firehose of falsehoods at ill-informed audiences, foreign and domestic. A recent RAND study reveals how this disinformation – intentionally false – leverages psychological vulnerabilities to sway audiences. U.S. leaders should raise public consciousness about its nature and dangers.

In January 1981, days after his inauguration, President Ronald Reagan showed the way. Soviet leaders, he said, “reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat” in order to further their cause. His words gained worldwide notice. They were effective, because they meshed with other evidence in the public mind of Soviet wrongdoing, such as the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and heightened nuclear missile threats in Europe. An egregious example of Soviet disinformation from the 1980s was the claim that the HIV/AIDs epidemic emerged from U.S. biological weapons research.

The explosion of new media is a boon for propagandists. RT, formerly Russia Today, spends over $300 million per year purveying a toxic mixture of entertainment, real news and disinformation across cable, satellite and online media. Dozens of Kremlin-backed proxy news sites blast propaganda while hiding or downplaying their affiliation. Russian trolls and hackers manipulate thousands of fake accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. This volume and multiplicity of media and modes has an effect; research in psychology shows that multiple sources are more persuasive than a single effort.

Russia’s approach to propaganda emphasizes creating first impressions, which tend to be resilient, and then reinforcing them through repetition. In this way Kremlin propagandists have persuaded some of the less informed that Ukraine’s post-Maidan government is fascist. Contrary to credible findings of pervasive state-sponsored Russian doping at the 2012 winter Olympics in Sochi, Moscow’s early and repeated denials have confused some audiences.

While some Russian propaganda stories build around a kernel of truth, others are wholly manufactured and spun. In 2014 propagandists fabricated social media reports to spur panic about a nonexistent chemical plume in Louisiana. Even after German police uncovered the falsehood of claims that a 13-year-old Russian-speaking girl in Cologne was gang-raped by immigrants last January, Moscow kept warning about it. Why might a drumbeat of falsehoods succeed? People are often poor judges of the credibility of both information and its sources, psychology research has found, and over time familiar messages or those previously identified as false can become more persuasive.

Russian propaganda does not shy away from making inconsistent claims; its goal is to see which gain acceptance with various audiences. When in July 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, various Russian sources claimed: A Ukrainian jet fighter was responsible, Ukrainian ground forces were trying to down an aircraft carrying Putin and Ukrainian air traffic control forced MH-17 to fly over a war zone. But the propagandists were clumsy. Just after the crash, ITAR-TASS reported that a “Ukrainian Air Force An-26 transport plane” had been downed by a missile. A few weeks earlier Russian-backed rebels bragged of acquiring a Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile system, the weapon that Dutch investigators found had brought down the airliner.

Regrettably, some audiences are not turned off by inconsistent or implausible expectations. Even if they recognize the falsehood of much of the content in the Russian firehose – such as from television – they may be skeptical of contrary information from similar media even if sources are credible. Polls last year found that about half of Russians believed they received “objective information” from television, their main source of news.

America is behind the power curve in countering Russian disinformation. U.S. leaders should raise public consciousness, as Reagan did, helping to forewarn audiences about the threat. After-the-fact refutations of falsehoods rarely win more attention than retractions buried in newspapers. As with human rights and religious freedom abuses, the Department of State could issue annual public reports on foreign government use of dishonest propaganda, naming and shaming outlets such as RT and Sputnik. The department could also fund independent organizations that raise awareness. A noteworthy one is, a community that checks facts and refutes disinformation about events in Ukraine.

U.S. public diplomacy is under-performing. In 2013 then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Congress that the Broadcasting Board of Governors – which oversees the Voice of America, and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other surrogate media – is “practically defunct.” Reforms in a bipartisan congressional bill could improve their operation.

The once illustrious RFE/RL research function, gutted after the Cold War ended, could be revived. The Center for European Policy Analysis, Jamestown Foundation and scholar Paul Goble carry out some of this valuable work on shoestring budgets. This work illuminates cultural contexts and media environments in places where America has strategic interests.

The Department of State could elevate public diplomacy and more tightly weave it into American foreign policy, not spin it off by reviving the former U.S. Information Agency. No career foreign affairs professional has served as under secretary of state for public affairs and public diplomacy – a signal in Washington that it lacks top priority. The department’s talented public diplomacy cadre ought to be better nurtured.

Because Russian disinformation is a global threat, much of it targeted against democracies, the U.S. government should step up collaboration with other like-minded governments to counter the onslaught. U.S. concerns gain credence and reinforcement when others express them.

The Kremlin’s obsession with propaganda and disinformation persists even though it weakens Russia’s attractiveness as a foreign policy and economic partner. America should seek to expose these nefarious methods and increase public resilience to their siren song, even as Washington pursues cooperation with Moscow on Syria and other issues. It is not enough to try to counter a firehose of falsehood with a squirt gun of truth.



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