An “insider threat” program launched by President Barack Obama encourages a culture of snitching among federal government employees and establishes a work environment where managers can be punished for failing to report suspicious activity, according to a feature story by McClatchy Newspapers.
Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay detail the “unprecedented initiative” is “sweeping in its reach.” It “extends beyond the US national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of ‘insider threat’ give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.”
“Millions of federal employees and contractors,” according to the Taylor and Landay, “must watch for ‘high-risk persons or behaviors’ among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them.” And, “Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”
For example, the newspaper obtained a copy of a Defense Department strategy from June 1, 2012, that reads, “Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”
“Experts and current and former officials” that Taylor and Landay spoke to for the story suggested this program would likely “make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans.”
Government Employees Advised Through a ‘Short Course in Treason’
One site put together for federal government employees and hosted by the Department of Agriculture is “a short course in Treason.” It looks like it was made on an Angelfire domain back in the early days of the Internet and uses cheesy animated GIFs to accent the authoritarianism rife within the “course.”
The site consists of “a series of articles on how spies are caught, the prevalence of espionage, and why people spy.” It asserts that the “information revolution” has produced changes to an extent where the “prevalence of insider betrayal may be greater today than during the Cold War.”
A page on the psychology of spies suggests the two most common personality disorders individuals who commit espionage have are “antisocial personality disorder and narcissism.” These people are “usually manipulative, self-serving, and seek immediate gratification of their desires. They are oriented toward what they can get now, with little interest in the future and no interest in learning from the past. They have little capacity to form attachments, or to develop a commitment to anyone or anything. This suggests that their ability to develop any degree of loyalty is seriously compromised.”
Narcissists are people who “feel undervalued by their supervisor or their organization generally need to defend themselves against feelings of inadequacy. They may respond in ways that are rebellious, passive-aggressive, or vindictive. They may also seek out some other source for validation and affirmation of their self-perceived abilities or importance. In some cases, they have turned to a foreign intelligence service to fulfill their emotional needs, gaining satisfaction from working as a spy and outsmarting the organization that devalued them.”
Both the antisocial personality and the narcissist may engage in deliberate behavior that violates routine security rules and regulations, but they do this for different reasons. The antisocial personality rejects the rules. The narcissist accepts the rules but believes he or she is so special that the rules don’t apply; they only apply to others.
This is why any deliberate security violation such as taking classified reports home or giving classified information to an unauthorized person is a serious security concern even if no real damage is done. Any deliberate violation is evidence of an unwillingness or inability to abide by the rules that can have broad implications.
From the description of a narcissist, it becomes apparent that this word may not have the same meaning it does for average citizens. It is a code-word for a spy or someone likely to engage in espionage, not just a trait of someone hard to work side-by-side with in an agency or business.
The course on “Treason” outlines “reporting responsibilities” that employees have if they are “entrusted with safeguarding classified material.”
Indicators to Look for That Someone May Engage in Espionage
“You are expected to report potentially significant, factual information that comes to your attention and that raises potential security concerns about a co-worker. You are also strongly encouraged to help co-workers who are having personal problems that may become a security issue if the problems are not addressed,” a page in the course reads.
There are indicators of “illegal, improper, unreliable or suspicious behavior by a co-worker” that employees must look for, such as: “disgruntlement with one’s employer or the US Government strong enough to make the individual desire revenge,” “any statement that, considering who made the statement and under what circumstances, suggests potential conflicting loyalties that may affect handling of classified or other protected information,” “active attempt to encourage military or civilian personnel to violate laws, disobey lawful orders or regulations, or disrupt military activities,” “knowing membership in, or attempt to conceal membership in, any group which: 1) advocates the use of force or violence to cause political change within the U.S., 2) has been identified as a front group for foreign interests, or 3) advocates loyalty to a foreign interest.”
And, ridiculously, “repeated statements or actions indicating an abnormal fascination with and strong desire to engage in ‘spy’ work. Fantasies of oneself as a James Bond.”
This all must be watched for because, according to the course, not reporting such information may play a “significant role” in future counterintelligence failures. “Our goal is to help employees with problems before they get into serious trouble.” Also, “If you are a contractor, compromise of the advanced technology on which your company’s business is based will affect your company’s bottom line. This could cause you and your co-workers to lose your job or your next raise.”
A Climate That Intimidates Potential Whistleblowers
The “insider threat” program started after Pfc. Bradley Manning was found to have disclosed US government information to WikiLeaks. Obama signed off on a memo in November 2012 that instructed departments and agencies to set up policies or procedures for gathering, integrating, and centrally analyzing and responding to “key threat-related information,” monitoring employee use of classified networks and providing the workforce with “insider threat awareness training” while at the same time protecting “the civil liberties and privacy of all personnel.” Threats to be monitored included “potential espionage, violent acts against the Government or the Nation, and unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including the vast amounts of classified data available on interconnected United States Government computer networks and systems.”
The program further indicates that the Obama administration, which has prosecuted more whistleblowers or alleged leakers in the past four years than any other previous administration, has a disposition against the free flow of information. In many ways, it creates a climate that intimidates potential whistleblowers.
From Taylor and Landay’s story:
“The real danger is that you get a bland common denominator working in the government,” warned Ilana Greenstein, a former CIA case officer who says she quit the agency after being falsely accused of being a security risk. “You don’t get people speaking up when there’s wrongdoing. You don’t get people who look at things in a different way and who are willing to stand up for things. What you get are people who toe the party line, and that’s really dangerous for national security.”
Or, as one unnamed Pentagon official quoted in the story declared, “The danger is that supervisors and managers will use the profiles for ‘Disgruntled Employees’ and ‘Insider Threats’ to go after legitimate whistleblowers.”
“The executive order says you can’t offend the whistleblower laws. But all of the whistleblower laws are about retaliation. That doesn’t mean you can’t profile them before they’re retaliated against,” the official added.
As early as April 2011, agencies like the Pentagon had setup working groups to develop strategies and plans of action and “milestones aimed at improving” their ability to “prevent accidental” leaks. They also aimed to “deter intentional public disclosure of classified national security information.” The Insider Threat Task Force began to meet in October of last year. An incident reporting system at the Pentagon was fully operational in December 2011.
The program further entrenches and streamlines policies that have existed in different agencies in various forms throughout the past decade. It normalizes the treatment of leakers as spies, who will be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, even if they are not trying to sell secrets or collect information for an “enemy” or foreign power.
Employees Informed They Could Be Rewarded for Turning in People Who Might Commit Espionage
According to the “Treason” course, there is even a monetary incentive dangled in front of federal government employees to encourage snitching on others:
If your reporting helps stop a case of espionage, you may be eligible for a reward of up to $500,000. The reward is authorized by an amendment to Title 18, U.S.C., Section 3071, which authorizes the Attorney General to make payment for information on espionage activity in any country which leads to the arrest and conviction of any person(s):
- For commission of an act of espionage against the United States.
- For conspiring or attempting to commit an act of espionage against the United States
- Or which leads to the prevention or frustration of an act of espionage against the United States.
A Defense Security Service online pamphlet suggests, “It is better to have reported overzealously than never to have reported at all.” There are no penalties for informing on someone, if that tip is completely unfounded or found to be submitted for disingenuous purposes.
The Defense Department told McClatchy:
The individual is not penalized for reporting something in good faith that may turn out to be unfounded. Pursuant to DoD directive 5240.06, Counterintelligence Awareness and Reporting, department personnel are required to report suspicious incidents concerning possible foreign intelligence service or international terrorist threats…
The Wider War on Information by the Obama Administration
The “Insider Threat” program’s implementation has occurred under a president that has deliberately excluded national security policies from transparency efforts. It has been put into place under an administration with a propensity for chilling confidential news sources. It has continued to invoke the state secrets privilege in court so that judges cannot make decisions on whether laws or policies are unconstitutional or illegal. It has denied protections for national security or intelligence whistleblowers. And it also has expanded a body of secret law by refusing to disclose secret interpretations of the PATRIOT Act and FISA court rulings. (Only now, with disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, is the public getting to see what parameters for surveillance are considered legal.)
Last year, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein tried to pass “anti-leaks” proposals that would have further created a climate discouraging good government employees from blowing the whistle. It proposed that “certain people be prohibited from serving as consultants or having contracts with media organizations; only a limited number of individuals in intelligence agencies be permitted to speak with members of the media and stripping employees of federal pension benefits if they were responsible for an “unauthorized disclosure.” [Ultimately, they did not pass because Sen. Ron Wyden opposed them.]
It is programs like the “Insider Threat” program that make it increasingly impossible for employees to “go through the proper channels” when revealing corruption, but that appears to be an acceptable and welcome byproduct of this culture being fostered that is like something out of the era of the Red Scare. [Although, it was already a guarantee that "going through the proper channels" would make you a target.]
National security agencies desperately want the Executive Branch to arrogate power and operate like a dictatorship so they can have the ability to operate without restriction and treat the world as a battlefield. They crave an administration that works to normalize what has often been considered prohibited by laws or the Constitution. They expect Congress, when informed about what they are doing, to not challenge what they do but to rationalize what they do to the American people in such a way that citizens are led to believe there is no reason to worry about the authorities and powers being claimed. And, finally, they do not want any one to take a stand and put the government in a position where agencies have to reassess what they are doing. That is why whistleblowers are treated as “informers” or spies.