Appropriate Reading and Viewing for Obama’s Surveillance State

McClatchy Newspapers has obtained information about an Obama administration initiative called the Insider Threat program, under which federal employees are required to report “suspicious” behavior by their co-workers. The program is aimed at stopping leaks and security violations. According to the article, the program is not limited to defense-related agencies, but includes a wide range of Federal departments including the Department of Education and the Peace Corps. Federal employees and contractors are asked to pay particular attention to the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors – like financial troubles, odd working hours or unexplained travel – of co-workers as a way to predict whether they might do “harm to the United States.” The FBI’s insider threat guide lists “a desire to help the ‘underdog’” as one of the alarming behaviors managers should watch out for in potential leakers. Those who fail to report such “high-risk” behaviors, according to the McClatchy article, could face penalties, including criminal charges. What the legal warrant for such criminal charges might be, I can’t imagine, but this administration does not appear to worry overmuch about legality when it wants to apply intimidation.

Writing in Forbes, James Poulos says:

For left-leaning writer David Sirota, training the attention of little brother on the intimate details of his fellow worker’s “lifestyles” and “attitudes” smacks of  McCarthyism. For me, I’m picking up Stalinist vibes. It’s not just the state’s effort to burrow into the spaces between humans that keep us human. It’s the effort to assert state control over all aspects of time in addition to space — not just the present, but the future, hoovering up the metaphorical breadcrumbs trailing back from what we will do and who we will be to what we’re doing and who we are.

I would urge everyone who has not already seen it to watch the movie The Lives of Others…set in East Germany during the era of Communist totalitarianism…to get an idea of what the fully-developed surveillance state looks and feels like from the inside and what it does to human beings. Also read Anna Funder’s excellent book Stasiland…I reviewed it here. For a science fiction view of the technologically-enabled surveillance state, see Poul Anderson’s short story My Name it is Sam Hall, which I reviewed here.

If Obama read Stasiland, he evidently thought it was an instruction manual. If he read Sam Hall, he probably thought it was an IT development plan. And if he saw The Lives of Others, he must have thought it was a training video.

It is increasingly clear that when Barack Obama spoke about “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” one of the transformations he had in mind was the constraining of human liberty on almost every possible dimension.

The McClatchy link is via the excellent blog Common Sense & Wonder.


15 thoughts on “Appropriate Reading and Viewing for Obama’s Surveillance State”

  1. I’m sure that should a Republican president be elected, the new president will conserve Obama’s policies.

  2. Please remember “Going Postal” has been a verb describing work place violence for some time.

    The “Insider Threat” program kicked off after Major Hassan shot up all those soldiers at Ft Hood. It was intended to be a politically correct way of looking for Muslims about to suffer “Sudden Jihadi Syndrome.”

    The Wikileaks, Federal Gunrunning (AKA Fast & Furious), NSA wistleblower and IRS Tea Party abuse cases have morphed it into a snitch on your fellow civil servant program.

  3. No formal “Insider Threat” program was required to identify the danger from Hassan. His attitudes were so blatant and so open that in a rationally-managed organization, he would have been identified as a likely very bad actor and removed. The problem was that people were so afraid of having their careers damaged by accusations of “Islamophobia” that they didn’t dare say anything.

    Thus, control and intimidation breeds MORE control and intimidation.

  4. I was thinking of that CIA turncoat whose lifestyle was so blatantly over his paygrade & it was missed by the CIA.

    but in Obama’s case it seems he is trying to burn down the forest to find a misguided tree.

    All of his affronts aside can you imagine how apoplectic the Left would be had the hated George Bush don’t half of this stuff?

  5. So . . . is it too early to file a report? And who do I file a report with if the ultimate “Insider Threat” to the United States is the President, his DOJ (see Judicial Watch report), the IRS, the NSA, ATF, etc.?

  6. Obama does love getting people to snitch on each other, doesn’t he? I think there’ve been three snitch sites already. There was Attack Watch, and the one asking us to report people who said bad things about Obamacare, and I think there was a third.

    All those sites died quickly, overwhelmed by mockery. So now he is trying to start a whispering campaign instead of a website. The good news:he can actually learn from his mistakes. Who’d a thunk it?

  7. I do work in defense programs, and at Death Star, Inc., it’s been pretty routine for our annual security briefer to remind us that financial troubles, odd work hours, and unusual travel are red flags. However, I’ve never heard concern for the underdog mentioned — I think it would get the briefer laughed out of the auditorium.

    Amazing to see these things pushed outside of defense programs.

    And I hate to say it, but *any* security program is going to be only as good as the people running it. If they are free to follow their hunches, but are also free to recognize that someone “snitching” has an axe to grind and is unreliable, you *may* get decent and balanced security.

  8. “I’m sure that should a Republican president be elected, the new president will conserve Obama’s policies.”

    I’m sure the left is confident that will never happen; especially if the immigration bill is passed and signed.

  9. It’s ironic that Forbes’ Sirota refers to McCarthyism as if it were a bad thing. It would have been a bad thing if communists were forthright and played the political game openly….or at least as openly as the contemporary Dems and Republicans.

    Twenty-some years before McCarthyism one communist sleeper-mole, a general in the right place, at the right time, took his clandestine orders from Moscow and allowed Mao to become supreme and to continue murdering and consolidating his power in China. It’s easy to imagine that we’re infested with them.

  10. David – I have some liberal artistic friends who I loaned my copy of the Lives Of Others – never head back from them. But as far as depiction I think it really portrayed the DDR as an utterly soulless and hopeless place.

  11. Tyouth…on McCarthyism…even if there had actually been witches in the witch-burning times, it still would have been bad to deal with the problem via widespread hysteria and groundless denunciations.

    There clearly *were* quite a few Communists and sympathizers in important government and other influential position, as the Venona intercepts demonstrate; still, the climate in which accusations were taken as guilt was quite corrosive.

    An interesting example is provided by Tom Watson Jr of IBM. The incident involved the window blinds that Watson had in his office:

    These were vertical blinds, which were not common at the time. An engineer who was in Watson’s office for a meeting made a sketch of the blinds, and inadvertently left it in his shirt pocket when he took the shirt to the dry cleaner. The laundry man thought the paper looked suspicious, and sent it to McCarthy. Pretty soon, a group of investigators came and said to the engineer, “We’ve identified this as a plan for a radar antenna, and want to hear about it. We want to be perfectly fair. But we know it is a radar antenna and the shirt it was found in belongs to you.”

    The engineer explained about the vertical blinds, and the investigation team then asked to see Watson. The chief executive officer of IBM showed them the blinds and demonstrated the way they worked.

    “They looked them over very carefully and then left. I thought I had contained it, but I wasn’t sure, and I was scared. We were working on SAGE (the computerized air defense system–ed) and it would have been a hell of a way to lose our security clearance.”

    Shortly thereafter, Watson spoke at a meeting of influential businessmen, and suggested that they should all use their persuasive skills to try to damp down the hysteria a bit. No one said anything. But later, Watson received notes from several of them saying they agree…they were just afraid to say anything in public.

    Isn’t this a lot like the climate of intimidation which the “politically correct” crowd is trying (and substantially succeeding) to establish today?

  12. Maybe David, although Mr. Watson, I assume, came through unscathed. The unrelenting nature of Stalin’s covert machinations surely called for some public and harsh measures. It may be that the act of shining a light on the duplicity and naivety of some citizens educated (or propagandized, if one must) or raised the consciousness of the rest of us for a couple of generations. Although I’m not a student of those times, I suspect that the left has to a large extent successfully made heroes out of dupes.

    Some victims in recent headlines have not been and will not be so lucky. I am struck though by the notion that, in the 1950s the subversives (and potential subversives) were being investigated vs the 2010s when, it seems to me, the subversives are the investigators.

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