Coast Guard Lieutenant Arrested For Planning Widespread Domestic Terror Attack Was Discovered By U.S. Coast Guard ‘Insider Threat’ Program
According to Federal prosecutors, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Lieutenant Christopher P. Hasson arrested this month for planning a widespread domestic terrorist attack, as discovered and thwarted because of a U.S. Coast Guard Insider Threat Program. The program identified and flagged Lieutenant Hassan as a potential threat, as a result of his online searches. Prosecutors revealed how Lt. Hassan “spent hours on end, planning a wide-scale domestic terrorist attack, logging onto his work computer at USCG headquarters to study manifestos of the Unabomber and heinous paths of mass shooters like the one at Virginia Tech.and Olympic Park.. Additionally, “he researched how to carry out sniper attacks; and, whether rifle scopes were illegal. All the while, he was amassing a cache of weapons as he ruminated about attacks on politicians and journalists,” the Washington Post reported in their February 21, 2019 edition.
While his online activity was disturbing, his outward appearance and interaction with his colleagues did not raise any red flags. “I don’t remember him saying anything that was crazy,” said Adam Stolzberg, a contractor who worked at USCG headquarters, and was in meetings with Lt. Hassan a couple times a month. Politics, never came up,” Mr. Stolzberg said.
The USCG Insider Threat Program was not further identified; but prosecutors noted that the program identified suspicious computer activity tied to Hassan, prompting the agency’s investigative component to investigate and delve further into his activities.
As computer security guru Bruce Schneier noted on his blog: schneieronsecurity, “any detection system of this kind is going to have false positives, and false negatives. Could it be something as simple as visiting right-wing extremist websites, or watching their videos?,” he asks. “It just has to be something more sophisticated that researching pressure cookers.” Mr. Schneier goes on to write, “I’m glad that Hassan was arrested before he killed anyone, rather than after [the fact]; but, I worry that these systems are basically creating thought crime.”
Mr. Schneier raises a very critical point. We all likely know someone who’s digital persona is nearly the polar opposite of the way they are in real life. Digital fantasies allow for someone to live vicariously and contemplate things they’d ‘never’ do in real life. At what point does the online persona — cross over to real life? Aye, there’s the rub. How do we create and implement an Insider Threat Program that does not unfairly, and unnecessarily damage someone’s character; while, ferreting out and thwarting those who would do us harm? It is not an easy answer, and my guess is we are not close to being where we need to be to do both. How many people have been wrongly damaged by harmless online activity and searches that were never going to see the light of day — but, ended up costing them a job, a security clearance, etc. And, as these kind of programs proliferate, it may well lead those darker angles of our nature either not to do their research online; or,use denial and deception, and deviously create a false picture of responsibility and normalcy. Having said all that, I, like Mr. Schneier, am glad it worked….this time. RCP, fortunascorner.com