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.