Setup for a nightmare

A new book by Notra Trulock, former director of intelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy, details how apathy and politics can infect the decision-making of senior managers and create a security nightmare for frontline administrators.

Code Name Kindred Spirit (Encounter Books, 2003) takes readers inside the Chinese nuclear espionage scandal that occurred between 1995 and 2001 at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and led to the DOE's investigation of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee. Trulock also sheds new light on how senior DOE management contributed to the appalling state of computer and enterprise security that contributed to the possible disclosure of the U.S.'s most sensitive nuclear secrets.

In an interview with Computerworld's Dan Verton, Trulock offered insight into how mismanagement of security issues at the highest levels of an organization can have devastating results.

In your book, you wrote about many management and leadership shortcomings at the DOE, and especially how those shortcomings had a debilitating effect on enterprise security. Can you expand on a few examples that might offer some sober lessons for large corporations?

Most importantly, I think, security was sharply devalued by the Energy Department and senior lab managers during the 1990s. It is common knowledge that budgets were run down and both manpower and training were sharply cut back. By far the worst offense, however, was the corruption and manipulation of security standards and measures of performance imposed by these officials.

Time and again, senior managers fudged or simply suppressed the results of security exercises, evaluations and self-assessments. More than once, senior lab managers were caught red-handed pressuring security officials to revise upward poor marks on security exercises. In other cases, the outcomes of such exercises were rigged to conceal vulnerabilities. Inevitably, senior management officials also had to suppress and silence those security officers unwilling to go along with the coverups.

You also wrote that you "witnessed many incidents in which CI [counterintelligence] officers were asked to report on the same people who wrote their performance appraisals, granted raises and approved budgets." What lessons and suggestions should come out of this for large corporate security programs that might be wrestling with finding the right management structure?

I don't know whether the problems I witnessed are unique to the national labs. As counterintelligence was de-emphasized [along with security] at the labs in the 1990s, CI units were pushed further down the lab structure to the point that multiple layers of management existed between CI officers and the lab director. Consequently, CI [and security] problems rarely were brought to the attention of the lab directors or their senior management group. For a time at Los Alamos, the CI [group] reported to a unit that was also responsible for hallway maintenance and replacing burnt-out light bulbs.

First and foremost, large corporate enterprise security units should enjoy high visibility within the enterprise and report directly to either the chief executive or chief operating officers. The further down a [security] unit is in the corporate structure, the greater the potential for interference and obstruction in the performance of the unit's mission.

For companies that have large volumes of intellectual capital and proprietary research to protect, what is your advice on how to achieve an appropriate level of security while at the same time maintaining enough flexibility to remain competitive?

The 1990s were a period in which senior managers refused to think through the long-term implications of losing secrets vs. the short-term political benefits of openness or declassification. In an enterprise setting, I suppose this would entail deciding what is worthy of protection and what senior managers might be willing to concede to potential competitors. The costs of lost or stolen data would have to be factored into such an equation. Flexibility might not be valued so highly if the loss of sensitive data undercut an enterprise's competitiveness.

You mention one instance in which a lab director simply crossed out classification markings on a document and released it to the media. We now know that the document in question contained sensitive information. What should corporate security managers do when confronted with similar situations?

I assume you mean beyond updating his or her rÈsumÈ and looking for a new job? Security managers can try a slow, steady process of educating the CEO to the potential downsides of lax security. I know of one Fortune 100 corporation whose world-famous CEO totally disdained security of any type and made nearly all corporate locations open campuses. He retired just before 9/11 and left his successors a staggering problem of how to protect corporate assets worldwide against terrorists determined to attack symbols of American economic power. His successors had to start from scratch to rebuild security at the corporation's facilities.

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