My Favorite Insider Threat Movies and TV Series

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By: Elsine van Os, CEO Signpost Six

This is the time when we are all extra busy, but nevertheless we need some time to wind down, to relax. So while you hang on your couch with a glass of wine and popcorn why wouldn’t you mix business with some pleasure? If you are like me and you have a strong interest in anything insider risk related, you’ll try to find materials that deepen your understanding of this subject while still relaxing. Well, look no further, I have lined up my top 10 insider risk movies. Of course this subject is very broad, covering data theft, sabotage, fraud, espionage etc. but it’s always the insider role that makes it interesting. It’s also about insider threats AND insider heros. Otherwise, how else to expose larger scale wrongdoings? Here you go, counting down from 10 to 1!

10. The Americans (series): An American TV series set during the height of the Cold War and portraying two Soviet KGB intelligence officers posing as an American married couple and family. It’s extremely well thought through, accurate in its details and clearly informed by deep expertise. The depiction is also not too far from the current truth. Think of the 2010 spy exchange, for example. We continue to see similar incidents coming through in the news media.  

9. FBI insider threat movies: The Company Man, Game of Pawns and the Nevernight Connection. These movies have been produced by the FBI for educational value on Chinese espionage operations, re-enacting actual cases (e.g. the case of Kevin Mallory in the Nevernight Connection). Of particular interest is the real interview with Glenn Duffie Shriver at the end of Game of Pawns. While sitting in his prison cell he reflects on his experience and where it went wrong.

8. Breach. While I wasn’t blown away by the quality of the movie itself (but that might be very personal), it should be up on this list as it’s about Robert Hanssen, the FBI agent convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and later Russia for more than two decades. To me, this case remains one of the worst in insider threat history for the damage that was done, but we can also learn important lessons from it.

7. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: Of course a John le Carre movie can’t be missed from this list. I’m surprised the film only came out in 2011 since the book was written in the 70s. The movie is about uncovering a Soviet double agent in the Secret Intelligence Service, relevant at the time and definitely still relevant now.

6. The (torture) Report. I teach investigative interviewing techniques and keep noticing there is a whole world to win in making people understand how building rapport is an important foundation for your engagements. The Report describes the other side of the spectrum where two contracted CIA psychologists introduced ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or in normal terms “torture” as a means to extract information from people. These techniques are completely baseless, without any backing in research and most importantly without respect for human beings. The struggle to make this come to light is the focus of this movie.

5. Serpico: Serpico is a movie based on the police cop Frank Serpico who exposed police corruption while risking his life and even getting shot. I had the pleasure of seeing an interview with Serpico in a theatre a few years ago. He has a book, TV series and documentary as well on his name.

4. Mindhunter (series): As a psychologist by background, I find this series fantastic. It not only sketches the history of behavioural analysis at the FBI (and all its struggles) but it continuously demonstrates the importance of psychology in resolving crime. It makes a more generic point rather than focusing fully on insider threat but behavioural sciences expertise has an important role in insider risk management.

3. Everything from Dirty Harry, which has so many insider risk ingredients in it: infiltration, insider conspiracies, blurred boundaries of what’s right and wrong. It’s all there! If these old movies aren’t your thing, then the series from Fauda is highly recommended as well. Yes, it takes place in a different time, different scene, completely different country but it contains very interesting tension points and insider ingredients.

2. The Wizard of Lies: This movie is a must watch for anyone who is keen to understand the person behind the infamous Bernie Madoff, the gigantic train wreck he left behind for his loved ones and business environment, or especially the fraudulent scheme that he craftily executed for so long.

1. The Life of Others (original title: Das Leben der Anderen). I want to end with an insider hero. This is a story from East Berlin when the Stasi was monitoring the life of key people in great depth. One Stasi member, though, turned for the good. He was an insider threat to the Stasi but a great contribution to society. This movie was entertaining but particularly touching to me. His heroism gave me the chills.

I hope this list gives you inspiration to both relax and still learn about this fascinating field of insider risk management. Next time I’ll share my favorite documentaries. And also, of course, I’d love to hear your recommendations!

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