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  • News Item

    WASHINGTON — 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 suspicions.

    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. It emphasizes leaks of classified material, but catchall definitions of “insider threat” give agencies latitude to pursue and penalize a range of other conduct.

    Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material. They also 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 espionage.

    more . . .
  • Scene: A small, messy office in a nondescript government building in Washington D.C.

    "Tammy, last week at our one-on-one you mentioned that you thought the reason why David had stopped participating in meetings was that he was depressed. Is that what you still think?"

    "Yes, Peter, he is pretty down in the dumps. It's pretty understandable, though."

    "So what's your understanding, Tammy?"

    "David is going through a lot with his divorce and dealing with his kids around that. It isn't hard to understand how that might preoccupy him."

    "So, Tammy, Do you see any specific signs of stress?"

    "I'm not sure I like where this conversation is going, Peter. Anything David told me is between he and I. As long as he hasn't screwed up, I don't think there's anything to talk about."

    "Believe me, Tammy, I only want to help David. But to do that, I need more information about his troubles. For instance, has his wife tried to get a restraining order?"

    "I can't say. You would need to ask the court about that."

    "Do you mean you don't know or you don't want to say, Tammy? This is important. You are obliged to try to help."

    "What do you mean, Peter? Try to help David or try to help the Department?"

    "Helping the Department can do more for David more than anything you could do alone. It is, I need to remind you, your legal obligation to tell us what you know about David's situation. His condition could become unstable he could and harm himself, his friends and family, or the citizens of the United States."

    "Take it from me, David isn't a danger to anyone. So I'm sorry, Peter. I just can't betray any confidences. I hope you understand."

    "Yes, Tammy, I do. But David could be vulnerable to forces bent on harming our nation. That's why I must know what is going on. Since you are a witness to the situation, I need your cooperation. So please, what signs of stress or unusual behavior have you seen in David?"

    "I just told you, Peter. That's not anyone else's business. What part of personal privacy don't you understand?"

    "What I understand is that we may have an unstable co-worker that could become unreliable and could compromise The Department's mission. We have procedures for investigating such things, which you should be aware of. If you will not tell me what you know about what David has been saying and doing, I will have to report that you are impeding this process."

    "Peter, you have been my supervisor for what – two years now? I can't believe you would threaten me like this? What is going on?"

    "Tammy, I consider both you and David to be very valuable employees. But we both know that personal dilemmas can create serious problems for The Department and we are obligated to investigate them when they come to light. Please help us out here."

    "… and if I don't?"

    "Let's not go there. The training you had not long ago should have sufficed to inform you what your responsibilities are. Are you saying you choose not to cooperate?"

    "Umm no. I'm saying that ethically, I can't betray information that I said I would keep secret. If that were classified government information, I would be prosecuted if I revealed it. Why is this any different?"

    "What makes it different, Tammy, is that your legal obligations trump your ethical ones. So, if you choose to remain silent, I am obliged to report that you are an uncooperative witness to possible malfeasance. What happens next is out of my hands."

    "That's just great, Peter. So now it's illegal to refuse to snitch on a colleague. Welcome to 1984. Do you love Big Brother yet?"

    "That will be all, Tammy. I gotta go."
  • The foregoing dialog is fiction. It is not intended to represent any actual persons, living or dead. However, the message is real: If you are a government worker who has any personal problems, think twice before confiding your troubles to a colleague, lest you both get in hot water . . .

    Furthermore, the following images are not made up. They come from a Department of Defense brochure (see "Why is the Insider Threat significant?" on this page) that tells employees how to spot potential saboteurs and how important that is. You can see how seriously DoD regards "insider threats" and equates leaking with spying. Other federal agencies are not far behind.

    Loose lips sink careers.
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