[ISN] Dismissed for Chat Room, C.I.A. Workers Speak Out

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue May 22 2001 - 03:44:19 PDT

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    May 18, 2001 
    WASHINGTON, May 17 Four C.I.A. employees, fired for their involvement
    with a private and unauthorized chat network on the agency's computer
    system, said in interviews this week that the agency had treated them
    far too harshly for what they considered a harmless social activity.
    The four employees, who were dismissed late last year as part of a
    broader investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency of what it
    said was secretive and unauthorized computer use, have lost their
    appeals of their dismissals, said their lawyer, Janine Brookner. They
    now plan to pursue other internal administrative remedies before
    deciding whether to take the agency to court.
    The four are Chris Hlatky, a senior systems engineer; Janet Platt, a
    program manager; Annemarie Kline-Edens, an information security
    officer; and Jane Harmon, a computer scientist. They are speaking out
    for the first time to present their side of the story of the
    In November, the C.I.A. said it had completed an investigation of a
    group of agency employees and contractors for their involvement in
    what the C.I.A. called a "willful misuse of the agency's computer
    In addition to the four employees fired, others have faced less severe
    disciplinary action. In all, 160 employees were involved in the chat
    system at one point or another, officials said.
    The C.I.A. said its investigation had not found any unauthorized
    disclosure of classified information as a result of the computer use.
    But American intelligence officials say the main reason the agency
    took the matter seriously was that the employees had tried to keep the
    chat network secret for years.
    "The significance was that they were trying to use a classified
    computer system for their own use, and they tried to hide what they
    were doing," an intelligence official said. "We have to have absolute
    confidence in the C.I.A.'s computer systems."
    The employees say their chat network which they say began about 1987
    and underwent several changes in name and format over the years was
    harmless and effectively ended in 1997. That was, they say, before
    C.I.A. regulations went into effect forbidding such informal
    "There was no attempt at deception or malice," Mr. Hlatky, who helped
    create the system, argued. The firings, he said, were "a gross
    overreaction to the alleged offenses."
    Ms. Kline-Edens added, "I suspect that they had very real concerns,
    but I suspect strongly that this was an overreaction."
    The underground chat system first began on an early, pre-Internet
    C.I.A. computer network and was nicknamed Lunacy by its members, Mr.
    Hlatky recalled. He said it started out as an effort to test new ways
    of using computer bulletin boards to let people working in different
    sections of the C.I.A. communicate. At first, Mr. Hlatky said, Lunacy
    was open and visible to other computer users.
    But as computer software technology evolved, so did the chat network,
    and its members acknowledged that it became a private system. At
    various times it was called The Den or The Underground Railroad and
    allowed members to share off-color jokes, network about jobs and share
    other personal information, as well as set up social gatherings. A
    kind of social club, with occasional get-togethers, developed around
    the chat system, several of the former employees noted.
    Membership in the database was by invitation only, Mr. Hlatky said.
    "The reason for screening members was to ensure that their sense of
    humor would be generally aligned with the current membership," he
    wrote in a brief history of the chat system. "While the content of The
    Underground Railroad varied from gripe sessions to off-color humor, it
    had numerous tangible benefits. Some of the agency's worst stutterers
    and most terminally shy people were able to become extraordinarily
    articulate within its bounds," Mr. Hlatky wrote.
    It was shut down on the C.I.A.'s Lotus Notes-based system in early
    1997, though Mr. Hlatky said others tried to revive it on a Web-based
    Mr. Hlatky and Ms. Platt, who is his wife, said they revealed the
    existence of the chat network when they underwent routine C.I.A.
    polygraphs in 1995. They said the polygrapher told them it was not a
    An intelligence official said that it was not true that all the
    unauthorized computer use ended in 1997. The official said that some
    activity was continuing just days before members of the group were
    first questioned last May.
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