President Barack Obama has asked that federal agencies launch an unprecedented campaign requiring government workers to monitor the behavior of their colleagues and report potential leakers under the threat of prosecution.
McClatchy reporters Jonathan Landay and Marisa Taylor wrote Tuesday that the “Insider Threat” program mandated by Pres. Obama utilizes methods that, while meant to identify security threats from within, actually provoke co-workers to spy on one another.
The program is unprecedented in scope and hopes to prevent future instances where government secrets are spilled. According to a new report, however, the Insider Threat initiative and the techniques utilized by the agencies involved are not proven to work.
Insider Threat was authorized in October 2011 after Army Private first class Bradley Manning sent classified intelligence to the website WikiLeaks, an action that government prosecutors argued in court this week aided al-Qaeda by indirectly providing them with secret documents.
Through the program, employees are asked to monitor the behavior of their peers, and could face hefty penalties if they fail to alert higher-ups of a potential breach.
Specifically, the Insider Threat program asks that officials within the ranks of federal agencies spanning all sectors of the government adopt behavioral profiling techniques that ideally would alert higher-ups of a subordinate interested in leaking intelligence. The White House, the Justice Department, the Peace Corps and the departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Education have all been asked to watch out for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers under the program, and If “indicators of insider threat behavior” are brought to attention, officials within those agencies are expected to investigate in order to curb the likelihood of another Pfc. Manning.
Research conducted by McClatchy reporters combined with expert interviews suggest those efforts are futile, though, and aren’t proven to work.
Gene Barlow, a spokesman for the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, told McClatchy that “the awareness effort of the program is to teach people not only what types of activity to report, but how to report it and why it is so important to report it.” So far, though, that method hasn’t been proven to actually put potential leakers out of work.
According to McClatchy, the “indicators” that federal employees are told to monitor include stress, relationship issues, financial problems, odd work hours and random traveling.
“It simply educates employees about basic activities or behavior that might suggest a person is up to improper activity,” Barlow told reporters. On the website for his agency’s Insider Threat program, the Office claims that employees may be lured to “betray their nation for ideological reasons, a lust for money or sex, or through blackmail,” and cites threats from within as “the top counterintelligence challenge to our community.”
Barlow also stressed that the policy “does not mandate” employees to report behavior indicators, but McClatchy reporters noted that failing to act could land an eyewitness with harsh penalties, including criminal charges.
According to a 2008 National Research Council study, however, analyzing these indicators do not necessarily signal that one agent may be up to no good.
“There is no consensus in the relevant scientific community nor on the committee regarding whether any behavioral surveillance or physiological monitoring techniques are ready for use at all,” the study concluded.
“We have not found any silver bullets,” added Deana Caputo, a behavioral scientist at MITRE Corp., which assists several US agencies with their insider threat efforts. “We don’t have actually any really good profiles or pictures of a bad guy, a good guy gone bad or even the bad guy walking in to do bad things from the very beginning.”