How Obama is becoming an insider threat to democracy

It seems like we’re getting snowed in by Snowden — if you’ll forgive the pun.

On Thursday, McClatchy published an investigative report, “Obama’s crackdown views leaks as aiding enemies of U.S..”

By now, the term, “Insider Threat Program,” should be getting just as much attention in the mainstream media and the blogosphere as anything to do with Edward Snowden, and yet the story has largely been ignored.

While the NSA story is in large part a story about the potential dangers that can stem from mass surveillance, the Insider Threat Program describes the ways in which the day-to-day operations of government are changing now through a neo-McCarthyist attack on whistle-blowing.

The fact that this program is being instituted across all government agencies and not just those handling national security issues, reflects the degree to which we now live in a security state — one in which democratic processes have been made subservient to security and security has become the lens through which virtually everything gets viewed.

Changes that are most insidious and most difficult to reverse are those which shape culture. They don’t have to be encoded in laws and regulations.

While Obama came into office promising to change the culture of secrecy in Washington, his actions have had the opposite effect and the Insider Threat Program is another phase in a process through which government becomes more paranoiac, less innovative, more subject to group-think, and less representative of the interests of the people.

The most dangerous forms of change are often the least dramatic. They are incremental. What might become an intolerable trend, develops from small steps each of which might seem benign or reasonable at the time it occurs.

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 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.

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9 thoughts on “How Obama is becoming an insider threat to democracy

  1. rosemerry

    I just read Digby’s piece in Common Dreams, and it really is frightening (the United Stasi of America!!)
    Does the Obama Administration really believe the whole US population is made of spies/criminals/weirdos? Does nobody deserve to be trusted? Is this a new McCarthyism?
    Surely people in a nation shuld be allowed to know what is being done in their name. How many facts really need to be secret for “national security” when a country is constantly spying on everyone and attacking other countries for spurious reasons?
    Read Arthur Silber’s blog for sensible suggestions. Chris Floyd in Empire Burlesque is also on the point.

  2. La vérité

    Snitching on one’s colleagues ( won’t be long before it will be friends, family and neighbours ) I guess, would be considered “Patriotic”! However, one who really cares about the country and exposes govt wrong doing, ends up in jail, may be even for life! Who would have thought, September 11, 2001 would change the face of this country like this?

  3. satobsat

    Seems someone forgot to mention that the program only applies to feds with clearances that handle classified documents and only with their consent. I guess that wasn’t important.

  4. BillVZ


    over 1.4 million Americans hold “top secret” security clearances….they all can’t be Feds.. what is your point?

  5. Norman

    Food for thought: the “O” is being set up for the fall of the U.S. as we know it today, along with the possibility of the “Nuclear Winter” that seems to be gaining strength. All things being what they are, “O” is CIC, so, if the buck stops @ his desk, then who gets the blame when the S- – T hits the fan?

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