The Washington Post recently obtained a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo that warned staff not to read articles — get this — printed in the Washington Post that covered whistleblower revelations about classified information.
Specifically, DHS — and we are not making this up — implied that there could be legal repercussions for employees who read Washington Post stories about whistleblowers and the information that they disclose. In particular, a DHS memo prohibited reading of such articles from any computer outside of the DHS office:
The Department of Homeland Security has warned its employees that the government may penalize them for opening a Washington Post article containing a classified slide that shows how the National Security Agency eavesdrops on international communications.
An internal memo from DHS headquarters told workers on Friday that viewing the document from an “unclassified government workstation” could lead to administrative or legal action. “You may be violating your non-disclosure agreement in which you sign that you will protect classified national security information,” the communication said.
The memo said workers who view the article through an unclassified workstation should report the incident as a “classified data spillage.”
“Classifed data spillage.” This “data spillage” is in the press and on the web around the world — and DHS is implying that the NSA is monitoring employees use of computers outside the office to see if they are reading such media coverage, so much for not spying on Americans.
This is so retro totalitarian, so Soviet and Stasi Kafkaesque, that it’s hard to believe. As a website TechDirt comments: “Got that? Working for the government and merely reading the news about things the government is doing might subject you to legal action.”
Of course, if a co-worker who is an “Insider Threat” informant sees you reading a whistleblower-related article in a print newspaper, he or she may report you as a potential danger to national security. This is not an exaggeration.
In case you managed to miss stories about operation “Insider Threat” (formally known as the National Insider Threat Policy), this is the Obama administration’s program to turn the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the surveillance state apparatus into stool pigeons. Of course, as in any police state apparatus, anyone can report another person against whom they hold a personal grudge as an “enemy of the state.” I wish that all this were hyperbolic fear mongering against some perfectly legitimage national concerns, but it is not.
According to the Federation of American Scientists blog on secrecy:
A national policy on “insider threats” was developed by the Obama Administration in order to protect against actions by government employees who would harm the security of the nation. But under the rubric of insider threats, the policy subsumes the seemingly disparate acts of spies, terrorists, and those who leak classified information.
The insider threat is defined as “the threat that an insider will use his/her authorized access, wittingly or unwittingly, to do harm to the security of the United States. This threat can include damage to the United States through espionage, terrorism, [or] unauthorized disclosure of national security information,” according to the newly disclosed National Insider Threat Policy, issued in November 2012.
One of the implications of aggregating spies, terrorists and leakers in a single category is that the nation’s spy-hunters and counterterrorism specialists can now be trained upon those who are suspected of leaking classified information.