Who can you trust? Trust is assumed in a lot of situations, but other times the question needs to be asked directly.
I was reading some true crime book about motorcycle gangs. A meth cooker was said to work only with guys he had been in high school with or in prison with. That would assure him they weren’t a cop, but not that they hadn’t been turned later.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs in general have few security breaches. They are very difficult to join and undercover law enforcement can’t do it. An ATF guy tried to join the Hells Angels in Arizona but couldn’t go all the way. They have had snitches, some guy wrote a book about snitching on some Hispanic OMGs in California.
If you have spent a long time with some people and shared difficult experiences, you will tend to trust them. That’s the essence of the English public school experience- something whitewashed quite a bit in Harry Potter. Soldiers trust each other if they have been in combat together.
People who grow up together in the same town or are closely related trust each other. In southern Italy, people normally marry people from the same small town, so they are doubly close. This helped the Mafia organize and stay together.
A great deal if not most of the world is like this. The most extreme example is the Arabs, who prefer to marry first cousins- ideally the father’s brother’s daughter.
HBD Chick has written extensively about this, the example above, and how in western Europe the church banned cousin marriage to make people less clannish. Here “family” means the nuclear family. Elsewhere “family” is your extended family. Here you only economically depend on your nuclear family, and only see the others a couple times a year at best (or worst). Elsewhere the extended family is your means of survival, for housing, jobs, food and necessities when you are out of work, and social life.
The West is sometimes described as “high trust” because people trust the government and they trust the legal system and formal institutions. But they have weak relationships otherwise and don’t cooperate outside of formal institutions.
Even non-governmental social organizations are very weak. Church, clubs, and fraternal organizations were a staple of life for a long time, but with the government safety net of social democracy- and other forms of filling time, especially television- these are largely gone.
The church is really the last of these. Evangelical churches have lots of activities and help their members some. The Mormon church demands a lot of time from members but I think is also better at helping them.
How does the system decide who to trust? The simplest matter of trust is credit. Everybody has a credit score and that determines whether you are trusted with a checking account, a credit card, occupancy of a dwelling, and frequently a job. Everybody has a criminal record, or lack of one. This is a matter of how hard and far back the investigator wants to look, and if you have ever been arrested there is a record of it. Security clearances are based on financial reliability, any formal conduct issues, and what the investigator can determine about you from interviews with people they can find from your past.
Informally, it’s who you know. If you have somebody willing to certify your good behavior and performance that’s a big help. All desirable jobs and important positions are filled this way. Going to a prestigious school gives the person a formal credential, but also contact with people who can certify him, other students, professors and administrators.
It’s a question of the stakes involved. If you are being screened for employment at a bank, you will get a close look. If you are applying for a security clearance, you will get a very close look. (Unless you are a recent immigrant from the Middle East and they can’t verify anything, then they will just wave you through.) If you are looking for day labor, you won’t get any.
With informal actors, the same situation exists. If somebody wants to buy drugs from you, you will probably want a referral. If you want to buy drugs from somebody, you will be more inclined if a friend tells you he has good stuff. If a strange person suggests you engage in criminal activity with him, you will assume he is crazy or a cop. If he’s a fellow member of your Hells Angels chapter you have known a few years, you can probably trust him.
Can organizations with tight security be penetrated? The LAPD was penetrated by the Bloods gang. (Penetrating the police is obviously a good thing for a gang to do, but apparently the Crips thought themselves too good for this.) A young black guy from the hood with no record is a highly desired police recruit, and even if they wanted to they couldn’t track down all his junior high school friends and see what they were doing now. A similar thing happened in Boston. Some kid from South Boston grew up to be an FBI agent, and as a young boy he had admired an older kid named James Bulger and was able to help him out a lot as a fed.
The Gulenists of Turkey ran a test prep service which they used to identify bright young people and then recruit them. There was no way to observe the contact and they placed many in high places. The Gulenists were undone by a communication security breach, but that’s another story.
Anybody or any group wants to know about others, but not be known itself, other than how it wants to be know. The term counterintelligence state was coined to describe communist regimes; indeed counterintelligence was a more prestigious position in the KGB than intelligence. Maintaining your own secrets may be more important than knowing others.
Intelligence and counterintelligence are a cat and mouse game, very complicated. People who are thinking stuff the system doesn’t like have good reason to be very careful. People who want to do stuff the system doesn’t like have even more reason to be very careful.