While former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that gaping security holes still exist of classified government information, the Obama administration has been waging a government-wide crackdown of security vulnerabilities since 2011 with its “Insider Threat Task Force”.
Soon after Army Pfc. Bradley Manning leaked hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks in October, 2011, President Obama issued an executive order that created a Insider Threat Task Force. The intent of this Insider Threat Task Force is “deterring, detecting, and mitigating insider threats, including the safeguarding of classified information from exploitation, compromise, or other unauthorized disclosure, taking into account risk levels, as well as the distinct needs, missions, and systems of individual agencies.”
Yet the program has given far-reaching latitude to federal agencies who have been able to interpret the definition of “insider threat” to pursue and penalize for a wide range of other conduct, reported McClatchy’s Washington Bureau. The program presses managers and employees of federal agencies to monitor their co-workers for “indicators” such as stress, divorce and financial problems and report them. Those who fail to report such signs could even face criminal charges. Leaks to the media are considered espionage.
“The divorce thing is a real odd one,” said David Johnson, University of South Florida historian and author, in MSNBC. “It sounds familiar. If you’re psychologically weak, if you have personal problems, then this makes you susceptible to other bad stuff,” he said, noting similarities with the federal government’s drive to weed out homosexuals during the cold war.
This has helped create “toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans,” according to current and former officials and experts, McClatchy reported.
Plus, the policy could threaten creative thinking within federal agencies, said Ilana Greenstein, a former CIA case officer who quit after being accused of being a security risk, in McClatchy.
“The real danger is that you get a bland common denominator working in the government,” Greenstein said. “You don’t get people speaking up when there’s wrongdoing. You don’t get people who look at things in a different way and who are willing to stand up for things. What you get are people who toe the party line, and that’s really dangerous for national security.”
Yet the executive order also establishes protection for whistleblowers who report official waste, fraud or abuse through the proper channels.