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Opinion | How to prevent the next intelligence leak

When an internal leak occurs, the typical and understandable response of the intelligence and military communities is to reduce access in some way. However, once stricter procedures are implemented, they inevitably erode, as the evolving nature of threats and technologies requires new intelligence and greater sharing. Another response, from the Moynihan Commission in 1997 to the current Director of National Intelligence Avril Haynes review, has been to combat the problem of overclassification on the basis that the greater the volume of classified documents, the harder they are to process . manage. There is some truth to this, but over-categorization by itself is not a leak. To crack down on leaks, we must focus on dissemination and protection.

The determined will inevitably find a way to bypass any defenses. But we need an integrated approach to the dissemination and protection of national security information, not one-off, backward-looking solutions designed to prevent re-breach. Fortunately, both government and the private sector have possible solutions.

The government can create a sense of purpose and public service, and can legally scrutinize and monitor employee behavior. Even with the best policies and procedures in place for our systems for handling classified documents, we must ultimately rely on a culture of trust and compliance. Most people with top-secret clearances know that unauthorized disclosure could endanger the lives of their colleagues in the military, intelligence and diplomatic communities. Nonetheless, we need to greatly intensify our efforts to restore a sense of public purpose and instil awareness of the fact that our national security is at stake. This may be even more important for military and intelligence agency recruits from Gen Z.

The main way we currently train our employees on security clearances is by having them take regular online courses on the proper handling of classified documents. This mechanical approach will not produce a workforce that truly understands the need for security, especially among younger generations. Requiring everyone who applies for a top-secret clearance to undergo psychological testing and polygraphs (now only administered to employees of certain agencies) would not only weed out problematic candidates, but might create cohesion among employees who see themselves as a particular part of the group. This type of review needs to be done on an ongoing basis, not just at the time of hiring. Again, this may be a more acute issue for impressionable 18-year-old recruits, whose views may change in just a few years.

Of course, a trusted workforce isn’t enough by itself; there will always be temptation, and a certain percentage will go against it. Technology must fill in the gaps, and in this regard, governments can learn a lot from private-sector innovation. From pharmaceutical companies to defense contractors working on the forefront of the digital revolution, private companies are deploying technology to prevent the theft of industrial secrets, samples, models and blueprints. Governments could emulate the private sector and choose the most effective solution—perhaps installing paper-thin RFID tags on documents and binders (which trigger an alarm when you leave, like the systems retail stores use to prevent shoplifting) or Enhanced use of artificial intelligence to catch anomalous behavior (such as someone printing out an atypical document). If every ATM can be equipped with a camera, why not every top secret printer? The government has been slow to adopt strong private-sector technologies because implementing them is costly and time-consuming, and Congress has demanded quick fixes.

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