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Technology won't stop the next Snowden, psychology will

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden appears by remote-controlled robot at a TED conference in Vancouver, March 18, 2014.
Glenn Chapman | AFP | Getty Images
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden appears by remote-controlled robot at a TED conference in Vancouver, March 18, 2014.

In a provocative article in POLITICO Magazine, John A. Irvin and David L. Charney make the case that stopping the next Edward Snowden will not require just a technological solution but a psychological one. Irvin and Charney are both officials with NOIR for USA, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting national security by stopping insider spies.

The pair use the example of the Soviets' solving the problem of conventional ink pens not working in space by simply using pencils. "What the episode speaks to is Americans' cultural preference for complex, often expensive technological solutions and how the search for those solutions deflects us from what might be far easier fixes," Irvin and Charney write.

Later in the piece, they press the case for studying motives: "Psychology is less satisfying, since it deals with the very subjective issue of an individual's thoughts and motives. In other words, it's not clear cut; it's private, personal, 'messy.' Furthermore, while a software program or a technical device might be mind-bogglingly complex, nothing is as complex as the human brain and the unique mind housed within it. But considering the advances made since 1985 in clinical psychology and brain research, there's no reason we shouldn't be redoubling efforts to understand the psychology of the modern spy."

CNBC.com