It is impossible to separate individual decision-making and action from the national security apparatus of any nation. Sure, we can carefully vet individuals, subject them to background checks and psychological tests. We can interview friends and neighbors. We can examine financial records and elicit stories about what they were like in college.
We can certainly weed out the obvious problem cases. But we can't keep all the problem people out of the system.
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden are two prime examples. Manning was driven by internal demons and was goaded on by a narcissistic foreign nutcase while Snowden claimed higher motivations all while running with his knowledge of classified documents straight to Vladimir Putin's lap.
No matter how you rate their motivations, the damage caused by the Manning and Snowden thefts were enormous. And no matter how bad you think those thefts were in terms of damage, here's a sobering thought: the worst is yet to come.
These are the complex forms filled out by those seeking national security clearances and contain information ranging from eye color to names of friends and neighbors at all locations where the application ever lived. These are deep, in-depth disclosure documents and now, not only does the OPM have these records, so do hackers.
The OPM breach let loose what is probably the most complete national government employee blackmail kit ever to fall into enemy hands. There is so much information in these documents (covering millions of federal employees), that enemy actors will likely be able to uncover an almost unlimited number of additional Snowdens and Mannings.
America's government employees are, generally, very hard working, very dedicated, loyal, and patriotic. But they are also human. There is no doubt that some have buttons that can be pushed. After all, Aldrich Ames was willing to give up CIA agents to the Soviets -- who the Soviets then "disappeared" (i.e., killed) -- for what amounted to a second paycheck.
There is no doubt that much of the culpability for this most recent federal breach lies with OPM. Reports are that the agency didn't come close to utilizing best practices, a problem I've been flagging in American government agencies for nearly a decade now.
But now the problem goes far, far beyond OPM. Finger-pointing and even sanctions (yes, apparently the U.S. is considering sanctions against the Chinese -- a wholely limp and inconsequential response to such a devastating security breach) will not undo the damage that has been done.
While the U.S. has certainly been vulnerable before, it has never been as vulnerable from within, from its own trusted national security personnel. as it is now.
If this were Game of Thrones, it would be time to say "Winter is coming."