Even before a former U.S.
intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans’ phone
records, the Obama administration was pressing a government-wide crackdown on
security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their
co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their
Actually, it is more like “if you sense something, say
President Barack Obama’s
unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in
its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond
the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and
agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration
and the Education and Agriculture departments.
The Peace Corps? What
possible national security issues are involved with the Peace Corps? Just kidding….
[Government documents] show how
millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for “high-risk persons
or behaviors” among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal
charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with
Criminal charges for failing to report? Espionage?
For leaking to the media the latest give-away to the agriculture
So why do I suggest this will be a great aid in stopping the
The program could make it easier
for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital
information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by
unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according
to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence
agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators”
that include stress, divorce and financial problems.
Toxic and poisoned work environments. Fantastic.
Poison is great at killing – in this case, killing bureaucratic action.
Imagine daily life in the worst of all bureaucracies – the
federal government. Pushing paper every
day, having no objective means by which to measure success, no concrete ways to
demonstrate individual performance, meetings with other bureaucrats all of whom
are doing nothing more than you are – waiting for lunch, waiting for the end of
the shift, counting the minutes. Whether
or not you accomplish anything at all in your workday is neither here nor
there. All that is truly required in your
position is to exist – and even this requirement is questionable.
What a miserable daily existence.
Your only relief might be to vent over a beer with a
co-worker – only someone in the same environment might understand the
frustration you feel. You can laugh
about the stupid things your boss did, or the ignorance on full display within
the recent memo from some unknown deputy-under-secretary-special-assistant of
bureaucratic affairs regarding respecting the diversity training of some
national or religious minority you never heard of.
How about attending a week-long training seminar on how to
use the latest departmental computer system?
You know the one – the one that hasn’t been implemented yet, replacing
the one that was never fully implemented even after seven years of consultant
Now your dumb boss – or beer-drinking co-worker – is
required to make a judgment on every statement you make:
Even inside an agency, one
manager’s disgruntled employee might become another’s threat to national
A disgruntled employee.
I guess such is not allowed in the federal government. Take the Department of Education, for
The Department of Education,
meanwhile, informs employees that co-workers going through “certain life
experiences . . . might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” Those
experiences, the department says in a computer training manual, include
“stress, divorce, financial problems” or “frustrations with co-workers or the
Frustrations with co-workers or the organization! This is the subject of after-work
conversations everywhere – for many, especially in heavy bureaucracies, such
conversation is the only pleasure they receive at all from their daily
existence. Now, for federal employees,
venting is the stuff of firing at best, and Guantanamo (or worse) at worst.
A Defense Security Service online
pamphlet lists a wide range of “reportable” suspicious behaviors, including
working outside of normal duty hours.
Now this actually makes sense as suspicious behavior – why would
anyone want to spend one minute longer than necessary in such a hell-hole?
What is left for the poor GS-6 pencil pusher, besides
waiting for a bump from step 4 to step 5?
Don’t talk to anyone, don’t look at anyone, don’t have a beer with
anyone, don’t visit any web sites, be polite and respectful to your boss and
peers all the time, agree with every decision, smile all of the time…except
when it is not appropriate to smile, look serious all of the time…except when
it is not appropriate to look serious.
“The real danger is that you get a
bland common denominator working in the government,” warned Ilana Greenstein, a
former CIA case officer who says she quit the agency after being falsely
accused of being a security risk.
Inherently, there is already a bland common denominator in
heavily bureaucratic organizations. What
we will now get is something worse (or better, depending on your point of
view): organizations at a complete standstill.
In any reasonably healthy environment, two things are
present: 1) the encouragement of open dialogue, including respect for
dissenting opinion, and 2) a tolerance for the venting of frustration. With the first, creativity is unleashed. With the second, small frustrations don’t
grow to become unmitigated explosions.
The federal government bureaucracies were already woefully
short on these.
For any who are looking for a covert reason behind the
Snowden affair, here is one – a perfect opportunity to put the fear of the
devil into every bureaucrat.
I say HOORAY!