Chelsea Manning: Government Employee Spying Program 'Reprehensible'

"The broad sweep of the program means officials have been given a blank check for surveillance," Manning wrote in an op-ed. (Photo: torbakhopper/flickr/cc)

Chelsea Manning: Government Employee Spying Program 'Reprehensible'

New document reveals Pentagon is tracking government personnel and used Manning's case to build profile of modern whistleblower

A new document obtained by whistleblower Chelsea Manning reveals that the U.S. government, through its "Insider Threat" program, used Manning's case to make a profile of the modern whistleblower and instructed intelligence agents to monitor Pentagon personnel for characteristics like "greed," "ego," "disgruntlement," and other traits in an effort to prevent the next big leak.

The 31-page document, obtained by Manning through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2014 and published for the first time in the Guardian on Friday, offers a clearer picture of what the Insider Threat program, first exposed in 2013, entails.

"The broad sweep of the program means officials have been given a blank check for surveillance," Manning wrote in an accompanying op-ed for the Guardian. "Such subjective labeling could easily be applied to virtually every single person currently holding a security clearance."

The file instructs intelligence agents to look for eight characteristics in state employees to indicate whether they may be tempted to release classified information to the public:

  • "Greed or financial difficulties"
  • "Disgruntled or wants revenge"
  • "Ideology"
  • "Divided loyalties"
  • "Vulnerable to blackmail"
  • "Ego/self-image"
  • "Ingratiation"
  • "Family/personal issues"

Manning, the document states, displayed at least a few of those characteristics--such as "disgruntlement" due to her gender dysphoria and "ideology" over her alleged affiliation with hacker culture--before transmitting thousands of classified U.S. military and State Department documents to WikiLeaks.

"The program alleges that I am 'disgruntled' based on my perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, questioning my 'self-image as a man' while acknowledging that 'he [sic] wanted to be an openly accepted female'. It describes me as 'an advocate for homosexuals openly serving' in the military, and my concern and advocacy of queer and trans rights as being expressed 'obsessively'," Manning writes.

"The U.S. government is heavily invested in an internal surveillance program that is unsustainable, ineffective, morally reprehensible, inherently dangerous and ultimately counterproductive," Manning wrote in her op-ed.

She continued:

The mission of this taskforce is breathtakingly broad. It aims at deterring threats to national security by anyone "who misuses or betrays, wittingly or unwittingly, his or her authorized access to any US Government resource". Unfortunately, the methods it outlines amount to thousands of government personnel being effectively under total surveillance.

These kinds of operations usually result in doing more harm than good. As articulated by James Detert and Ethan Burris in a recent Harvard Business Review article, such training and surveillance programs greatly diminish productive and innovative capabilities within organizations. They have a tendency to "promote fear of embarrassment, isolation, low performance ratings, lost promotions, and even firing". When your employer is the US government, that fear - of surveillance, public humiliation, warrants, arrest, trial, exorbitant legal fees and imprisonment - is orders of magnitude higher.

The document also refers to Manning by male gender pronouns, as it was compiled nine days before she, a transgender woman, was legally allowed to change her name.

ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio, who represents Manning, said the government was "using her gender identity to suggest it fits into an offender profile."

According to Steven Aftergood, transparency advocate and director of the government secrecy program at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), there are about 100,000 military and civilian employees and contractors under continuous surveillance. Aftergood told the Guardian that the character traits in Manning's file were remarkably similar to those used to detect alleged spies during the Cold War.

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