Snowden investigator slams leaker-detector background checks

Testing reveals the past, not what someone will do once you make them bitter and twisted


A former top US Government investigator looking into classified document leaks by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden has criticised the effectiveness of background checks - saying such checks will not prevent further leaks.

Keith Lowry, formerly US chief of staff to the deputy under secretary of defense for Human intelligence, Counterintelligence and Security, was pulled into the Office of National Counterintelligence Executive in 2010 to lead coordination efforts during the Manning and later Snowden leaks.

He now says he was "intimately involved" at the time and sole recipient for all investigative material on the cases for a period of about six months.

"As a professional in counterintelligence, it was the role of a lifetime," Lowry tells Vulture South during a trip to Sydney, Australia. "As a taxpayer, it made me angry … whenever someone stabs you in the back, from a professional standpoint it is a hard thing to endure."

His comments come in the wake of the arrest of National Security Agency analyst Harold Thomas Martin III for allegedly hoarding top secret documents including code to help exploit systems used by Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

Lowry chalked up 18 months as a counterintelligence officer for the US Food and Drug Administration before moving to the private sector with information security firm Nuix.

He identifies insider leaks as a major overlooked threat, saying background checks do little to stop potential document leakers such as Manning, Snowden, and Martin III.

"I don't think there is anything anyone can do using background and psychological checks to stop [Snowden leaks]," Lowry says. "Background checks and polygraphs only say who they someone is, what they have done, not what they will do."

He says sweeping sentiment analysis checks of open source information, such as online and social media posts, would spark the ire of privacy advocates and probably wouldn't work anyway.

"Snowden and Manning made decisions after the checks that they would do something they said they said they wouldn't do."

He suggests Martin III may be a mere hoarder and was unable to dispose of work documents containing benign and classified material.

The high-profile leaks of recent years have done little to shake the private sector awake, however. Organisations defrauded by staff and contractors are unwilling to air their problems in court and engage in long and costly civil disputes.

"Less than five per cent of insider thefts are ever referred for prosecution, and less than 10 per cent of those go to court," he says.

He says businesses will only move to address the growing problem if faced with regulation or revenue impacts. ®

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