Press Release

A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes


CAMBRIDGE, Mass. | April 30, 2014 – The problem of nuclear terrorism has achieved remarkable visibility in the past few years thanks to the enormous efforts conducted by several countries under the effective leadership of the United States and alongside a myriad of NGOs, think tanks, and international organizations.

Yet much remains to be done. One particular aspect of nuclear terrorism that is beginning to attract attention is the problem of Insider Threats.

A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats: Lessons from Past Mistakes, coauthored by American Academy Fellow Scott D. Sagan and Harvard Professor Matthew Bunn, examines ten case studies of what institutions should not do when trying to protect against the potentially lethal threat of insiders.

The study stems from a simple observation: all of the cases of theft of nuclear materials where the circumstances of the theft are known were perpetrated either by insiders or with the help of insiders. Yet, organizations find it difficult to understand and protect against insider threats. Why? Part of the answer, the authors claim, can be attributed to deep organizational and cognitive biases that lead managers to underestimate the danger posed by insiders of the facilities that they oversee.

This study aims to help nuclear security operators learn from the mistakes of others in protecting against nuclear threats, drawing on episodes involving intelligence agencies, the professional military, bodyguards for political leaders, banking and financial institutions, and the gambling industry, among others. Cases of insiders-turned-saboteurs examined in A Worst Practices Guide to Insider Threats include the assassination of Indian President Indira Gandhi by the hand of her two Sikh bodyguards, the organizational failures that led to the first Ford Hood shooting by U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan, and the case of Robert Hansen who was later found responsible for fifteen counts of espionage while serving within the FBI.

The authors provide a list of concrete not-to-do actions but the main message is clear: when it comes to protecting organizations from insider threats, do not assume.

This paper, published as part of the American Academy’s Global Nuclear Future (GNF) Initiative, is available online at:

Members of the Academy’s GNF Initiative are working with policy-makers in the United States, Middle East, and Asia to advance effective policies and procedures to ensure that the spread of nuclear power does not aggravate, but rather reduces, concerns over international safety, security, and nonproliferation. Because the Academy is not identified with a particular stance on nuclear questions, yet has a fifty-year-old tradition of work on arms control, it offers a neutral forum for discussing these issues.

Matthew Bunn is Professor of Practice at the Harvard Kennedy School. His research interests include nuclear theft and terrorism; nuclear proliferation and measures to control it; the future of nuclear energy and its fuel cycle; and innovation in energy technologies. Before coming to Harvard, he served as an adviser to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as a study director at the National Academy of Sciences, and as Editor of Arms Control Today.

Scott D. Sagan is the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and Cochair of the Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative. He is the author of The Limits of Safety: Organizations. Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (1993) and The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: An Enduring Debate (with Kenneth Waltz, 2012), among other works.

Recent Academy Publications from the Global Nuclear Future Initiative include:

Nuclear Collisions: Discord, Reform & the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime, Steven E. Miller, Wael Al-Assad, Jayantha Dhanapala, C. Raja Mohan, and Ta Minh Tuan (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2012)

The Back-End of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle: An Innovative Storage Concept, Robert Rosner, Stephen M. Goldberg, and James P. Malone (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2012)

Game Changers for Nuclear Energy, Kate Marvel and Michael May (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2011)

Nuclear Reactors: Generation to Generation, Stephen M. Goldberg and Robert Rosner (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2011)

Shared Responsibilities for Nuclear Disarmament: A Global Debate, Scott D. Sagan, James M. Acton, Jayantha Dhanapala, Mustafa Kibaroglu, Harald Müller, Yukio Satoh, Mohamed I. Shaker, and Achilles Zaluar (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2010)

Multinational Approaches to the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Charles McCombie and Thomas Isaacs, Noramly Bin Muslim, Tariq Rauf, Atsuyuki Suzuki, Frank von Hippel, and Ellen Tauscher (American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2010)

On the Global Nuclear Future, vols. 1–2, Dædalus (MIT Press, 2009–2010)

All of these publications are available on the Academy’s website.


Since its founding in 1780, the American Academy ( has served the nation as a champion of scholarship, civil dialogue, and useful knowledge. As one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers, the Academy convenes leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to address critical challenges facing our global society.

Through studies, publications, and programs on the Humanities, Arts, and Education; Science, Engineering, and Technology; Global Security and Energy; and American Institutions and the Public Good, the Academy provides authoritative and nonpartisan policy advice to decision-makers in government, academia, and the private sector.




Global Nuclear Future

Steven E. Miller, Robert Rosner, and Scott D. Sagan