Obama administration’s ‘insider threat’ program targets federal workers for surveillance

08/01/2011 11:38

In an effort to prevent another Bradley Manning, the Obama administration is urging all federal government agencies to watch its employees for signs they may be leaking classified information.

In a memo dated Monday, Jacob J. Lew, the director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, directed government agencies that deal with classified information to ensure that they are in compliance with secrecy rules brought in after WikiLeaks' release of classified material.

The document (PDF), which was leaked to NBC less than 48 hours after it was written, urges agencies to develop an "insider threat program" that would monitor employees for "behavioral changes" indicating they may be leaking classified documents or be willing to do so.

The document calls on agencies to hire psychiatrists and sociologists to measure the "despondence or grumpiness" of federal employees in order to "gauge trustworthiness." It also urges the use of polygraph machines, and the monitoring of computer activities and signs of "high occurrences of foreign travel."

Agencies are urged to "capture evidence of pre-employment and/or post-employment activities or participation in on-line media data mining sites like WikiLeaks or Open Leaks," indicating that the administration wants to see personnel monitored even after they stop working for the federal government.

The memo, written as a check-list of questions, doesn't order agencies to carry out these policies, but is written in such a way to suggest that agencies that don't carry out these policies would be delinquent in their duties.

“This is paranoia, not security,” Steven Aftergood, a national security expert with the Federation of American Scientists, told NBC.

Aftergood said the White House was simply expanding the methods used by the CIA to weed out spies to other agencies of the government, where they are unlikely to work. He called some of the recommendations -- such as one that all employees report any contact with members of the media -- "absurd."

But the document appears to be at least in part a reaction to speculation that PFC Bradley Manning, the soldier alleged to have been WikiLeaks' source, was disgruntled in his Army position.

Online chats allegedly between him and hacker Adrian Lamo suggest Manning was unhappy with the US's conduct in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Others have suggested he was unhappy about disciplinary action against him, or about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

As NBC noted, the White House may be under pressure to show to the new Republican-dominated House that they are reacting swiftly and concretely to the WikiLeaks releases.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has said he plans to hold hearings into WikiLeaks and the government's response early on in the House session.

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