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Insider Threat: The New Nuclear Danger

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  • March 04, 2011
    Fellows' Seminar

    Chairperson: Ambassador Arundhati Ghose
    Discussants: Dr Sitakanta Mishra and Dr Aditi Malhotra

    Dr Reshmi Kazi introduced the paper by saying that the danger of insider threats is emerging as the new nuclear threat and the risk of insider threats is invariably linked with terrorists seeking fissile materials to build a nuclear device. In the present paper, Dr Kazi aimed to analyse the severity of the danger of insider threats. She also tried to address the motivating factors that are greatly responsible for giving rise to potential insider risk to a nuclear establishment.

    Defining the insider threat, Dr Kazi said that the risk of insider threat is present in all organisations. The potential of this threat lies in the act of a trusted employee who might betray his allegiances and obligations to his employer and cause damage or espionage against the employer or the organisation. Moreover, access of all people without adequate identification to an organization’s critical facilities increases the chances of potential insider threat to the infrastructure.

    She pointed out three categories of actors from which there is the risk of insider betrayals: a) psychologically-impaired disgruntled or alienated employees; b) ideological or religious radicals; and c) criminals. She indicated that a trusted employee can develop a malicious intent due to various factors such as vengeance for a seeming wrong; radicalisation for advancement or religious or ideological objectives; and simple unlawful financial gain. Individuals are also motivated to malicious actions because of the growing, exacerbated or unaddressed discontent with their place or value in the organisation; recruitment by hostile outside entities or groups; infiltration of a malicious actor to a trusted position on an infrastructure operator’s staff; and nuclear industry is affected by workplace trends that currently indicate there will be fewer jobs in the future, and individuals who are employed will be required to have greater technical skills. However, according to Dr Kazi, insider betrayals may not necessarily be from individuals who have been directly affected by discontent or perceived injustice from within the organisation. There might also exist within the category of active insiders, a subset of unwitting or passive insiders.

    By highlighting the future trends and the danger of insider threats, the presenter said that the world of nuclear weapons is expected to gradually undergo revolutionary changes in the coming decades since the nuclear world is surrounded with debates relating to nuclear disarmament, revamp of the nuclear industry, emergence of new nuclear states, rising proliferation, and spread of nuclear energy. She assumed that the world of nuclear weapons will undergo transformation that will impact issues relating to nuclear weapons in the future which might increase the risk of potential insider threats.

    On Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme and the severity of the danger of insider threats, the author stated that in Pakistan there is a strong possibility of insider threats. Quoting David Albright, she said, “Pakistan tends to leak vital nuclear information. It’s the nature of the system.” She also cited the famous A Q Khan case which bears testimony to the proliferation of sensitive nuclear technology to several countries and also demonstrates the poor security culture of the state. In addition, the risk of insider threats is further compounded by a rising wave of Islamist and anti-Western sympathies within Pakistan army and the ISI.

    Referring to some of the recent incidences of insider threats like a group of peace activists’ security breach at Kleine-Brogel Airbase in Belgium in February 2010, four armed men’s security breach into the Pelindaba nuclear facility in Pretoria in November 2007 etc., the presenter said that the case of AQ Khan perhaps posed the greatest insider threat when he was able to proliferate centrifuges, nuclear technology and blueprints to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. She pointed out that the danger of insider threat is a global problem which has to be addressed by all the leading partners of the international community. The presenter felt that it was important for the nuclear institutions and organisations to become wiser to the tactics of potential insiders. While taking adequate steps to secure fissile materials worldwide, substantial efforts must be made to overhaul the personal reliability programme, which must transcend beyond merely evaluating the suitability of bodyguards to the management of expanding stockpile of nuclear materials and weapons.

    As part of this comprehensive effort, she also recommended suggestions for more safety and security of nuclear reactors. Some of the important recommendations in managing the insider threats are: stabilise the economic status of the nuclear personnel in order to prevent nuclear scientists, engineers, workers and guards from stealing nuclear weapons and materials or selling nuclear knowledge; redirect the aging workforce into civil nuclear programmes and thereby provide them alternative employment; expand capabilities of nuclear forensics, police force and human intelligence to intercept nuclear thieves; strengthening international nuclear emergency search and response capabilities etc.

    In conclusion, she said that the danger of insider threat must be managed with intelligence, process, and technology through a defence-in-depth strategy. If the systems are maintained according to the security configurations necessary, duties are segregated, accounts and passwords are controlled, and employees are made aware that their actions are being logged and monitored, there is less likelihood of a disgruntled employee attempting the unwanted activity.

    Major Points of Discussion and Suggestions:

    • The other aspects of insider threats could have been mentioned.
    • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) identified insider threats as violent and non-violent insiders. Violent insiders are active insider threats.
    • The paper could have dealt with the case of North Korea in greater detail and linking with security threat as its nuclear programme is not indigenous.
    • Islamisation of Pakistan Army and the deeply religious mindset of the nuclear scientists further compound the danger of insider threats.
    • An insider threat who works with outsiders would pose the most dangerous threat. This dander is also emerging as a new nuclear threat linked with terrorism.
    • The various insider threats should have been further researched in a greater detail and explained.
    • What are the potential threats to nuclear reactors and what are the nuclear protection safeguard measures have been taken to protect from insider threats?
    • There are a number of international treaties which are responsible for safeguarding nuclear reactors but what the domestic laws and measures exist in this regard.
    • The author has mentioned about various insider threats who are working in different countries like Pakistan, Iran, North Korea etc but is there any cross connection? Instead of working on larger issues the author could have been focused on specific issues, for instance, the case of Pakistan could have been studied in more details. Perhaps, the author was trying to do exactly that.
    • Is there any possibility for Taliban or extremists getting access to nuclear devices? For small terrorist groups getting access to nuclear devices or weapons and exploding them are not possible.
    • An accident is not an insider threat. If one intents to use sensitive nuclear devices for sabotage, proliferation and terrorist activity can be said as insider threat.
    • It was suggested that the author needed to clearly define insider threat in order to be able to deal with the issue in a comprehensive manner. Before writing the paper, the author also needs to visit the places to observe and find out how various reactors are operating, how they are safeguarded and to note where insider threats can come from.

    Report prepared by Dr Saroj Bishoyi, Research Assistant, IDSA