President Obama’s Insider Threat Program, instituted in 2011 as a response to Bradley Manning, essentially orders all federal employees to behaviorally profile their colleagues and report any ‘suspicious’ actions.

While much attention has been paid to the program’s Orwellian nature – employees who fail to report ‘suspicious’ activities of co-workers can face criminal charges – little attention has been paid to the actual techniques that underlie the program itself.

Security investigations can be launched against a federal worker if colleagues identify and report actions that seem to be less than normal. And what actions are these? McClatchy explains:

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.” Managers of special insider threat offices will have “regular, timely, and, if possible, electronic, access” to employees’ personnel, payroll, disciplinary and “personal contact” files, as well as records of their use of classified and unclassified computer networks, polygraph results, travel reports and financial disclosure forms.”

Not surprisingly, this reflexive response in the name of ‘national security’ – while strikingly broad – is based upon techniques and methods that are unproven, techniques likely to result in privacy violations and illegal profiling while failing to identify future leakers.

Like the NSA’s overly-broad and unconstitutional (in my view) surveillance infrastructure, created in the name of national security, the only thing Insider Threat appears to have done is increase the threats of government abuse by ordering millions of federal employees to profile their co-workers and report ‘suspicious’ activities. To protect us from the ‘enemy,’ our government is becoming the enemy by focusing on breadth rather than depth.

McClatchy’s latest report seems to agree that Insider Threat is likely not to work, precisely because it is based on unfounded principles:

Even the government’s top scientific advisers have questioned these techniques. Those experts say that trying to predict future acts through behavioral monitoring is unproven and could result in illegal ethnic and racial profiling and privacy violations.

“There is no consensus in the relevant scientific community nor on the committee regarding whether any behavioral surveillance or psychological monitoring techniques are ready for use at all,” concluded a 2008 National Research Council report on defecting terrorists.

The Obama administration has turned millions of federal workers into mandated, behavioral profiling specialists, ordering them to report colleagues whose actions raise supposed red flags.

But like the NSA’s broad and absurd list of words that trigger one to be on a watch list, Insider Threat’s list of psychological and behavioral actions federal employees are to look out for will do nothing but net more innocent citizens.

Security can no longer be a justification for these programs. Not just because they violate our rights as Americans. But also because they will not work.

Follow David Harris-Gershon on Twitter @David_EHG


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