This Really is Big Brother: The Leak Nobody's Noticed

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This Really is Big Brother: The Leak Nobody's Noticed

This McClatchy piece (written by some of the same people who got the Iraq war run-up story so right while everyone else got it wrong) is as chilling to me as anything we've heard over the past few weeks about the NSA spying. In fact, it may be worse:
 

Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. 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.

Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

“Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.


When the free free press, explicitly protected in the bill of rights becomes equivalent to an "enemy of the United States" something very, very bad is happening.

The administration says it's doing this to protect national security and that it is willing to protect those who blow the whistle on waste, fraud and abuse. But that is not how the effect of this sort of program is going to be felt. After all, it's being implemented across the federal government, not just in national security:

The program could 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, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

“It was just a matter of time before the Department of Agriculture or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started implementing, ‘Hey, let’s get people to snitch on their friends.’ The only thing they haven’t done here is reward it,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security law. “I’m waiting for the time when you turn in a friend and you get a $50 reward.”

 

The Defense Department anti-leak strategy obtained by McClatchy spells out a zero-tolerance policy. Security managers, it says, “must” reprimand or revoke the security clearances – a career-killing penalty – of workers who commit a single severe infraction or multiple lesser breaches “as an unavoidable negative personnel action.”

Employees must turn themselves and others in for failing to report breaches. “Penalize clearly identifiable failures to report security infractions and violations, including any lack of self-reporting,” the strategic plan says.

The Obama administration already was pursuing an unprecedented number of leak prosecutions, and some in Congress – long one of the most prolific spillers of secrets – favor tightening restrictions on reporters’ access to federal agencies, making many U.S. officials reluctant to even disclose unclassified matters to the public.

The policy, which partly relies on behavior profiles, also could discourage creative thinking and fuel conformist “group think” of the kind that was blamed for the CIA’s erroneous assessment that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction, a judgment that underpinned the 2003 U.S. invasion.

I don't know about you, but that does not sound like freedom. In fact, it sounds like something else entirely to me.

This government paranoia and informant culture is about as corrosive to the idea of freedom as it gets. The workplace is already rife with petty jealousies, and singular ambition--- it's a human organization after all. Adding in this sort of incentive structure is pretty much setting up a system for intimidation and abuse.

And, as with all informant systems, especially ones that "profile" for certain behaviors deemed to be a threat to the state, only the most conformist will thrive. It's a recipe for disaster if one is looking for any kind of dynamic, creative thinking. Clearly, that is the last these creepy bureaucrats want.

This is the direct result of a culture of secrecy that seems to be pervading the federal government under president Obama.  He is not the first president to expand the national security state , nor is he responsible for the bipartisan consensus on national security or the ongoing influence of the Military Industrial Complex.This, however, is different. And he should be individually held to account for this policy.:

Administration officials say the program could help ensure that agencies catch a wide array of threats, especially if employees are properly trained in recognizing behavior that identifies potential security risks.
“If this is done correctly, an organization can get to a person who is having personal issues or problems that if not addressed by a variety of social means may lead that individual to violence, theft or espionage before it even gets to that point,” said a senior Pentagon official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

[...]
“If the folks who are watching within an organization for that insider threat – the lawyers, security officials and psychologists – can figure out that an individual is having money problems or decreased work performance and that person may be starting to come into the window of being an insider threat, superiors can then approach them and try to remove that stress before they become a threat to the organization,” the Pentagon official said.

The program, however, gives agencies such wide latitude in crafting their responses to insider threats that someone deemed a risk in one agency could be characterized as harmless in another. Even inside an agency, one manager’s disgruntled employee might become another’s threat to national security.

Obama in November approved “minimum standards” giving departments and agencies considerable leeway in developing their insider threat programs, leading to a potential hodgepodge of interpretations. He instructed them to not only root out leakers but people who might be prone to “violent acts against the government or the nation” and “potential espionage.”

The Pentagon established its own sweeping definition of an insider threat as an employee with a clearance who “wittingly or unwittingly” harms “national security interests” through “unauthorized disclosure, data modification, espionage, terrorism, or kinetic actions resulting in loss or degradation of resources or capabilities.”

“An argument can be made that the rape of military personnel represents an insider threat. Nobody has a model of what this insider threat stuff is supposed to look like,” said the senior Pentagon official, explaining that inside the Defense Department “there are a lot of chiefs with their own agendas but no leadership.”

The Department of Education, meanwhile, informs employees that co-workers going through “certain life experiences . . . might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” Those experiences, the department says in a computer training manual, include “stress, divorce, financial problems” or “frustrations with co-workers or the organization.”

An online tutorial titled “Treason 101” teaches Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees to recognize the psychological profile of spies.

A Defense Security Service online pamphlet lists a wide range of “reportable” suspicious behaviors, including working outside of normal duty hours. While conceding that not every behavior “represents a spy in our midst,” the pamphlet adds that “every situation needs to be examined to determine whether our nation’s secrets are at risk.”

The Defense Department, traditionally a leading source of media leaks, is still setting up its program, but it has taken numerous steps. They include creating a unit that reviews news reports every day for leaks of classified defense information and implementing new training courses to teach employees how to recognize security risks, including “high-risk” and “disruptive” behaviors among co-workers, according to Defense Department documents reviewed by McClatchy.

“It’s about people’s profiles, their approach to work, how they interact with management. Are they cheery? Are they looking at Salon.com or The Onion during their lunch break? This is about ‘The Stepford Wives,’” said a second senior Pentagon official, referring to online publications and a 1975 movie about robotically docile housewives. The official said he wanted to remain anonymous to avoid being punished for criticizing the program.

The emphasis on certain behaviors reminded Greenstein of her employee orientation with the CIA, when she was told to be suspicious of unhappy co-workers.

“If someone was having a bad day, the message was watch out for them,” she said.

Some federal agencies also are using the effort to protect a broader range of information. The Army orders its personnel to report unauthorized disclosures of unclassified information, including details concerning military facilities, activities and personnel.

The Peace Corps, which is in the midst of implementing its program, “takes very seriously the obligation to protect sensitive information,” said an email from a Peace Corps official who insisted on anonymity but gave no reason for doing so.

Granting wide discretion is dangerous, some experts and officials warned, when federal agencies are already prone to overreach in their efforts to control information flow.

The Bush administration allegedly tried to silence two former government climate change experts from speaking publicly on the dangers of global warming. More recently, the FDA justified the monitoring of the personal email of its scientists and doctors as a way to detect leaks of unclassified information.

Digby

Digby is the pseudonym of progressive political blogger Heather Parton from Santa Monica, California who founded the blog Hullabaloo.

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