On October 7, 2011 President Obama released Executive order 13587, presenting a program that was ignored by major media coverage until recently. The Executive Order purports to address “Structural Reforms to Improve the Security of Classified Networks and the Responsible Sharing and Safeguarding of Classified Information,” embedded in which was his introduction of the Insider Threat Task Force. Until a recent article by McClatchy, however, it had gone largely unacknowledged by those concerned with the safety of whistleblowers in the post-Bradley Manning era. Even now, with the “Where in the world is Edward Snowden?” conversation, the Insider Threat Program remains largely outside the realm of discussion despite its enormous implications for government transparency and the rights of whistleblowers. The Insider Threat Program relies largely on one modus operandi: government-mandated snitching.
Federal agency employees and their supervisors are instructed to be on the look-out for and report “high-risk persons or behaviors.” Though this may seem vague, the program kindly clarifies that some specific instances that would prompt the categorization of individuals as “high-risk” would be stress, divorce or financial problems. The program is a psychological “If you see something, say something,” which potentially criminalizes anyone in the workplace who may be in an emotional slump. An individual going through a tough divorce, suffering the loss of a loved one, or struggling to make ends meet then has become the vaguely dangerous INSIDER THREAT. I offer no exaggeration in this language: the program turns federal agencies like the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Educational and Agricultural Departments into noir-like environments, where each individual is potentially more paranoid and more guilty than the next.
Though the “indicators” that may potentially signify threats are vague and, one might argue, not an employer’s business (let alone the government’s), the Program renders such individual behavior in the workplace a matter of national security. Officials stated that Bradley Manning, for example, “exhibited behavior that could have forewarned his superiors that he posed a security risk” – perhaps they would argue the same for Edward Snowden, who had been a “trusted insider” before his leak.
The general consensus seems to be that concerning oneself with co-workers’ personal lives is necessary to the safety of our country. Let’s assume that some co-workers had suspected that Manning and Snowden might be “up to no good.” If these co-workers did not snitch under the Insider Threat Program, they are now required to turn themselves or others in for failing to report breaches in security.
The danger here, as the news-breaking McClatchy article pointed out, is that a tendency towards dangerous “group think” develops, “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.” In the midst of “group think” danger and general paranoia, the Insider Threat Program continues to be fairly ineffective. Edward Snowden’s success in leaking NSA secrets stands as a prime example of this: the Insider Threat Program was fully operational, but Snowden still managed to release sensitive government information. Snowden’s successful release of information may lead to an even more aggressive mutation of the Insider Threat Program, perhaps involving some material reward for snitches.
The McClatchy article quotes Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security law, as saying, “The only thing they haven’t done here is reward [snitching]…I’m waiting for the time when you turn in a friend and you get a $50 reward.” Though the Insider Threat Program seems almost a caricature, it cannot be taken lightly. It stands as yet another breach of privacy under the Obama presidency, and one that will likely become more aggressive in days to come. In addition to requiring snitching, the program equates leaking information to journalists (whether classified or not) with espionage. Not only are governmental employees at risk of being classified as an “Insider Threat” for having a bad day, but the general public is at risk of losing the information passed along to the media by whisteblowers like Manning and Snowden.