In what some might consider an increasingly growing trend of releasing information just before holidays or the late on Friday afternoon, the White House has yet again quietly published a memo from President Barack Obama, laying out guidelines for executive agencies to establish “effective insider threat programs.”
The presidential memorandum issued on Nov. 21 — the day before Thanksgiving — is called “National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs.” Here’s what the relatively short memo said (Note: Emphasis added):
This Presidential Memorandum transmits the National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs (Minimum Standards) to provide direction and guidance to promote the development of effective insider threat programs within departments and agencies to deter, detect, and mitigate actions by employees who may represent a threat to national security. These threats encompass potential espionage, violent acts against the Government or the Nation, and unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including the vast amounts of classified data available on interconnected United States Government computer networks and systems.
The Minimum Standards provide departments and agencies with the minimum elements necessary to establish effective insider threat programs. These elements include the capability to gather, integrate, and centrally analyze and respond to key threat-related information; monitor employee use of classified networks; provide the workforce with insider threat awareness training; and protect the civil liberties and privacy of all personnel.
The resulting insider threat capabilities will strengthen the protection of classified information across the executive branch and reinforce our defenses against both adversaries and insiders who misuse their access and endanger our national security.
The memo itself, which places more emphasis on the Insider Threat Task Force established through an Executive Order signed in October 2011, has seen little mainstream media attention. Some speculate though that the timing of the memo might have had something to do with a story that has been well covered this week: the pretrial of Army private Bradley Manning, who is accused of leaking classified information to Wikileaks. Manning, who has been imprisoned since May 2010, will begin his formal hearing Dec. 10.
Jessleyn Radack with the blog the Daily Kos wrote because agencies generally have their own policies regarding classified information, establishing insider threat programs “will more likely be used as a pretext for targeting whistleblowers who are – as [whistleblower Thomas] Drake did – using proper channels to report government waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, mismanagement, or dangers to health and public safety than they will be used to stop actual threats to national security.”
Radack went on to write that she believes the government could have more security if it “focus[ed] its considerable energy and resources on curbing overclassification rather than targeting employees with “programs” that will no doubt chill legitimate speech activities and go after those who dare to blow whistle.”
Interestingly enough, just this week Obama signed a bill that would afford greater protection to federal employees who expose fraud, waste and abuse in government operations. This is a loophole that specifies that whistle-blowers were only protected when they were the first to report misconduct.
The New York Times has pointed out in the past that the Obama administration has prosecuted more government officials for leaking information to the press than any other administration combined.
In addition to some thinking the timing of the memo was done in light of Manning’s looming trial, others worry more generally about its ambiguity. Doug Hagmann with the Northeast Intelligence Network published a column in the Canada Free Press, in which he wrote “there appears to be a deliberate lack of specificity concerning the exact elements that constitute such an “insider threat.”
But that’s not all, Hagmann goes on to analyze Obama’s intention for including the word “centrally” — as part of “centrally analyze [...] threat-related information” He considers this word indicative of what he believes is Obama’s agenda of “the greatest consolidation of power and control under the Executive branch of the government in recent U.S. history.”
Hagmann, like Radack, pointed out that there are measures in place to address insider threats to the government and national security.
This new system being established in the memo, Hagmann calls “the very essence of ‘Big Brother’ within the government itself.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Featured image via Shutterstock.com.