Master’s alum team up at TSA for better security

Two Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security master’s degree graduates employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are working in tandem to strengthen protection of the nation’s classified information and transportation systems.

Matthew Hudren, normally a Supervisory Federal Air Marshal, is on detail to the National Insider Threat Task Force (NITTF) operating under a co-directorate of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). His TSA supervisor is fellow alumnus Serge Potapov, Supervisory Air Marshal in Charge of the Security Assessments Section and Insider Threat Program at TSA headquarters.

NPS-CHDS master’s degree alumni Matthew Hudren, left, and Serge Potapov. (Contributed photo)

Both positions require the ability to appreciate the vantage point of other professions, similar to studying with varied disciplines in the NPS-CHDS master’s program. Potapov’s task is to oversee TSA’s efforts to mitigate insider threats at transportation hubs, such as major airports, that may stem from government and non-government personnel employed at transportation facilities, commercial companies providing transportation services, and other transportations stakeholders, who have privileged access to restricted areas and/or sensitive information. In serving on the Task Force, Hudren shares TSA expertise in an effort to create insider threat mitigation programs in disparate federal departments and agencies.

“Matt provides aviation law enforcement and security expertise to the Task Force and serves as a conduit to make sure we stay true to the national standards for our own program at TSA,” Potapov noted. “The Task Force’s focus is on classified systems and information. The TSA looks at a broader threat matrix. It’s a complementary relationship.”

Presidential Executive Order 13587 was issued in response to intelligence leaks in 2010 by then Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning and became even more urgent following the classified leaks of former federal contractor Edward Snowden. The directive established the multi-agency task force to assist all Executive Branch departments and to assist agencies in developing and implementing their insider threat programs. As a Senior Aviation/Homeland Security Advisor on the task force, Hudren interacts with numerous government agencies and private sector stakeholders, skills he refined in the CHDS classroom.

“We help departments and agencies develop a government-wide insider threat program for deterring, detecting, and mitigating insider threats, including the safeguarding of classified information from exploitation, compromise, or other unauthorized disclosure, taking into account risk levels, as well as the distinct needs, missions, and systems.” Hudren noted.  “To accomplish these requirements under the executive order, we assess each program based on three maturity levels, compromising of 26 minimum standards. Our independent assessment identifies a department or agency’s level of compliance with the national requirements, and highlights best practices each has incorporated and identifies progress made and deficiencies in program implementation.”

A typical day at the task force may include collaborating with the commercial aviation community to departments that work within the Aviation Ecosystem, such as the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, National Aviation Intelligence Integration Office or the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Also, Hudren is responsible for other task force interactions with other government entities, such as the Department of Treasury and other members of the Intelligence Community based on his law enforcement and critical infrastructure insight.

Currently, the task force is incorporating a maturity model to enhance the current minimum standards baseline through a collaboration of interagency partners working in their Insider Threat Maturity Working Group.

“As a department or agency meets the minimum standards, this does not necessarily mean they have a robust program,” Hudren said. “We don’t want them to simply check the box in regards to meeting the minimum standards, we want their insider threat programs to be robust, adaptive, and effective.”

Hudren’s CHDS thesis studied three significant issues with aviation employees that could lead to an insider threat event.  His research built off upon his longtime colleague Potapov’s thesis and their current work complements one another. In fact, some of their key thesis recommendations were adopted at the Federal Air Marshal Service and are directly supporting TSA’s broader efforts to reduce several key risks to the Aviation Ecosystem.

In response to multiple airport criminal smuggling cases, and the attacks on Metrojet Flight 9268 and Daallo Flight 159, TSA has embarked on an enterprise-wide effort to deter, detect, and mitigate insider threats to transportation sector personnel, operations, information, and critical infrastructure.

Potapov’s role is overseeing and evolving the Insider Threat Program for the TSA. Battling insider threats in this setting is aimed at any individual with access and/or insider knowledge that allows them to exploit vulnerabilities of the nation’s transportation systems. This involves enrolling stakeholder partners, who have the best visibility on their workers, as well as engaging academia to conduct research on behavioral risk indicators. This holistic mission requires educating field personnel across the country and working with international partners at last point of departure locations.

“For us the biggest thing has been pushing education and outreach to our stakeholders on what is a potential risk and ways to mitigate it before any damage is done,” Potapov said. “We’re really trying to adopt a preventative health model approach, which is the overarching philosophy of the National Insider Threat Task Force.”

Both said CHDS coursework was helpful in broadening understanding of their roles and agencies. The Critical Infrastructure Protection class gave Hudren a holistic view on unique intricacies of the multiple critical infrastructure sectors whose assets, systems, and networks are vital to the United States.

“The potential of them being compromised through a potential insider threat would have a devastating effect on the security and safety of our nation’s interests,” he said.

The Critical Infrastructure Protection class was not necessarily Potapov’s favorite at the time, but it has subsequently been invaluable in understanding the interconnected nature of the Aviation Ecosystem and how to assess the systemic vulnerabilities at U.S. airports, he said.  The Unconventional Threats to Homeland Security class helped him understand the deeper complexities of the many drivers of radicalization and how to use Social Identity Theory as an analytical framework in his current work.

The Federal Air Marshal Service conducts a wide-range of unique TSA law enforcement activities, in addition to its core in-flight global counterterrorism mission, Potapov noted. This includes active participation in numerous national-level interagency investigative task forces, conducting a variety of threat and vulnerability assessment at U.S. airports, and providing training assistance to our local and international law enforcement, intelligence, and security partners.

“CHDS was totally transformational for me,” Potapov said. “It has really called me to think differently about everything we do at TSA and how it is all interconnected to the broader homeland security and law enforcement communities.”

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