Conspiracy

A Government Petrified of Itself

Political paranoia and the war on leaks.

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I wrote a piece for The Washington Post about political paranoia and the war on leaks. Here's the opening:

Get used to looking at this cover. I'm gonna be flogging this thing for weeks.

In the popular stereotype, conspiracy theorists direct their paranoia at the government: The CIA shot JFK. NASA faked the moon landing. Sept. 11 was an inside job.

But the most significant sorts of political paranoia are the kinds that catch on with people inside the halls of power, not the folks on the outside looking in. The latest example is a crackdown on leaks that has the government crippled by a fear of its own employees. Washington is petrified of itself.

The federal effort, called the Insider Threat Program, was launched in October 2011, and it certainly hasn't diminished since Edward Snowden disclosed details of the National Security Agency's domestic spying. As McClatchy reporters Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay have described, federal employees and contractors are encouraged to keep an eye on allegedly suspicious "indicators" in their co-workers' lives, from financial troubles to divorce. A brochure produced by the Defense Security Service, titled "INSIDER THREATS: Combating the ENEMY within your organization," sums up the spirit of the program: "It is better to have reported overzealously than never to have reported at all."

To read the rest, in which I compare the Leak Scare to earlier fears, go here.

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  1. “Washington is petrified of itself.”

    Welcome to our world, Washington.

    1. Hey, if they haven;t done anything wrong, why should they worry?

    1. Ooh, too slow.

    2. I was thinking more along the lines of “Loose lips sink Shits.”

  2. BOOOSHH!!!

    Wait…2011…I’m sure still inspired by BOOOSHH!!!

    FWIW…Jesse’s not the first to comment on this. Googling “Insider Threat Program” brings up a bunch of other commentary, including this from Conor Friedersdorf.

    BOOOSHH!!!

  3. Nothing is more dangerous to government than people with a conscience.

  4. OT: Has anyone checked out Levin’s new book? Some interesting ideas.

    FTA: One of the Liberty Amendments “sunsets” all federal departments and agencies, unless Congress reauthorizes them every three years by majority vote. Every big-ticket Executive Branch regulation would be subjected to review by a joint congressional committee. This amendment would pull the plug on the unstoppable federal bureaucracy, forcing every department to perpetually justify its existence, and terminating President Obama’s beloved practice of circumventing Congress to legislate by decree.

    Another Liberty Amendment likewise reins in the judicial branch, setting term limits for Supreme Court justices, and giving Congress the power to override Supreme Court opinions with a three-fifths vote, without risk of presidential veto. Three-fifths of the state legislatures can also join forces to knock down a Court decision.

    1. A sunset amendment sounds good, though you have to wonder if Congress would just circumvent it by passing some sort of “continuing resolution” bill every year.

      1. We’re lucky that the Founders prevented a standing army by limiting funding to two years.

        1. I’m also glad they thought to protect free speech and the right to bear arms. Man, were they smart!

    2. Connor did not mention the craziest part of Obama’s Insider Threat Program, which is that bureaucrats can be fired and prosecuted for not reporting suspicious behavior.

      1. If you see something, say something. Or else.

        Which of course turns into “if you see anything, say something”, with a side of “if you don’t like your coworker, ‘see’ something and say something. “

      2. so at last, there is a means through which a bureaucrat can be fired. But does fired mean what teh rest of us think it means, or does it mean suspended with full pay and benefits pending reassignment to another post when the heat blows over?

        1. See: “purges” comment below. It all depends on who’s in charge, which is exactly how authoriarians want it.

    3. Texas has a Sunset Amendment. I can assure you that they work around it. It also leads to some corruption because the only way to keep your contracts renewed every two years is to make sure you have a legislator in your pocket to push it through.

  5. Let the purges begin!

  6. A look back at the Office of the President Elect…..still viewable online at http://change.gov/agenda/ethics_agenda/

    “Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process. “

    1. Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process .

  7. Now that’s some alt-text. You may need some lube, Jesse.

  8. Isn’t this the exact reason Assange gave for setting up wikileaks?

    See

    http://cryptome.org/0002/ja-conspiracies.pdf

    Basically he posited that modern governments are essentially conspiracies, and leaks make such conspiracies too suspicious of its members and in the effort to plug the leaks, the conspiracy would clog up its own decision making data path.

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