"Stasi-Like": Obama's Program to Thwart Unwanted Leaks Not Only Creepy, It Won't Work

Having government co-workers spy on one another is damaging and counter-productive, say critics

What's worse than a government program that "creates a culture of intimidation," "represses creative thinking," and acts to subvert the protections offered by the First and Fourth Amendments of the constitution?

Well, according to the growing number of critics of a White House program that asks government workers to spy on their colleagues, one that does all those things while also damaging the institutions the program is designed to protect. Namely, the government itself and the democratic principles which uphold it.

"...current and former U.S. officials and experts ... ridiculed as overly zealous and simplistic the idea of using reports of suspicious behavior to predict potential insider threats." -McClatchy

Following up on their groundbreaking report that exposed an internal Obama administration program designed to thwart would-be leakers by having government employees keep tabs on their co-workers, McClatchy reporters have now published a follow-up which shows that the plan, codenamed Insider Threat, is not only "creepy" and misguided but not "even likely to work."

The existence of the Insider Threat program was first revealed by the news outlet last month and came amid the growing controversy caused by the revelations generated by leaked NSA documents that gave a detailed look at the mass surveillance being conducted on US citizens and people all over the world by the US intelligence agency.

In the debate that followed, many critics of the Obama administration pointed out that their pursuit of whistleblowers who leak, or discuss with reporters, information that reflects poorly on the US government's intelligence apparatus has been the most aggressive in modern history.

In addition to its ongoing determination to bring recent NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden back to the US for prosecution for his disclosures, the Insider Threat program is seen as the icing on the cake of this trend.

As McClatchyreports:

In an initiative aimed at rooting out future leakers and other security violators, President Barack Obama has ordered federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques that are not scientifically proven to work, according to experts and government documents.

The techniques are a key pillar of the Insider Threat Program, an unprecedented government-wide crackdown under which millions of federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for "high-risk persons or behaviors" among co-workers. Those who fail to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges.

Obama mandated the program in an October 2011 executive order after Army Pfc. Bradley Manning downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents from a classified computer network and gave them to WikiLeaks, the anti-government secrecy group. The order covers virtually every federal department and agency, including the Peace Corps, the Department of Education and others not directly involved in national security.

Critics of the program immediately condemned it, saying Obama's reaction to the existence of whistleblowers has done more harm to liberty than any of the revelations made public by the government whistleblowers.

As Digby, a commentator on national affairs, wrote on her blog following McClatchy's original story on Insider Threat:

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.

Beyond the widely shared criticism of the Obama program on these grounds, what McClatchy's latest reporting reveals is that Insider Threat, according to experts, won't even give the government its desired results. They report:

...current and former U.S. officials and experts worry that Obama's Insider Threat Program could lead to false or retaliatory accusations across the entire government, in part because security officials are granted access to information outside their usual purview.

These current and former U.S. officials and experts also ridiculed as overly zealous and simplistic the idea of using reports of suspicious behavior to predict potential insider threats. It takes years for professional spy-hunters to learn their craft, and relying on the observations of inexperienced people could lead to baseless and discriminatory investigations, they said.

"Anyone is an amateur looking at behavior here," said Thomas Fingar, a former State Department intelligence chief who chaired the National Intelligence Council, which prepares top-secret intelligence analyses for the president, from 2005 to 2008.

Co-workers, Fingar said, should "be attentive" to colleagues' personal problems in order to refer them to counseling, not to report them as potential security violators. "It's simply because they are colleagues, fellow human beings," he said.

Eric Feldman, a former inspector general of the National Reconnaissance Office, the super-secret agency that oversees U.S. spy satellites, expressed concern that relying on workers to report colleagues' suspicious behaviors to security officials could create "a repressive kind of culture."

"The answer to it is not to have a Stasi-like response," said Feldman, referring to the feared secret police of communist East Germany. "You've removed that firewall between employees seeking help and the threat that any employee who seeks help could be immediately retaliated against by this insider threat office."


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