• Insight
  • 6 min read

Human Threat Intelligence

In Times of Espionage and War – The Ethics of Security Vetting

Security Vetting in Context

Security vetting is a method within the Personnel Security framework to establish protection against the human threat, to do whatever possible to ensure the wrong person isn’t allowed in, for everyone’s sake. We’ve recently seen and read media feeds on high-profile state espionage. At the same time, it’s reasonable to assume less high-profile infiltration is taking place in various parts of private industry. The purpose of recruiting an insider person “working for the other team” might be everything from state espionage to gaining a business advantage over another company by acquiring business secrets, know-how, and plans – and being first to market. The point is – that the countermeasure is security vetting in both categories. What’s actually going on in society before our eyes require focus. If your organization hasn’t established a scheme for systematic security vetting, the time to act is today. And ensure you choose a security vetting partner wisely!

The last hurdle before going all in with protection against human threat might well be the ethical factor. Suppose you’re not that accustomed to working with security. In that case, it’s a logical thing to contemplate how closely you, as an employer, can approach an employee without going too far or being too offensive. With the correct, senior, and experienced security vetting partner onboard, handling the ethical issue is an integral part of the profession.

What Happens During a Security Vetting Interview

The security vetting interview (SVI) is a conversation between two people inside a context that’s not socially normal. One is a professional interviewer, and the other is the subject of screening. The situation is not equal. However, a professional interviewer is skilled enough to turn the situation into a dialogue that can be perceived as relaxed and even comfortable.

The SVI runs through a preset number of areas that have to do with the individual’s way of thinking and their view on various aspects of everyday life. The purpose is to assess if the individual can be assumed to be loyal to the interests that need to be protected, to be reliable as a colleague even during “bad days,” and if the individual’s personal history contains vulnerabilities that are so severe that the individual might be at risk of exploitation.

To thoroughly assess the situation and reach a conclusion that holds up, time and effort must be invested. An SVI that provides plenty of time for reflection from both parties is more likely to air subtle hints that might otherwise be overlooked. An SVI conducted under time pressure and consisting more of questions and answers than dialogue is more likely to create a tense atmosphere and reluctance to open up.

Evidently, the setting and surroundings of the SVI are crucial to the quality of the outcome. The ethics of the SVI and the quality of the security conclusion are linked. Giving the SVI time and space assists in creating a situation where the individual not only feels seen and heard but also is seen and heard. It’s a fundamental question of respect and integrity towards the individual and should be expected from any professional provider of security vetting services. This also means there’s no “assembly line attitude” in security vetting.

There Are No Reasons To Abstain From Security Vetting – But There Are Reasons To Think Twice About Who Conducts Them

Understanding the fundamental ethics of the SVI situation – and guiding it through the areas to be explored with the individual – is the hallmark of professional security vetting. It takes time and experience to comfortably handle unexpected situations during the SVI that might erupt without warning. It’s the interviewer’s responsibility to calmly control the turn of events and steer the conversation in such a manner that the intended direction in the SVI remains under control, even if detours of various kinds sometimes are necessary to maintain the comfortable setting that provides the right results.

Obviously, there really is no rationale for abstaining from security vetting. But it’s highly recommended to think twice about how the delicate process is being handled and by whom. The provider of SVIs should be considered a partner in the personnel security arena, someone who, based on decades of experience and thousands of interviews, can be the trusted guide through both the interview itself, the security analysis that follows, and the sometimes-complex common assessment between provider and client on how to proceed.

Our people are worth it.