White House Advances Insider Threat Policy

11.26.12 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

In a memorandum to agency heads last week, President Obama transmitted formal requirements that agencies must meet in order “to deter, detect, and mitigate actions by employees who may represent a threat to national security.”

Along with espionage and acts of violence, the National Insider Threat Policy notably extends to the “unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including the vast amounts of classified data available on interconnected United States Government computer networks.” To combat such unauthorized disclosures, agencies are required to “monitor employee use of classified networks.”

The new standards, which have not been made publicly available [update: now available here], were developed by an interagency Insider Threat Task Force that was established by President Obama in the October 2011 executive order 13587, and they reflect the ongoing tightening of safeguards on classified information in response to the voluminous leaks of the last few years.

But the latest issuance also illustrates the superfluousness (or worse) of current congressional action concerning leaks.  Executive branch agencies do not need Congress to tell them to develop “a comprehensive insider threat program management plan,” as would be required by the Senate version of the pending FY2013 Intelligence Authorization Act (section 509).  Such plans will go forward in any case.

Sen. Ron Wyden has placed a hold on the pending intelligence bill, citing objections to several of the proposed anti-leak provisions contained in Title V of the bill. He said the proposed steps were misguided or counterproductive.

“I am concerned that they will lead to less-informed public debate about national security issues, and also undermine the due process rights of intelligence agency employees, without actually enhancing national security,” he said on November 14.  (See related coverage from FDL, POGO, LAT.)

The most problematic measures in the Senate bill are those intended to restrict contacts between reporters and government officials.

Senator Wyden said that legislative actions to limit the ability of the press to report on classified matters could undermine or cripple the intelligence oversight process.

“I have been on the Senate Intelligence Committee for 12 years now, and I can recall numerous specific instances where I found out about serious government wrongdoing–such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, or the CIA’s coercive interrogation program–only as a result of disclosures by the press,” he said.

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The record of a July 2012 House Judiciary Committee hearing on National Security Leaks and the Law has recently been published.