Schneier on Security
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October 9, 2012
Story of a CIA Burglar
This is a fascinating story of a CIA burglar, who worked for the CIA until he tried to work against the CIA. The fact that he stole code books and keys from foreign embassies makes it extra interesting, and the complete disregard for the Constitution at the end makes it extra scary.
Posted on October 9, 2012 at 6:31 AM
• 49 Comments
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Stories like these are why I can't get more than a half dozen pages in Legacy of Ashes without being thouroughly enraged.
It should be noted that this disregard for our constitutional liberties was known about and accepted and approved by every President of both parties through at least the 70s.
When collecting information from various sources, one of the challenges is to decide which message will you put effort on decrypting it.
I am astounded that someone who obviously had a reasonable amount of intelligence like Douglas Groat could think that they could commit an act of treason and threaten to actively work for foreign governments against the CIA and believe they could still simply walk away with the money.
No Americans like the fact that some intelligence agencies break the law by spying on US citizens sometimes, but to suggest that the CIA should "play nicer" and "fairer" when trying to operate against hostile foreign governments is just being naive in the geopolitical arena.
That "reenactment with tools of the trade" photo can't be right, even for the time period referenced. That's really the camera he'd use and he'd leave his fingerprints on everything? C'mon man.
Fearbi, I've removed all of your comments, since you were banned from Bruce's blog a long time ago under another name. Please stay away this time. If you have an unconquerable urge to rant about the same pet topics over and over, the proper outlet for that is a blog of your own.
I'm also surprised at the triger event. It wasn't that his team got killed or caught, they just missed the target.
While I'm not automatically discounting his account, I am not certain how much of the abuse outside of being held in an undisclosed location it's possible to believe based simply on the account of someone who was clearly willing to violate laws, basic ethics and personal oaths to get a financial reward. It is clearly in his interest to paint the government in the worst light. They did not keep him from consulting an attorney, and there is nothing in the story to indicate that his tale of mistreatment is corroborated by anything but his word. While I am not so naive as to assume that the federal government would not commit the offenses mentioned, I am also not naive enough to assume someone who endangered national security interests for monetary gain is unbiased enough to trust their account of mistreatment.
Spies and spy agencies cannot be trusted by their very nature of their work. If you fund them, then this applies to you also. How can you be trustworthy if you engage and fund those kind of activities?
I remember my high school history teacher teaching that "All nations are at war, mostly cold, but sometimes hot."
Groat was trying to use extortion on the federal government because he didn't like how his recon went for his missions. Covert missions in 3rd world countries cannot possibly be perfect!! Although, still feel bad for the guy. Thanks for sharing Bruce.
An old saying: Inteligence is the 2nd oldest profession, with even fewer morals than the 1st...
No question this guy got the kind of treatment we love to hate the US government for, but I'm not so sure it's an open-and-shut case of un-Constitutional treatment.
As far as I can see, the rights in question are the right to a speedy trial, and cruel and unusual punishment. A six month wait for trial is not exactly "speedy", but is not uncommon.
As for cruelty, I'm no lawyer, but I believe there's some latitude in the 8th amendment based on the suspect's risk of escape. The fact is, the prisoner is one of the world's best door-openers, and was undisputedly trying to cut a deal with powerful foreign intelligence agencies. He's not just an escape risk, he's a *kidnapping* risk.
My point is, no question he got some pretty rough treatment, but this is a very special case. There's a constitutional case to be made, but it's not a no-brainer. If a petty drug dealer or thief got this kind of treatment, I'd be appalled. Actually, petty criminals *do* get this kind of treatment, or worse, but we'd rather focus on spies, because spies are cool.
Interesting how he spent all those years looking over his shoulder worrying about being captured when it was his own Government that put him away. The man's got a big pair, there is no doubt. But he should have stopped while he was ahead. Maybe he'd still have a pension.
It's confusing to understand why he raised all that hooplah over shoddy intelligence. You should know when you perform that kind of work, mistakes will be made. You just learn from them and move on.
@Cato What fingerprints? The model in the photo is wearing gloves.
It's confusing to understand why he raised all that hooplah over shoddy intelligence. You should know when you perform that kind of work mistakes will be made. You just learn from them and move on.
It's not confusing at all, I would take a guess that his personality type is such that he is a high functioning person on the Autistic Spectrum.
Such people are idealy suited to tasks such as safe breaking and other espionage activities as relating to what were once called "Black Bag Jobs". They have a meticulous eye for detail and thus planning which is why they frequently make almost impossible jobs for Neuro Typical peersons look routien or easy.
One problem with autistic types is they realy realy do not being lied to or what they regard as being lied to and will realy dig their heals in when they come across it (as evidenced by not just the ticketing of fire engines but fighting to get the job back and then quiting).
To many autisitc types a person failing to follow the rules is the same as being lied to by that person. A person who is lazy or not particularly diligent is not following their employment / assignment rules so has lied by deed and inaction to not just the autistic type but their employer.
Autistic types also have a very hightened sense of right and wrong and thus of justice and injustice, so they will not turn a blind eye or alow a significant failing to be hidden away. Endangering a persons life in such a way is about the worst form of breaking the rules that there is and for managment to try and disregard it or cover it up means that they likewise are breaking not only the rules but breaking faith and trust with they autistic type and the team that relies upon their skill set for all their safety.
The fact that it went wrong due to somebody at managment level trying to save a few dollars expenses of having him and possibly one or two other members of his team there for an extra day or so would only make the sense of agrievance considerably worse.
Thus you have to ask what happens when any person who has been good at their job gets treated that way?
Well we know that it ranges in extream from some people going "postal" to others commiting suicide.
We also know from other aspects of peoples lives that when strong trust relationships break down (think marriage, living together etc) people lash out against the person who has broken the trust and this frequently results in all sorts of crimes against the percieved trust breaker or their property.
Thus compared to many his behaviour was very far from extream.
Also from what has been said I don't believe his employers would have settled for any kind of agreement they were after bureaucratic vengence where people are punished to keep others in line, thus they were going to try every trick to punish him for speaking out. Even the supposed offer of 3/4 of his basic salery was conditional on his taking the polygraph which would then have been used to go back on the agreement and have him jailed.
We know this from other CIA and NSA whistle blowers who have exhausted all the internal proceadures to get clear and often criminal managment failings sorted out and have finally been forced to use other avenues of appeal outside the community but still within the auspices of government.
As to the way he was treated he made a fundemental tactical mistake in not having a MAD process in place and making sure that they knew that moving against him in any way would result in major and compleatly unavoidable damage.
The thing about what you might regard as "blackmail" or "extortion" is that you have to make what you are asking for appear to be very very reasonable comparied to the alternative that will happen unless you take active steps to stop it happening. That is if you die, disapear, or in other ways are interfeared with then the very worst will be absolutly guaranteed to happen no ifs no buts no maybes it can not be stopped. The person you are negotiating with has to believe it entirely and absolutly, further they have to believe to the same level that there can be no leverage through threataning others like your friends and family. Why? Because they have to go and convince the purse string holders of both these facts otherwise payment will not be made. Further you have to have things in place such that they will not come back at you or anyone else in the future...
He failed to do this and thus payed the price.
Aaaand Clive's post is another striking example of why I often will read comments in preference to linked articles. Thoroughly enlightening, offering a perspective I wouldn't have come up with on my own.
Ikr? I've thought about proposing a Schneier Blog unit of measurement for comments: A Clive Post. This article wasn't bad though, besides it not being a one-pager and asking for my opinion about some bs. He is a master of subtleties and fresh phrases, and he doesn't just out-do other posters, he dominates; even amongst extremely intelligent people. I draw parallels w/ him and Tesla; arguably one of the great EE's of all time, but also more weirdly a talented linguist (which if you know any EE's, is rare). So, if you perhaps had a chance to contact Nikola Tesla, as he walks around with his mobile, would you not pursue it? However, unless he's in another part of the world, he needs to be sleeping and not post until at least 6am as his mentioned insomnia and health is a concern with many.
@Clive Robinson: I agree to the high-functioning Autism. The telling sign here is an inability to see the bigger picture, namely that the CIA is basically still a bureaucracy and that all bureaucracies are ruled by people that grossly overestimate their own worth and skills.
As a result, his boss and the boss of his boss were far too incompetent to see that Groat was actually worth far more to the agency than both of them combined. An excellent example of the Dunning-Kruger effect at work. Now Groat did see this, but failed to recognize that the CIA (again as all bureaucracies) did not only have incompetent "managers" on all levels, but also completely dysfunctional complaint handling procedures. (After all, the employees are highly competent, and the managers are obviously even better, so there cannot be any well-founded complaints, right?)
That they tried to give him this bad deal (and then gave him an even worse one when he refused) highlight the gross incompetence of those responsible, as Groat could have done an incredible lot of damage if he were not a patriot (a.k.a. "useful idiot" in TLA circles).
What puzzles me is the sheer illogic of the government's response, even beyond dismissing him over a purely bureaucratic disagreement. Not only did they certainly spend more money on detainment and trial than just paying him would have cost (which also gives him yet another motive to provide information on CIA methodology to foreign powers), but they have also sent a very clear signal to anyone in Groat's position in the future that the Justice department cannot be counted on to negotiate in good faith, making defection the only rational option. Great job!
@Findley: Hence "useful idiots".
I suspect the screening procedure tries to weed out anybody with a combination of understanding how the world actually works and intact ethics. This also means that all those really competent do not work for the CIA. May explain some past blunders.
Viewed in this light, the mistreatment of Groat may actually make sense: It sends a clear message that while special skills and patriotism is nice, what they really want is people that can follow orders and do not complain when they are getting screwed over, i.e. nice little stupid bureaucrats.
This is of course an epic fail for the primary mission of the CIA, but I doubt anybody there understands that.
@Findley: dollars and cents and preserving good faith went out the window the moment Groat revealed CIA activities to the target of those activities. Which he did long before he tried to blackmail the CIA.
That is espionage. Arguably, treason. Once he leaked secrets, saving money and preserving the Justice Department's reputation became secondary to making sure everyone knows that there is a sharp line marking the boundary of espionage, and on the far side of that line lies certain doom, and all the hellfire the federal government can bring to bear.
I suspect the screening procedure tries to weed out anybody with a combination of understanding how the world actually works and intact ethics. This also means that all those really competent do not work for the CIA. May explain some past blunders.
Can't quite agree on this one. Intact ethics are probably the most likely thing to interfere with "getting the job done".
I still agree that government agencies will have a hard time recruiting anyone with the hacker nature, but that's mostly because they despise bureaucracy more than anything else; except maybe dishonesty, like Clive pointed out. But one could make the point that the two tend to be closely linked.
Nowadays government agencies actively avoid people with a 'hacker nature' who haven't been breast-fed government procedures and training. All their recruiting efforts are aimed squarely at 'untapped' talent (at least in the UK) straight out of uni and they have no interest in people who identify as hackers.
The upsides are obvious but one of the downsides is they're now finding themselves ill-equipped to tap in to the industry's decades of knowledge and, as such, are re-writing the book on certain topics leading to silliness like 'Cyber Security'; as though no-one has ever done it before.
Not sure exactly why some are outraged here, my summary is: an ex-American spy had to do 4 year in prison because he revealed a secret.
What's the big deal?
@renoX: The treatment he got before he ended up in prison, mainly.
@renoX: the big deal is that it was entirely preventable.
If you are an airline pilot and find an issue with your plane, you do not fly until the issue is addressed. That's because airlines are accountable if something big goes wrong.
If you are a CIA operative and find an issue, you get treated as a pariah and eventually lose your livelihood (according to the article). What happened later is unfortunate, but it isn't the root cause.
The implied lack of professionalism and accountability within the CIA (CYA?) is the big deal. Any organization that would rather bury problems than address them is inherently ineffective.
"...his boss and the boss of his boss were far too incompetent to see that Groat was actually worth far more to the agency than both of them combined."
That's a rather broad assumption based on only the highly subjective account of the aggrieved person.
"...as Groat could have done an incredible lot of damage if he were not a patriot."
He already did a lot of damage, and was floating an entirely believable threat to do much more damage to their mission. They had no reason to believe he would not carry it out.
You might not like the CIA (nor possibly the BND) and their tactics, their mission, or the fact that they exist, but to suggest that they are populated primarily with incompetent idiots shows bias more than analysis.
We in the security arena are all part of a spectrum with agencies like the NSA and CIA on one end, and groups like WikiLeaks / anarchists / and the "information was meant to be free" crowd on the other end. Most of us fall in the middle somewhere, trying to do our jobs well, keep out the bad guys (by our own subjective definition), and trying to learn from the mistakes of others. Even if I hate the CIA I can see they did what they needed to do in this case to secure their secrets.
@Rookie: There is actually quite a bit of indications of gross incompetence here unless the story is a complete fabrication. It has all the hallmarks of a dysfunctional bureaucracy botching things badly, and only be kept running because the worker-bees try extra hard. Not only the CIA has that problem.
What I can see then is that they botched both an amicable severance possibility and the alternative of putting the guy away immediately. Sure, I guess they tried to find out whether he would run amok after he served his brief sentence. But that can fail. So they failed both reasonable options, hence my claim of incompetence. And they lost a valuable asset in the first place, so more incompetence.
Perhaps the CIA should have used him as a 'trainer' - good for themselves and other U.S. agencies. They get a return on their investment, he kept his salary and other agencies can better steal from their targets. :)
@ Clive re autistic burglar
I find the autism tangent interesting. It's definitely possible. I'd like to add that we have little indication he's autistic, though. Here's some traits of HFA's and Asperger's people.
The condition has quite an effect on most afflicted people in terms of social skills & sometimes motor skills. I've also noticed many deal with (real-time) uncertain situation more poorly than NT's, possibly due to weaker limbic system. From that, this guy's record is unusual for autism: made it through Ranger & Special Forces schools, great with many hands-on activities & 10 years in situations filled with uncertainty. He could be exceptional, though.
His social behavior seems inconclusive, too. Have you really never seen NT's do what he did? I've seen it plenty in the commercial space. Most of the time, it's one that's a control freak or feels they can game the system to their advantage. They also seem to think people will succumb to their wishes or see them in the same higher sense of value. Hence, authority ploys & gaming the system isn't a sign of autism: it's common in both egomaniacs & unconventional types, which he was.
Those criticisms aside, I agree with many of your ideas about why autism makes people better at covert ops & espionage. There is a negative side. I've already alluded to it. Many of those jobs center around influencing people, reading people, & thinking on your feet. Autistics lack of people skills & often take longer to process a complex social situation. This means they're naturally less skilled in those parts of the field.
Other covert activities require physical dexterity. I'm unfortunate enough to have the variant that comes with poor motor skills. Doing things by their "feel", complex physical maneuvers, etc. are difficult to do when I'm calm & can imaginably fail under much stress. I've accomplished plenty in those areas, but even within fields I have expertise in my brain can suddenly forget everything it knows. Imagine your muscle memory or coordination giving out in the middle of a fight or while trying to covertly move past enemies. Any autistic operator with the motor skills deficiency is facing enormous additional risk over a NT.
Positives in covert ops. I'll add my own insights as I have experience applying it to... uncommon fields of employment. Biggest positive about autistics is Clive's statement of right & wrong. I think it's more principles than right & wrong, as I know malicious autistics. Most autistics are very loyal to any person or organization they consider their "friend" or put trust into. They're very unlikely to betray said organization. In security-critical work, this by itself is worth plenty. Just don't break that trust: they will take it very personally & the reaction is unpredictable.
Autistics are also walking reasoning engines. We tend to be able to pick up pretty technical material or skills, then consistently use them well. We can make some things look effortless. I could see this type excelling in skills like keeping equipment going, weapons, electronics, & hacking. Despite people skill deficiency, this type might also do well in social engineering or counterespionage in limited situations. The reason is that they're often simple in practice & the person with initiative can controll the situation. This can let the autistic operator work around his or her deficiencies. And the last is most obvious: the reasoning skills & lower emotional corruption make autistics good analysts.
It was a nice article. It boils down to a guy working in a bureaucracy ignoring its rules & getting shafted for that. How the CIA treated him in the beginning is unfair. How he was treated later was entirely his own doing. Let's face it: you don't threaten a covert operations group's ability to do their jobs without extreme blowback (to use a CIA term).
He knows they want to break into these places & already had in the past. He wants his retirement. He could also use extra money for his troubles. (Many criminal bios start this way...) His plan is simple: totally sabotage a few successful operations & threaten to prevent dozens of future operations from succeeding. With him standing in the way, their ONLY option would be to give him exactly what he asks for. Riiiight? wink, wink
His whole plan was ridiculous. I think his key assumption was that they'd do the right thing or take care of their own. Definitely not a safe assumption & one reason I turned down those job offers. Frankly, if not for his service record, there's a good chance he'd either be dead or still in prison.
@ Clive Robinson
...I would take a guess that his personality type is such that he is a high functioning person on the Autistic Spectrum.
If he was "austistic" he wouldn't have been Army Special Forces and he wouldn't have been a CIA officer. So that's out of the question. The man was skillfull at what he did, but let's not make him into a savant.
As the story is only saying Groat's side it’s not reality. The fact is he intentionally violated the espionage act and gave foreign agents classified information they were being monitored. What “complete disregard for the Constitution at the end makes it extra scary” He was tried and convicted. Even if his tale of the prison cell is correct, its hardly a violation of cival rights.
onearmedspartan: Read some things by Rory Miller sometimes. He is somewhere on the autism spectrum; his career was as a prison tactical squad (!) leader (!), National Guard parachute instructor, search-and-rescue operator, contractor in Iraqi Kurdistan, etc. Armed forces and their police and intelligence peers are big things, and they find a place for all sorts.
The exception doesn't disprove the rule. The spook's classification must be determined by HIS traits & diagnostic criteria. That's the info we're lacking in decent supply.
If he was "austistic" he wouldn't have been Army Special Forces and he wouldn't have been a CIA officer. So that's out of the question. The man was skillfull at what he did, but let's not make him into a savant
First of the savant ability is not a requirement for being on the Autistic spectrum, communications disorders are. Usually the person will show traits of "social communication disorder" as well as any other communications disorders. Savantism is sometimes a sympton of the more far end case examples of people on the Autistic Spectrum, those who in the past would have been called autistic.
Social communications disorders are many and varied and it's wrongly belived by many that those on the Autistic Spectrum do not have the empathic ability. Often what they do lack is the ability to interpret social communications directed at them. Some of those on the Autistic spectrum can quite easily recognise social communications between others. It's why you get such odd behaviours around meeting tables the person on the autistic spectrum can see there is tension around the table and can recognise it between a colleague and the boss, but cannot tell that it is also mainly directed at them. They try to help their colleague and in the process make their own position considerably worse as others see it as them trying to avoid responsability.
In the UK we are actually finding that there are significant numbers (ie three to four times what you would expect from the normal population) of people on the Autistic spectrum in positions of command in the armed forces, all the way from team leaders such as corprals through to senior staff officers. The reason is the armed forces are a comfortable place for a high functioning autistic to be. They often excell at command tasks getting the soloution to a supposadly impossible task just by apparently looking. After just one or two demonstrations of this ability the amount of respect they get is significant and the team and usually the "regiment" look after them because they are trusted to not only do the right thing in tough situations they also manage to pull rabbits out of hats when they are most needed.
Certainly in the UK the army are reapraising their view of such people simply because they give core strengths in abundance. Also they tend to be inordinatly self reliant and often end up in "special" units because of this and their ability to do two three or even four trades as well as being able to command reliably.
If you actualy think about it you realise that "special unit members" are the armed forces Geeks.
Also those with Aspergers can have odd physical sensory attributes which sometimes can be very usefull. For instance they can "be colour blind" without actually being colour blind, this makes it easier for them to spot camouflaged areas. They can also have exceptional hearing and can pick things out reliably that we still cannot do with all our technology.
For those old enough to remember M.A.S.H. the charecter Corpral "Radar" O'Reily actually exhibited many of the pointers you would expect of someone on the autism spectrum.
One of the reason people on the autism spectrum feel comfortable in the armed forces is that unlike other branches of Government Office Politics don't play as a significant role and they implicitly get the team support that they would not get in other organisations simply because the team know when the cruch comes it's this person that will do the best for them.
The crunch never happens in other organisations where even junior managment only fly desks and dream of being something else if only they had the guts to "go out and get" instead they work their way up by using the knives they have stuck in other peoples backs as the rungs of their career ladder.
Nick P: When the rule is “no Scotsman wears trousers” one Scot in pants is sufficient to disprove it. Anyone who volunteers for a job like "intelligence agency covert entry specialist" is going to be unusual in more than one way. I don't find Clive's theory anything more than an interesting guess, but it is possible.
Even if his tale of the prison cell is correct, its hardly a violation of cival rights
I suggest you go back and read it again they subjected him to sensory depravation which is more commonly regarded as a form of tourture, at the very least it was cruel and unusual punishment. Which you might not have noticed is something judges tend not to like especialy where it might be a capital case as it brings the judicial process into "disrepute".
I suspect that they also breached many other judicial rules and laws with what they did and a smarter lawyer might well have used those to the defendents advantage. As the article was written it does not sound like he was treated impartialy in certain respects nor had good representation.
Further may I commend to you the words of Carl Schurz (1872) he is frequently incorrectly attributed as saying "My country right or wrong".
What he actualy said was,
“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."
Brings a whole different meaning and tone to the otherwise jingoistic short phrase that may socunderals hide behind and claim as patriotism.
"they subjected him to sensory depravation which is more commonly regarded as a form of tourture, at the very least it was cruel and unusual punishment."
No. The article suggests the blackout goggles were only used while transporting him, so he wouldn't know his location. They were surely unpleasant, but would not pass muster as torture unless they were used for days on end. Beyond that, a windowless cell is also unpleasant, but not torture by most judges' criteria.
There's a case to be made for cruel treatment, but it's difficult to prove because the government can claim its measures were entirely focused on preventing escape, rather than punishment or information-gathering.
. They were surely unpleasant but would not pass muster as torture unless they were used for days on end. Beyond that, a windowless cell is also unpleasant, but not torture by most judges' criteria
Firstly various tests on sensory deprevation have shown that the effects start within minutes. One test found that 100% of the test subjects had auditory or visual halucination within 15minitues.
Nearly all people who use SD for "recreation" feel effects such as tingling within 40mins and usually have significantly altered brain wave patterns well within the one hour "tank time" a small number of individuals find the proceadure so unpleasent they leave the tank within 20minutes.
SD has been used as part of drug/alcohol treatment and a two hour session was found to have very significant drops in substance abuse that lasted for well over three months. Repeating the treatment three times was found to have caused behavioural changes that lasted for as long as the study continued.
Sugestability tests and stockholm effect tests have been found within a few days of intermitant SD.
Various other experiments have found that peoples ability to perform tasks involving mental perception dropped markedly after a period of short SD (I can't find the figuers at the moment).
Further many long distance travelers have found that just the use of bright lights above their eyeline worn under the rim of what looks like a tennis sun shade has significant effects on their jet lag.
You need to remember that all of these people were volunteers and could stop their participation in the experiment when ever they wished to.
This is not true of prisoners who are deliberatly subjected to such things against their will and as such would be already suffering anxiety and hieghtened awarness probably making them more susceptable to SD (as far as I'm aware there have been no published results of tests on prisoners and unwilling test subjects). However interviews with people who have been blindfolded or had their eyes taped closed during crimes have all reported that it caused significant mental distress including anxiety fear of imenent harm and halucinations. And other disturbances in their lives for considerable periods there after.
So we know from volunteers SD starts having effects within 15mins and sesions below one hour causes distress in some subjects and alterations in perception and mental ability. And what appears to be very lasting behavioural effects after two hours. And that those who have had just their sight blocked by blindfold for short times during crimes have had very longterm side effects.
Thus arguably the effects start within minutes and have effects that can be lasting.
The fact that some people use SD for pleasure does not mean it is not torture, we know that there are all sorts of (that were once described as devient) behaviours some people use for pleasure that many others would regard as being tourture especialy if inflicted on them without their consent.
Whilst I like the idea and agree that Clive Robinson's posts are the 'Gold Standard', using a Clive post as the unit has obvious practical difficulties; with some notable exceptions most other poster's values would be in the micro scale, with my own hovering around the nano Clive.
Clive's comments on autism are spot on.
I have Asperger's ("high functioning" autism) and IT security work is very easy for me, as the ability to quickly spot patterns in complex data is one of the bonuses of my condition - as well as quickly learning new technologies and being able to understand complex solutions. I don't suffer physical dexterity issues (I'm an excellent windsurfer and lock picking is one of my hobbies, for example) but I have the 'classic' social and loyalty issues that Clive describes.
I know a number of people who have been diagnosed who have worked in 'Special Forces' type roles within the military - as Clive says, they're ideally suited to it and their abilities have put them into positions of trust and reliance within their various teams.
Also remember it's a range of conditions - an autistic spectrum - which is why there are a number of different areas to categorise the behaviour. Two people could be autistic, yet display very different behaviours in similar situations.
Too many people see autism and think "Rainman" - it's a wide spectrum of symptoms and most of us can not only manage to function in normal society but also do well in our niches.
I'd say, from Groat's telling of the story, that he has high functioning autism, and that once the operational mistakes were shrugged off by management, any other outcome to the situation apart from the one he describes would have been unlikely.
@Tom Kranz: I agree. The thing is his reaction to being screwed over may seem "emotional" or "irrational", but what he really tried to do initially is fix the problem. He failed because of his social disability, namely he did not understand what the nature of his opposition actually was.
I have to say that this is actually a problem when doing security consulting (one I do not usually have, but have seen in many people). A realistic appreciation of how people behave as individuals and in groups is very important for all the not directly technical angles of risk evaluation. As important is a keen eye for what specific dysfunctionality spectrum is at work in the specific situation under examination and on the side of the customer. (Yes, there is the occasional customer that understands a security evaluation as it is, but most need customized writing and a lot of help.)
I have also seen some competitors consistently doing reasonable (but not really good) technical security analysis and utterly failing at the human angle and hence most of the risk evaluation angle.
Reading all the comments I'm glad to learn from you about the psychological profile given to autism. I would just like to point out that clustering individuals and labeling them as "diseases" is just the type of thing that drives social-discrimination. Everyone is an individual and behave as one.
It's not confusing at all, I would take a guess that his personality type is such that he is a high functioning person on the Autistic Spectrum.
I don't buy that theory at all or think his skills, while highly developed, required any sort of savant-like gift, just the ability to learn, think on one's feet, enjoy risk, and tolerate stress. The guy was a former Green Beret and I have yet to meet anyone in Army SF who was remotely autistic in disposition. "Spergish" people, high-functioning or otherwise, tend to have poorly developed human skills and are rather oblivious to social cues: the kind of individuals who do very poorly in military environments, especially those requiring teamwork. That's especially true in Army SF, the special operations unit that, more than any other, specializes in long-term operations in small, highly cohesive teams. The guy's personality is more likely an "A Type Personality" than an autistic one.
Clive Robinson is a master psychologist, even without a sheepskin on his wall to prove it.
When I got a dog, I had a problem with him barking at me all the time. I had to take him to a "dog talker". She had him "sit" and then gave him a long gaze, neither hot nor cold, that seemed to go through him like x-rays. Within a minute and without her saying a word, he was transformed from a rowdy hooligan into a responsible adult squirming and embarrassed about his transgressions, ready to confess to anything just to be let off the hook. The barking ended a couple of days after, never to recur.
If I ever meet Mr. Robinson, I know he is going to give me the same gaze. I dread that day.
We live in an era where it's hip and trendy to ascribe to oneself "high functioning" versions of various psychiatric disorders or to shop around for such diagnoses from psychologists or psychiatrists. The reason is simple: to make a claim to having some presumed and pleasant side-effect of the disorder while simultaneously eliciting a degree of pity from society at large for being among the "afflicted." Before long, people are cherry-picking at the descriptions of those they admire in an attempt to conflate themselves with "those guys." They ignore contrary evidence, and when they cannot, they define the psychological disorder so vaguely that it has little descriptive value. All of this is not a sign of the increasing spergishness of our age, far from it, but rather it's increasing narcissism.
Coincidentally, it was a likely a large measure of narcissism that led our CIA burglar to think he was in the right to pull the capers He had to convince himself he was in the right to do what he did in spite of the fact that it went against every principle he had been taught throughout his career in the military and intelligence. That's the behavior of someone who engages in a measure of self-justification or self-deception. He had to talk himself into making that decision, convince himself he was in the right. An individual with autistic tendencies, even those who are high-functioning, doesn't need to talk himself into his actions. The spergish type of individual, by definition, is not very socially aware and therefore doesn't spend a lot of time actually justifying his own social behavior to himself. Compared to the average fellow, he's not merely insensitive to others, but almost oblivious to the feelings and reactions of others to his own behavior. He just doesn't register social cues easily.
Again, the guy was a Green Beret and they simply are not very spergish in spite of what some here would like to imagine. These attempts to conflate Special Forces work with things like being a computer janitor are rather silly. They're two entirely different fields which attract very different personalities. Your average SF guy is very competitive, aware of his social environment, sensitive to his position in the pack, and sometimes a bit full of himself. Like it or not, he'd find the life of a guy who does IT security exceedingly dull, boring, insufficiently competitive, insufficiently social. He's not caught up in doing pattern recognition activities in and of itself. He's not a borderline autistic. Those high-functioning autistic guys may have great abilities, but they are far from optimal team players or military men.
What's amazing is the extraordinary degree of restraint the USG used and how the US upholds procedural rules and constitutional rules in all cases. Almost any other intelligence service in the world would have used a sniper or arranged a suicide for someone who credibly threatened to reveal their most covert secrets. Groat should either get the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.