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Obama's 'Insider Threat' Program a 'Sweeping' Crackdown on Leakers

McClatchy: 'Leaks to the media are equated with espionage'

Jacob Chamberlain

A program being implemented by the Obama administration titled "Insider Threat" requires millions of federal employees to keep a close watch on each other—a "sweeping" effort to crackdown on whistleblowers and leakers across the U.S. government, McClatchy reports Friday after obtaining a series of government documents.

The program, which has largely gone unmentioned in the media, spans all government agencies and mandates that employees and their superiors seek out “high-risk persons or behaviors” tied to someone who might expose government wrongdoing. Those who fail to expose someone they belief to be a leaker face penalties that include criminal charges.

As McClatchy reports Friday, the program creates a "sweeping" government-wide crackdown on federal employees who may find certain harmful actions or policies of their employer worthy of public knowledge. 

The program was launched in October 2011 directly after Army Pfc. Bradley Manning leaked military documents that exposed U.S. war crimes to the website WikiLeaks.

“Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States,” says one of the documents—a June 1, 2012 Defense Department strategy written for the program.

As the documents reveal, any "leaks to the media" are officially "equated with espionage," through the administration's eyes.

As McClatchy reports:

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. [...]

The McClatchy piece goes on to detail the individualized implementations of the program within differing government agencies—all with their own tactics for identifying the "spy in our midst," as The Defense Department puts it.

According to McClatchy, the Obama administration is expected to hasten the implementation of the program in the wake of the recent earth-shattering revelations leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden that exposed the NSA's vast and unconstitutional—as many have argued—spying programs.

According to current and former officials and experts who spoke with McClatchy, the Insider Threat Program is making it "easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public," as McClatchy writes, "while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans."

“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 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.”

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