By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Aug. 31, 2021) -- The multimedia exhibit "Keep the Edge: Security, Law Enforcement and Counterintelligence," was unveiled at the Pentagon. The exhibit aims to inform Defense Department employees on what it takes to keep the workforce safe, what threats to the department have been neutralized in the past, and what they can do to help the department keep the razor-sharp edge it needs to defend the nation.
"In conjunction with the ribbon-cutting for this new display, the theme of which is 'Keep the Edge,' we are also recognizing that September 1 marks the beginning of the third annual National Insider Threat Awareness Month," said Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen H. Hicks. "All members of the Defense Department are called to redouble their efforts in practicing sound security habits and looking out for the wellbeing of their coworkers in a complex and challenging security environment."
In addition to documenting the crimes of those who have harmed the United States though terrorism and the passing of information to adversaries, the exhibit, Hicks said, highlights the responsibility of existing department employees to prevent those crimes from happening in the future.
Members of the military train every day to defend the United States and its interests from threats posed by adversaries. But who defends the mission and its defenders from terrorism, cybercrime, espionage, active shooters, insider threats, information leaks, fraud, theft and other kinds of crime?
Each of the military services has an organization dedicated to protecting its service members, civilians and contractors from those kinds of threats, and also to ensure DOD employees themselves aren't using their access to pose threats to the nation, their co-workers or the mission.
The Navy and the Marine Corps have the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, for instance -- which has been popularized on a fictional television series for more than 18 years now. The Air Force and Space Force have the Office of Special Investigations, and the Army has both the Criminal Investigation Command and Army Counterintelligence. At the top, the department has the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security.
But those agencies can't do their work alone. To ensure success, they depend heavily on an educated and knowledgeable workforce to serve as live sensors who are always in tune with what might pose a threat to the force. Together with that tuned-in workforce, those agencies keep the department and its employees safe from crime and violence and also work to prevent insiders from either intentionally or inadvertently leaking critical information that could put the nation or department at risk.
In short, the effort ensures the military keeps its edge, so it's always ready to do its job.
The new exhibit at the Pentagon was funded by USD(I&S), with NCIS contributing manpower, video and still imagery, and the OSI, CID and ACI contributing still imagery as a way to highlight their mission and the work that all DOD employees do to keep the nation safe.
The exhibit features several screens running video content and an array of artifacts. There are also dozens of informational cards with details about hundreds of individuals who have harmed the United States, said the project's lead.
"We have them hanging there from a bar with handcuffs," said MaryAnn Cummings, who also serves as the senior strategic communications advisor at NCIS. "We wanted to show that these are convicted criminals -- with the exception of about two that fled the country -- and they've freely admitted their criminal activity. We don't feel bad putting them in handcuffs."
Cummings also said that using handcuffs rather than chains or loops to attach the cards to the display sent a message to visitors.
"We wanted to find a way to put these people's image up without honoring them," she said. "Everywhere in the Pentagon there are photos of heroes and leaders -- all good people. But this exhibit has bad guys -- nobody looks good in a mug shot."
Pentagon employees will be able to browse the content on display to better learn what is being done to protect the force and how they can contribute.
"For the workforce -- those in uniform or civilian employees -- we hope that they get a better understanding, a higher level understanding of the threat that's out there and what their role is to prevent it or to mitigate the effects of it," Cummings said.
For visitors to the building, those who are guests of employees or who will be able to take a tour of the Pentagon once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Cummings said she hopes to increase awareness that the nation is vulnerable to attacks from criminal activity and malicious actors.
For anybody who visits the exhibit, she said, there's a common takeaway.
Cummings said that responsibility extends beyond just knowing policy, it includes also looking for the warnings and indicators of those who may be committing espionage, sabotage or criminal leaking and then reporting that.
A History of Treason
The new educational exhibit includes details of hundreds of crimes against the Defense Department and the federal government; many of those stories include photographs as well.
One section provides the narratives of 345 individuals who committed espionage against the United States. Many of those were trusted agents of the government, going as far back as 1775 during the Revolutionary War.
"Church was providing information to a British general about the health of the military of Washington's forces," Cummings said. "Obviously, that was not a good thing. And he was eventually found out. We even have some of the coded letters that are going to be on display."
Perhaps the most well-known name associated with treason is that of Benedict Arnold, a one-time American military officer who in his earliest days fought honorably for American independence.
"A lot of people don't realize that Benedict Arnold was a very successful Army general -- until he became disillusioned, for a number of reasons," Cummings said.
As an American military officer, Arnold was given command of the Army post at West Point, New York. He made a deal with the British to surrender the post in exchange for 20,000 British pounds and a position in the British army. Arnold's plans were discovered, and he was not able to carry them out. The British officer he worked with was captured and hanged by the Americans, but Arnold himself was able to escape and flee to England.
Modern Day Spies, Killers and Terrorism
The new Pentagon exhibit isn't just a history lesson of long-ago conflicts. It's a well-researched museum-like presentation with video, artifacts and printed material that tells the stories of hundreds of Americans who hurt the department or nation through espionage, the selling of secrets or violence.
Modern threats include Aaron Alexis, the DOD contractor responsible for the shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington in 2013, and Nidal Hasan, the Army officer responsible for killing 13 people at Fort Hood in 2009. The exhibit includes video content on both incidents.
On the modern-day espionage front, the exhibit discusses Navy engineer Mostafa Awwad who, in 2015, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for attempting to provide schematics of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford to Egyptian authorities, and FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen who, in 2001, pleaded guilty to passing classified national security and counterintelligence information to the Russians. He is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
When it comes to terrorism, the exhibit details 30 attacks against the U.S. and the department, including the 1996 attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 Air Force personnel; the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors; and the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.
In all, the new exhibit covers around 600 individuals, many of them insiders, who harmed the nation or the department through terrorism, violence, espionage, or the illegal release of information.
Maintain the Edge
The original idea for the "Keep the Edge: Security, Law Enforcement and Counterintelligence" exhibit was initiated in 2018, Cummings said, but work was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, with help from graphic artists, videographers, photographers and researchers at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Media Activity, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, along with assistance from the International Spy Museum in Washington, the project has come to fruition, Cummings said.
Cummings said that even her own mother was able to offer assistance by reading all the material for the exhibit to ensure it made sense to individuals who are not familiar with the law enforcement community.
"I asked her to review all of the narratives, all of the stories, all of the information that would be out in the public," she said. "She read every single one and provided me [with] some great feedback. She was my focus group. Unfortunately, she passed away this past January, so she won't ever know the full magnitude of it."
America depends on its soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and guardians to defend the nation. But for those service members to do their job, the information they use, the facilities they operate in, and the service members themselves must be kept safe from threats both inside and out.
The new exhibit demonstrates how everybody in the Defense Department helps those service members stay sharp.
"That's why we call it keeping the edge," Cummings said. "Our military forces have a strategic advantage, a strategic edge over adversaries -- and we want to protect that. That means protecting the people, protecting the technology and protecting the facilities. All of us have a requirement to keep our information safe, to keep ourselves safe, to keep our teammates safe. We do that by protecting our information, but also looking and seeing those indicators or warnings and reporting."