A Northrop engineer wanted to be independently wealthy but was
caught before he could cause damage. Document and copier controls limited the amount of
material he could remove from the plant.
To Be Wealthy
Thomas Cavanagh had secrets to sell, and his
motive was money. ''Before our relationship ends, I want to be independently wealthy,'' he
told the prospective buyers whom he thought were Soviet KGB agents. Cavanaugh knew
espionage was a serious crime: he was aware of the recent FBI arrest of several people now
in jail. To clear up mounting debts, and make himself rich, the Northrop engineer was
still willing to take some chances.
At the first meeting on 10 December 1984,
Cavanagh introduced himself to his contacts as ''Mr. Peters.'' Two topics dominated his
conversation: his financial problems and worries about getting caught. ''They're real
security conscious (at Northrop) . . . ,'' he remarked, ''So somehow we have to come to an
agreement on money.'' He added that he needed several thousand dollars, ''Just to get the
bill collectors off my back.'' He thought he could bypass the document controls and random
searches at the plant.
by Tight Security
He did not want to talk about his contacts on
the telephone ''because it's constantly being bugged; they bug it with microwaves.'' His
biggest source of anxiety, however, was the security program at Northrop. He was extremely
concerned about his accountability for documents. He refused to turn them over to the KGB
agents because he wanted to get them back to the plant as quickly as possible. ''I can't
give you the documents and have them back in time. They have audits. A guy just came by
today and asked me how many secret documents I have.'' He was afraid that Security might
open his safe and check his documents at any time. By sheer coincidence, Cavanagh had a
surprise audit of his classified documents on the very day he first met with the KGB. It
was strictly a random check by a company security representative who had no suspicion that
the material he reviewed was about to be sold to the Soviets. The security officer found
everything in order, but Cavanagh was visibly shaken, according to co-workers interviewed
after the arrest.
Reproduction controls at Northrop hampered
Cavanagh. ''You can't run your own copies in the plant. They got that regulated too.''
Northrop Advanced Systems Division controlled document reproduction through a system of
''fully controlled machines.'' There is no self-service because special operators handle
all copying machines under the oversight of security. These operators guarantee that all
requirements meet authorization, marking, and accountability regulations. The KGB agents
had to obtain a camera and a portable copier to make copies in the motel room.
Northrop employees were subject to random
searches of anything carried in or out of the plant. Cavanagh worried about that as well.
''I had to stick it in my shirt and walk out with it.'' He could not always fit things
under his shirt, but he thought he could get through exit searches without detection
because they were sufficiently infrequent and predictable.
When he arrived for a second meeting on 12
December, his ''friends'' greeted him warmly. He again mentioned the difficulty of getting
documents out. He pressed anxiously for quick payment and wanted several thousand dollars
in two days, but the Soviets would not make any promises. Concerned because his background
investigation was due to begin, Cavanagh wanted to cover his debts.
The third and final meeting with the KGB
agents occurred on 18 December. When Cavanagh arrived, he asked about the money. Cavanagh
showed them the documents. He spoke of his financial bind and displayed bitterness that he
could not get a business loan for his AMWAY distribution, although foreign immigrants
easily got them.
The agents suggested that future meetings be
held outside the United States. Cavanagh refused by saying that he did not want to keep
his documents out that long. Besides, he said that unexplained foreign travel might flag
his activities with security.
by the FBI
After copying the documents, the agents
handed Cavanagh the payment in small bills. He counted it eagerly. He wanted to have
monthly meetings with substantial payment each time. After they finished their business,
there was a knock on the door. When they opened the door, FBI agents entered the room and
Through its counterintelligence operations,
the FBI had learned of Cavanagh's intention to sell secrets before he reached the Soviets.
The persons he met with were actually FBI agents posing as Soviets. Charged and convicted
on two counts of espionage, Cavanagh was sentenced on 23 May 1985 to concurrent life terms
Northrop security did its job in curbing the
range of his activities through document accountability and control, and effective
enforcement of need-to-know. Particularly notable is the taming of the ''Xerox'' machine.
Many people felt that ready access to photo reproduction made document control obsolete.
Northrop effectively controlled its copiers, which forced Cavanagh to use original
documents that were under accountability. This exposed him to detection through random
audits, and it limited the number of documents he could compromise and the length of time
he was willing to keep them outside the plant.
Greed and indebtedness were the major
motivations for Cavanagh, but he showed some traits seen before in other spy cases. Job
and career dissatisfaction are big ones, especially when it involves a sense of resentment
toward the organization. In addition, Cavanagh showed some tendency to violent or
disruptive behavior, some instances of dishonesty, and a general lack of respect for
authority and procedural process.
Still, none of this rose to the level where
supervisors considered reporting it for security purposes. Cavanagh was not a model
citizen, but his behavior was within tolerable limits. He went over the edge, quite
suddenly by all indications, and tried to sell out the country to make himself rich.
How do we distinguish the Cavanaghs, before
the fact, from the many other cleared people who are simply having difficulties with
life's normal trials and tribulations? Unfortunately, we do not often distinguish them
until after the fact, and we cannot -- until and unless we know a lot more about human
We can protect the documents and the
information, as Northrop did, by applying the proper measures for accountability and
control, as well as physical safeguards. None of that will completely prevent espionage. A
clearance, like any other kind of trust, always carries the potential for betrayal.
Controls, however, can make spying a lot tougher, a lot more expensive, and a lot more
Quoted from article published by National Counterintelligence Center, Counterintelligence
News and Developments, March 1996.