Sunday, June 23, 2013

They Used To Call It Big Brother

It's not only leakers anymore.  R. Scott Oswald, criticizing the leak of classified information by Edward Snowden, defends the Obama presidency as "a friend to whistleblowers."

But as Edward Gosztola points out in Firedoglake, this Administration now has charged under the Espionage Act eight individuals with leaking information, five more than all previous Administrations combined.  Now we learn from McClatchy that in October 2011 President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the Insider Threat program.  The program, Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay report, "formalizes broad practices that the intelligence agencies have followed for years to detect security threats and extends them to agencies that aren’t involved in national security policy but can access classified networks. Across the government, new policies are being developed."  Summarizing the documents McClatchy obtained, they write

As part of the initiative, Obama ordered greater protection for whistleblowers who use the proper internal channels to report official waste, fraud and abuse, but that’s hardly comforting to some national security experts and current and former U.S. officials. They worry that the Insider Threat Program won’t just discourage whistleblowing but will have other grave consequences for the public’s right to know and national security.

The program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

The anti-leak policy of the Defense Department spells out a zero-tolerance policy. Security managers, it says, “must” reprimand or revoke the security clearances – a career-killing penalty – of workers who commit a single severe infraction or multiple lesser breaches “as an unavoidable negative personnel action.”

Employees must turn themselves and others in for failing to report breaches. “Penalize clearly identifiable failures to report security infractions and violations, including any lack of self-reporting,” the strategic plan says.

Criticizing Snowden, Michigan Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has said “There are already strong protections in place for true whistle blowers — they can take their concerns to a variety of inspectors general and ombudsmen throughout the Intelligence Community, and they can talk to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees."  However, Taylor and Landay note,

There are numerous cases, however, of government workers who say they’ve been forced to go public because they’ve suffered retaliation after trying to complain about waste, fraud and abuse through internal channels or to Congress. Thomas Drake, a former senior NSA official, was indicted in 2010 under the Espionage Act after he disclosed millions of dollars in waste to a journalist. He’d tried for years to alert his superiors and Congress. The administration eventually dropped the charges against him.

Even the first Muslim elected to Congress and co-chairperson of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, is unwilling to take Obama on.   Speaking the other day at a relatively safe venue, described here as "a downtown food truck social" at Netroots Nation, he argued

The problem is the law.  I don’t blame the Obama administration. They’re doing the full extent of what the law allows. The problem is that the law allows too much. You can’t just look at people’s stuff if they have no ideological connections to illegal activity. This may be one of those situations were those of us on both sides of the aisle who have concerns can get together.

But the Insider Threat program is unprecedented, not even hatched inside the brains of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, or Alberto Gonzalez.   And while Ellison might contend "the law is the law," interpretations of the law, whether a President wishes to stretch its limits, the discretion it enables, and the fervor with which the Chief Executive wants to pursue that discretion vary.   Consequently

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.”

That is what passes for leadership in this Administration.  Less than five years ago, the Biden-Obama transition team white paper on Ethics included

Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

Will Bunch observes

OK, so I think so far we've already established here that President Obama lied, massively. Now the only question is whether he and his transition team were lying when they published that over four years ago, or are they lying now as they take their war on whistleblowers and an aggressive free press to levels that are starting to rival Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.

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