Secrecy News

Insider Threat Policy Equates Leakers, Spies, Terrorists

A national policy on “insider threats” was developed by the Obama Administration in order to protect against actions by government employees who would harm the security of the nation.  But under the rubric of insider threats, the policy subsumes the seemingly disparate acts of spies, terrorists, and those who leak classified information.

The insider threat is defined as “the threat that an insider will use his/her authorized access, wittingly or unwittingly, to do harm to the security of the United States.  This threat can include damage to the United States through espionage, terrorism, [or] unauthorized disclosure of national security information,” according to the newly disclosed National Insider Threat Policy, issued in November 2012.

One of the implications of aggregating spies, terrorists and leakers in a single category is that the nation’s spy-hunters and counterterrorism specialists can now be trained upon those who are suspected of leaking classified information.

The National Insider Threat Policy directs agencies to “leverag[e] counterintelligence (CI), security, information assurance, and other relevant functions and resources to identify and counter the insider threat.”

“Agency heads shall ensure personnel assigned to the insider threat program are fully trained in… counterintelligence and security fundamentals….”

Agency heads are directed to grant insider threat program personnel access to “all relevant databases and files” needed to identify, analyze, and resolve insider threat matters.

The National Insider Threat Policy was developed by the Insider Threat Task Force that was established in 2011 by executive order 13587.  The Policy document itself was issued by the White House via Presidential Memorandum on November 21, 2012 but it was not publicly released until last week.

The document was disclosed by the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX) after it was independently obtained and reported by Jonathan Landay and Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers. (“Obama’s crackdown views leaks as aiding enemies of U.S.,” June 20, 2013).

“The National Insider Threat Policy policy is intended to provide direction and guidance to promote the development of effective insider threat programs within departments and agencies to deter, detect, and mitigate actions by employees who may represent a threat to national security,” according to NCIX.

Among the activities mandated by the National Insider Threat Policy is the routine monitoring of user activity on classified government computer networks. “This refers to audit data collection strategies for insider threat detection, leveraging hardware and/or software with triggers deployed on classified networks to detect, monitor, and analyze anomalous user behavior for indicators of misuse.”

But a different sort of approach to combating leaks — an approach not represented in the Insider Threat Policy — would require an ongoing critical examination of the scope and application of official secrecy.  This view was articulated by the late Senator Daniel P. Moynihan when he said “If you want a secret respected, see that it’s respectable in the first place.”

“The best way to ensure that secrecy is respected, and that the most important secrets remain secret,” Sen. Moynihan said, “is for secrecy to be returned to its limited but necessary role. Secrets can be protected more effectively if secrecy is reduced overall.”

3 thoughts on “Insider Threat Policy Equates Leakers, Spies, Terrorists

  1. This is where the terrorism bugaboo was heading from the beginning. It’s a template for all tyrannical governments to equate political opposition with security threats. How else to delegitimate a political argument you feel you cannot win? To Senator Moynihan, who is right, I would still say, “Good luck with that.” The government’s behavior, its fear, of democracy will not go away, unfortunately. The impulse to gain and hold power cannot be relied on to be rational, magnanimous, or charitable, or to approach controversy with a decent respect for the opinions of humankind. The government, the establishment, what have you, is opposing itself, its interests, to those of the general public, the people. Here we go again. It’s sad.

  2. “The government, the establishment, what have you, is opposing itself, its interests, to those of the general public, the people.” Indeed – the people need answers as what the Obama Administration is doing about such growing problems as crumbling infrastructure (2.4 trillion required to repair infrastructure which can hold up to climate change) or poverty (46 million American below the poverty line). America has reached a point, IMO, where it can no longer afford to continue the vicious cycle of war = create new enemies = new war of which Insider Threat Policy is but a reaction. What’s next? Will the people be asked to move large stones for the creation of Easter Island statues? Simply put, America needs to progress toward the end of war and start building ‘World Peace I’. To paraphrase Star Trek – America needs to send out a distress signal while there is still time.

  3. I believe that the gist of Daniel Moynihan’s warning was that if Government can not get a handle on restricting its own Intelligence programs, limiting the scope and direction to what we can all agree reasonably ought to be made secret to preserve our capability to deter threats to our own way of life and values, then we’ll succumb to less privacy freedom for everyone. One start would be for the United States to reduce our global military commitments to the minimum necessary. This will take a far greater, wider public conversation on what kind of role that the United States ought to play in the world as democratic partner without hegemony.

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