In October 2011, President Obama instituted the Insider Threat program (Kudos to McClatchy), whose purpose is to require federal workers in all areas of goverment to report potential leakers on the basis of observed behavior. The idea is for nearly 5 million federal workers and contractors to receive 90 minutes of training before being sent out to judge their fellow citizens on the basis of superficial behavior. Even members of the Peace Corps could face criminal charges for neglecting to channel McCarthy. SPOT, a $278 multi-million dollar program aimed at security in airports and on airplanes, which employs the same techniques, has been officially declared a miserable failure by none other than DHS's inspector general. But some people are convinced that paranoia is good for "the country", and that's just the way it is.
There are many things to fear and loathe about this program, most of them based on common sense, but as is so often the case these days, nitpicking the details does as much to obscure as to inform. Before turning our attention to the elephant in the room, let's ignore the soothing words of government officials and take a look at just how actively anti-democratic this program will likely be in its execution:
Different agencies and departments have different lists of behavior indicators. Most have adopted the traditional red flags for espionage. They include financial stress, disregard for security practices, unexplained foreign travel, unusual work hours and unexplained or sudden wealth.
But agencies and their consultants have added their own indicators.
For instance, an FBI insider threat detection guide warns private security personnel and managers to watch for “a desire to help the ‘underdog’ or a particular cause,” a “James Bond Wannabe” and a “divided loyalty: allegiance to another person or company or to a country besides the United States.”
A report by the Deloitte consulting firm identifies “several key trends that are making all organizations particularly susceptible to insider threat today.” These trends include an increasingly disgruntled, post-Great Recession workforce and the entry of younger, “Gen Y” employees who were “raised on the Internet” and are “highly involved in social networking.”
FBI employess may face criminal charges if they fail to report a fellow employee who in some way betrays a "desire to help the underdog". Here are some underdogs that come to mind: children living in areas susceptible to drone strikes, impoverished Americans being taken for a ride by the financial community, citizens concerned to address global warming in a way that has a chance of working.
Or perhaps an FBI agent expresses some sympathy for, say, the farmers of Afghanistan. Report it you must, because this may be divided loyalty.
Perhaps you notice a co-worker with the kind of rare courage exhibited by Kiriakou, Snowden, Manning and a precious few others. He may be the kind of James Bond wannabe that can cause a hiccup in the US quest for full spectrum dominance. You must report.
But most blatantly anti-democratic is that participating in the only area of public discussion not yet well-controlled by the oligarchy is suspicious. To put it bluntly, "social networking", i.e., participating in citizen discussion and consensus building, unmediated by media and entertainment giants, is seen, I believe accurately, as a threat to the USG.
Even being too young is an issue. After all, the President himself has expressed concern that poor Gen Y has been "hearing voices", and he's not talking about Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs. No, he's talking about unsanctioned voices such as the "professional left" who manage to sneak in a word or two over the tightly controlled narrative.
No documents thus far released have stated outright that excessive belief in, or participation in, democratic activity must be reported under penalty of law. We have seen a private version of this in the Citigroup Plutonomy Memos, which openly advocated strategies for countering the only true threat to concentration of wealth and power: one person, one vote. (You won't find these memos easily--there are those who would protect you from "hearing voices".) Given recent relevations concerning the close coordination between government law enforcement and private financial institutions in shutting down Occupy, which was essentially a desperate attempt to revive the power of the many, it is not far-fetched to believe that such anti-democratic considerations are openly acknowledged at some level of govermment.
The Reddest Flags Going Unremarked
All this is plenty disturbing on its own, but in a sense it distracts from the larger question: is gleefully murdering civilians, journalists, and children a red flag of sorts? Is there a place in our criminal justice system for addressing such behavior? Is there money to spare for a program aimed at training people to identify potential war criminals within the military and the government? Would it make sense to criminalize neglecting to report activity that might lead someone to suspect a fellow soldier as a potential rapist or war criminal?
The Geneva Conventions, international treaties, and domestic law already criminalize failing to report, investigate and prosecute suspected war criminals but the Obama Administration has shrugged off these obligations with the trite expression, "Look forward, not back". But when it comes to leaking information, the executive branch has turned this injunction on its head, looking back relentlessly at any and all possible charges against whistleblowers while criminalizing failure to be vigilant in looking forward to ensure that no such behavior occurs in the future.
To focus on one contrasting example, fewer than 5% of rapes within the military are reported, less that a third of those reported result in imprisonment, and the terms of imprisonment are generally quite short. The war crimes revealed by Bradley Manning and others have resulted in no charges being filed. The government's record on arresting, sometimes torturing, prosecuting, and convicting whistleblowers is much stronger. The quaint word "values" comes to mind.
Would it be threatening for me to suggest that a few million dollars should be spent training government employees in basic constitutional gurantees so that behavior which threatens to undermine the constitution may be reported promptly before too much damage is done? I would favor such a program even if it sometimes happened to help the underdog. (I can say this without placing a legal obligation on coworkers only because I don't work for the FBI.) Obviously, the aim of Insider Threat is precisely the opposite of this: to nip in the bud attempts to reveal the ways in which the USG, in partnership with its corporate sponsors, has declared permanent war on the world, including most of its own citizens.