This Day in History – The Making of a Traitor (or Insider Threat)

stealing-password5Most people know the name of Benedict Arnold.  Traitors are called “Benedict Arnold” as well as those that switch sides in the middle of a battle.  But the name has much more meaning if you take a look at this individual’s battle record during the Revolutionary War.  Let’s start with a small, but important, fort at a place call Ticonderoga.  This fort had strategic importance since it lay on the fragile northeast corner of New York State, close to Vermont and the St Lawrence River.  The British wanted this fort, which was occupied by the Americans.  Benedict Arnold, then a patriot, offered advice to the fort commander to ensure that there be patrols on the hills overlooking the fort, since it was there that a well placed cannon could fire down on the fort, inflicting heavy damage.  The fort commander ignored the advice, stating that there was no way a cannon of that weight could be hauled to a point to fire effectively on the hill.  Benedict Arnold left, and shortly thereafter one of the fort’s lookouts saw the glint of metal on the morning sky.  The British had in fact hauled a cannon to the point where Arnold had warned would be vulnerable.  The fort was surrendered.  Although it was later recaptured by the Americans, it did not have to come to that if the fort commander had listened to Arnold.

Again, in 1777 Arnold advises General Gates to attack the British during the First Battle of Saratoga (anniversary of which is today – 19 September).  Gates ignores the advice until it is almost too late and then implements it with the urging of Arnold.  Although the American’s lose the battle, they inflict heavy casualties on the British (http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/arnold-and-gates-argue-at-first-battle-of-saratoga).  That is the final straw for Arnold, who plots to hand over West Point to the British, but whose plot is later foiled.  Arnold switches sides, fights for the British and later dies in London in 1801, a broken man.

The emotions run high when talking about Arnold.  In one instance, there is a statue of a lag with no name attached (http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/9271).  This is supposedly Benedict Arnold’s leg, which was wounded in the Battle of Saratoga (mentioned above).  The leg is considered the “patriotic” part of him and so was given the commemoration.

What do we learn from this that applies to today?  The insider threats can come from any source, even the ones that seem very loyal.  Arnold became a traitor for a number of reasons that are beyond our analysis, but one seems clear – the disregard for his advice and guidance.  Once he felt that his expertise was not heeded, and seeing the results of the inaction, he (in my opinion) felt that the leadership was not worthy of his support.  How many times in your company has a person come up with an idea that was later squashed, leading to that person offering no further ideas and maybe even leaving the company?  If you are a manager, you need to listen to all ideas even if you do not enact them.  With the computer age, and “over access” to information becoming more the rule than the exception, employees have more access to personal and company information.  This could be catastrophic if the insider threat becomes a reality.  It is imperative that we make all employees feel as if they are part of the solution, or they will become part of the problem.

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