Source: The Guardian Unlimited
The National Insider Threat Task Force subjects officials to surveillance and fear, and uses me as an example. Those with legitimate concerns should be empowered to speak out
The US government is heavily invested in an internal surveillance program that is unsustainable, ineffective, morally reprehensible, inherently dangerous and ultimately counterproductive.
In the months following the US government’s initial charges against me over the release of government records in 2010, the current administration formed the National Insider Threat Task Force under the authority of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and several other US government agencies.
The mission of this taskforce is breathtakingly broad. It aims at deterring threats to national security by anyone “who misuses or betrays, wittingly or unwittingly, his or her authorized access to any US Government resource”. Unfortunately, the methods it outlines amount to thousands of government personnel being effectively under total surveillance.
These kinds of operations usually result in doing more harm than good. As articulated by James Detert and Ethan Burris in a recent Harvard Business Review article, such training and surveillance programs greatly diminish productive and innovative capabilities within organizations. They have a tendency to “promote fear of embarrassment, isolation, low performance ratings, lost promotions, and even firing”. When your employer is the US government, that fear – of surveillance, public humiliation, warrants, arrest, trial, exorbitant legal fees and imprisonment – is orders of magnitude higher.
Flaws in the program exacerbate these problems. There is a reliance on “anonymous feedback” which can create endless witch-hunts, “general invitations” to report or file complaints through so-called open door policies, and vagueness about what feedback is expected. According to Deter and Burris, the program creates a perfect storm of conditions against innovation, creativity and whistleblowing.
The implementation of the Insider Threat program has shown predictably troubling results. For example, an ODNI webinar, entitled Simple Steps and Guidance to Secure Classified Networks, describes excessive surveillance protocols and invasive secret investigations by the US government and military into their own officials. In its early stages, it has become clear that this program conflates any attempt to seek redress, transparency or the promotion of legitimate public interests with grave threats to national security.