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Insider Threat Program

President Barack Obama Cracks Down on Whistleblowers and Leakers

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Barrack Obama, SOTU 2009

President Barack Obama issued a wide-ranging crackdown on leakers of classified information in 2011.

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President Barack Obama's Insider Threat program is an attempt to monitor federal employees across most U.S. government agencies and crack down on leaks of classified information in what the White House described as a vital national security measure.

Related Article: Edward Snowden Espionage Case

Insider Threat was designed to root out espionage, planned violent acts against the government or the United States, and prevent the unauthorized disclosure of classified information stored on government computer networks.

"The resulting insider threat capabilities will strengthen the protection of classified information across the executive branch and reinforce our defenses against both adversaries and insiders who misuse their access and endanger our national security," Obama wrote in a November 2012 presidential memorandum.

What Insider Threat Does

Federal employees across most departments and agencies are supposed to keep an eye on their coworkers for any "high-risk persons or behaviors," according to government documents obtained and reported on by the McClatchy news service.

Government workers who spot such employees or behavior, or know that classified information is being leaked to members of the media or public, and fail to report them to their supervisors could face criminal charges. Some agencies told their employees that stress, divorce and financial problems could prompt workers to leak information.

Related Article: Executive Actions Versus Executive Orders

The Insider Threat program operates on the belief that employees of the government with access to sensitive information have caused more damage to national security in the United States than have specially train foreign agents working against the country. The program signaled Obama administration's belied that leaking classified information is as serious an offense as treason.

Criticism of Insider Threat

The McClatchy news service reported that it had found evidence some federal agencies were going after the disclosure of any material, not just classified data or information as prohibited by the Insider Threat program.

Such behavior raised concerns that Insider Threat would discourage whistleblowers from coming forward with information about government waste or discourage the release of public information. The program has also been described as a "snitch program" that fosters a toxic workplace environment.

History of Insider Threat

The Insider Threat program emerged from the leak of classified material to WikiLeaks. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst, is accused of providing hundreds of thousands of documents to the group.

What the Obama Administration Says

The Obama administration's crackdown on leakers was widely known by the time the American public was made aware of Insider Threat. Speaking at a 2013 news conference Obama told reporters:

"Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. I make no apologies, and I don't think the American people would expect me as commander in chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

What Insider Threat Considers to be Questionable Behavior

The Defense Security Service listed the following behaviors as being "potential espionage indicators" that federal workers should be on the look out for:

  • Failure to report overseas travel or contact with foreign nationals
  • Seeking to gain higher clearance or expand access outside the job scope
  • Engaging in classified conversations without a need to know
  • Working hours inconsistent with job assignment or insistence on working in private
  • Repeated security violations
  • Attempting to enter areas not granted access to

Authority for Insider Threat Program

President Obama created the Insider Threat program through an executive order designed to improve the security of government computer networks. The order also directed federal departments and agencies with classified networks to develop program to detect potential leakers.

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