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OSI insider threat psychologist earns coveted certification

Dr. (Maj.) Heather L. Morris, Office of Special Investigations Insider Threat Investigative Psychologist, is now the only Certified Threat Manager in OSI and the Department of the Air Force, following her successful completion of  the exam administered by the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Dr. (Maj.) Heather L. Morris, Office of Special investigations insider threat investigative psychologist, is now the only certified threat manager in OSI and the Department of the Air Force, following her successful completion of the exam administered by the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

QUANTICO, Va. (AFNS) --

The phrase “knowledge is power” alludes to one’s increased potential or ability to succeed in pursuing objectives.

The quest for cutting-edge knowledge motivated Dr. (Maj.) Heather Morris to join the rarified ranks of certified threat managers, or CTMs. The insider threat investigative psychologist with the Headquarters
Office of Special Investigations Behavioral Science Directorate successfully completed the rigorous examination given by the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals, or ATAP.

The significance of Morris’ accomplishment cannot be overstated.

“This is important for her and for all of us at OSI,” said Dr. David Ray, OSI Behavioral Sciences director in announcing her achievement. “There are only 130 CTMs worldwide. Dr. Morris is the first and only one at OSI and in the Department of the Air Force.”

The difficulty of the ATAP exam plays a major role in the small number of CTMs.


One minimum requirement for certification is five years of full-time threat assessment experience just to qualify to sit for the exam for non-ATAP members and three years for members. The official ATAP certification body of knowledge list includes 15 books, more than 70 publications, such as journal articles, official reports, guidelines, court cases and others that are suggested to read and study.

“The exam is rumored to have a 60% fail rate,” Ray noted.

Morris’ motivation drove her to meet the formidable challenge head on when she took the exam in January at the annual ATAP winter conference in Orlando, Florida.

“I was motivated by a desire to be as knowledgeable as possible about behavioral threat assessment, especially because that makes me a better consultant and advisor to those I support,” Morris said. “It’s very important to me that my work is always informed by the latest knowledge, research and fact-based best practices of threat assessment, which is critical to what we do in OSI.”

Morris admitted she was initially relieved her commitment paid off the first time.

“After taking the exam, I honestly was not confident I had passed. It was harder than I had anticipated,” she said. “In fact, I actually started to plan how I could find a way to study harder to retake the exam. So ultimately, I was relieved that I did not have to spend any more time studying.”

Morris focused by reading threat-assessment books and research for the exam about a year or two prior to taking it. She made notecards and organized specific days to study intensely for about three months prior to the exam.

OSI senior leadership saluted her extraordinary effort and result.

“One word – awesome! So proud of you for hitting this level of certification, and once again, honored to have you in our ranks,” wrote OSI commander
Brig. Gen. Terry L. Bullard in congratulating Morris. “It speaks volumes of your dedication to this field and lends incredible professional stature to our command as a whole having you engaged in this critical problem set.”

OSI insider threat is developing a behavioral threat assessment team. Having a CTM gives credibility to the program and ensures OSI is operating within the standards of practice within the threat assessment community.

The professional certification allows a person to prove they have the knowledge, experience and skills to perform in a specific role as part of a threat assessment and management team. Passing the exam, accredited by an organization or association that monitors and upholds prescribed industry standards, identifies the “best in the business.”

According to its
website, ATAP is the world’s leading multi-disciplinary professional association, whose dedicated members have specialized knowledge, expertise and literacy in the identification, assessment, prevention and management of targeted violence. ATAP’s mission is to drive research, education and best practices to enhance the safety of individuals, communities and organizations from the risk of targeted violence.

In layman’s terms, a threat assessment professional uses a fact-based method of assessment and investigation, focusing on patterns of thinking and behavior to determine if and how extensively someone is going to attack an identifiable target. Threat assessment is ultimately the most important aspect of threat management, which is designed to disrupt or prevent an act of targeted violence.

“As law enforcement professionals, I believe it’s our responsibility as agents, analysts and psychologists to strive for expertise, which requires a commitment to a dynamic learning process that never ends,” Morris said.

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