Anti-Leak Brigade Seeks Occupational Code

Institutionalizing the Leak Scare.


Defense Security Service

In 2011, the Obama administration created the Insider Threat program—sort of a central office for stopping leaks. Now Nextgov notes a sign that the effort is settling in for the long haul:

"It's a privilege to work in that program. And the only reason that you are there is to help protect your colleagues, not to out them. So, we've got to professionalize that workforce of people who do this for a living," said Patricia Larsen, co-director of the National Insider Threat Task Force….

[T]here is no occupational series and pay scale for the insider threat profession. The task force is exploring whether a new occupational code might be warranted, Larsen told Nextgov.

I wrote about the Insider Threat initiative in a Washington Post piece last year, and I discussed it again in the afterword to the paperback edition of my book The United States of Paranoia. (*) Here is an excerpt from the latter:

My readers are legion.
Camilo Gómez

The initiative, which stretches across multiple departments, encourages federal employees and contractors to keep an eye on allegedly suspicious indicators in their co-workers' lives, from financial trouble to divorce. A brochure produced by the Defense Security Service, tellingly subtitled "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."

The word "espionage" appears ten times in that pamphlet, while "leak" isn't used even once. But that doesn't mean leakers aren't being targeted. The effort blurs the boundary between spies and whistleblowers: an agent of a foreign power is considered an "insider threat," and so is someone releasing information to the media. The program has been adopted in agencies that have little or nothing to do with national security, including the Social Security Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Education, and the Peace Corps. A tutorial for Agriculture Department employees includes a long list of "examples of behaviors that may indicate an individual has vulnerabilities that are of security concern," ranging from sleeping at his desk to expressing "bizarre thoughts, perceptions, or expectations." The list was imported, word for word, from a Defense Department document.

Whether or not this exercise in profiling can identify potential leakers, it isn't likely to stop leaks. As the security specialist Bruce Schneier wrote in 2010, after the WikiLeaks website started to publish thousands of classified State Department cables, "The government is learning what the music and movie industries were forced to learn years ago: it's easy to copy and distribute digital files." Nearly five million federal employees or contractors have access to at least some of that secret information.

That creates a double bind: The more the government trusts someone with sensitive data, the more it has reason to fear that person. Trust breeds mistrust. It's the sort of situation that could make a person paranoid.

If they adopt a pay scale, I'll be curious to see it. Just to know how much such services are officially worth.