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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

White House "Insider Threat" Memo Will Silence Whistleblowers

Jesselyn Radack, November 27, 2012

Last week, the White House issued a little noticed memorandum on "insider threats" instructing a taskforce to conjure up programs that will

. . . 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 the memo, "threats to national security"

. . . encompass potential espionage, violent acts against the Government or the Nation, and unauthorized disclosure of classified information, . . .

Props to Steven Aftergood of Federation of American Scientists and Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake for paying attention.

The memo serves to reinforce the Obama administration's woeful confusion of whistleblowing with espionage. (See the now-collapsed Espionage Act cases against whistleblowers Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou).

The memo is completely redundant as agencies already have internal policies on classified information and secrecy agreements. Meaning, these "insider threat" programs will more likely be used as a pretext for targeting whistleblowers who are - as Drake did - using proper channels to report government waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, mismanagement, or dangers to health and public safety than they will be used to stop actual threats to national security.

The memo equates dislcosure of classified information with "violent acts against the government" and "Espionage," a certainly inapt and chilling comparison considering:

  1. that all experts agree that the classification system is broken and hopelessly plagued by overclassification,
  2. that the Obama administration made the mistake in the case of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Drake of prosecuting a whistleblower for Espionage in connection with mishandling classified information, only to have the case collapse when it turned out none of the supposedly-classified information was in fact properly kept secret, and
  3. that an employee taking violent acts to overthrow the government or conducting Espionage of the Aldrich Ames or Robert Hanssen variety is a rare occurrence whereas classified information appears on the front pages of national newspapers daily.

There is properly classified information that should be kept secret. However, such massive and systematic overclassification undermines our Democracy by depriving the public of being fully informed of their government's actions and such excessive and unnecessary secrecy is a far greater threat to our national security than "insider threats" from employees.

If the government was interested in protecting security rather than silencing whistleblowers, it would focus its considerable energy and resources on curbing overclassification rather than targeting employees with "programs" that will no doubt chill legitimate speech activities and go after those who dare to blow the whistle.

This post originally appeared on Radack's Daily Kos blog.

Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.