Big Brother: Coming to a Federal Government Agency Near You
George Orwell published his seminal novel Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, predicting the future in thirty-four years. The story takes place in a country fueled by perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public mind-control by a political system under the authority of a privileged 1% corporate oligarchy. The 1% penalizes independent thinking known as "thoughtcrimes" and citizens who would be identified today as whistleblowers. Orwell’s national security state is headed by a party leader named Big Brother. This leader enjoys a cult of personality, commands unconditional loyalty and considers any dissent as a threat to national sovereignty. Sound familiar?
Mark Twain once remarked that "Truth is stranger than fiction…because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t." Many critics of US domestic and foreign policy are noting the Orwellian similarities between the current administration’s war on whistleblowers and the one envisioned by Orwell, except that one is fiction and the other is reality for U.S. citizens in the year 2013.
Two years before Edward Snowden courageously exposed NSA wide-spread phone surveillance against US citizens and foreign countries, Pvt. Bradley Manning, currently facing trial at Fort Mead, allegedly downloaded hundreds of thousands of documents from a classified computer network and provided them to Wikileaks. In response to Manning’s exposure of "Big Brother," President Obama signed an Executive Order on October 2011 initiating an historic sweeping "Big Brother" program in the federal government known as the Insider Threat Program (ITP.) Except for the McClatchy news organization, the ITP has received virtually no attention from the mainstream corporate media, yet it has the potential to make the government abuses profiled in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four look amateurish.
"The Insider Threat Program Except has received virtually no attention from the mainstream corporate media."
The Insider Threat Program seeks to identify potential whistleblowers beforeinformation is leaked to the public and to coerce federal employees to participate in the program, through a cocktail of incentives and ham-fisted fear tactics.
The Insider Programs’ reach exceeds US national security bureaucracies to include most federal agencies, such as, the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration, Agriculture and Education. By Executive Order, the Administration has turned the federal government into an environment where every employee is responsible for "turning in" any co-worker suspected of suspicious behavior, similar to what happened during the Nazi regime of turning in your neighbors and colleagues. Documents reviewed by McClatchy reveal that the Insider program pits employees against contractor and vice versa by reporting "high-risk persons or behaviors’ among colleagues or they could face penalties for not reporting them, including being charged criminally. Leaks to the media, such as those to Wikileaks, are equated with espionage."
According to the McClatchy report, the Department of Education has informed its workforce that employees going through difficult life experiences such as stress, divorce, financial problems or frustrated with co-workers or the organization must be reported to appropriate authorities. Essentially, the program provides a green light for everyone to spy on each other with the caveat that managers and obviously the president are excluded from profiling criteria. Federal agencies are establishing "Insider Threat" offices to implement and oversee the Executive Order. Employees are mandated to report their co-workers’ lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors, including working after official duty hours or travel. Managers of the Insider Threat offices will have access to employee personnel and financial records, and disciplinary reports. Critics have charged that millions of dollars have already been wasted on attempts to develop behavior indicators to implement the program.
"Leaks to the media, such as those to Wikileaks, are equated with espionage."
A prime example is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA,) which has spent over $800 million dollars and employs 2,800 people as "behavior detection officers" to identify potential terrorist in US airports. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General’s Report in May 2013 stated that this strategy was a failure. "TSA cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively…"
In fact, the psychological measures currently used have not proven to be useful or effective. The goal of the Insider Threat program is to predict which present and future employees might have the courage and conviction to warn fellow citizens of dangers in the food supply, environment, or public health. The program is designed to institutionalize workplace intimidation, create incentives and structures to induce suspicion and division among co-workers and finally to terminate employees who voice dissenting opinions or report corruption.
The ITP requires nearly 5 million federal employees and contractors with clearances to undergo training to identify "suspicious behavior." The U.S. Army has already expanded this program to include their entire workforce. The Insider Threat program is designed to instill fear and intimidation in the government and reward compliant employees for snitching on each other. No doubt, if this program is similar to other anti-whistleblower initiatives, employees will receive promotions, incentives and rewards for "turning in their " co-workers – making 1984 a reality instead of fiction. The Fear Factor and potential for abuse is incalculable and will sabotage any attempt by employees or labor unions to create solidarity among colleagues and eviscerate any semblance of a healthy and productive workplace.
"The Fear Factor and potential for abuse is incalculable."
In fact, the ITP has been compared to the East German secret police agency called Ministerium fur Staatsicherheit (Ministry for State Security) or Stasi. The Stasi was one of the most hated and feared institutions of the East German communist government, responsible for domestic political surveillance and institutionalized fear throughout the country. It fostered suspicion among colleagues, friends and tore families apart. The ITP is built on the framework and legacy on the Stasi. Eric Feldman, a former inspector general of the National Reconnaissance Office, a secret intelligence organization, was quoted by McClatchy as remarking: " The answer to (security leaks) is not to have a Stasi-like response. You’ve removed that firewall between employees seeking help and the threat that any employee who seeks help could be immediately retaliated against by this insider threat office."
A U.S. Defense Department memo dated June 1, 2012 outlines its "Stasi" strategy: "Hammer this fact home…leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States." Compare that strategic directive to President Obama’s stated commitment in his so-called support of whistleblowers. In January 2009, President Obama said: "I will also hold myself as president to a new standard of openness…Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstone of this presidency." Instead, over his tenure as president, we have hidden agendas, criminal prosecution of whistleblowers, and a program, the Insider Threat Program that eliminates the rights of American citizens to speak out against corruption and tyranny within their government and country.
This program provides us all with the opportunity to shine light on the hypocrisy and lies that have become the dominant narrative of this administration. This program needs to be rescinded if Americans are to retain any modicum of their rights under the Constitution. The Executive Order contradicts the spirit and letter of the 2002 No FEAR Act, a law that encourages federal employees to blow the whistle on corruption, racism and retaliation in the government. As George Orwell warned us:
"We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end." "Big Brother is Watching You."
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA is available through amazon.com and the National Whistleblower Center. Dr. Coleman-Adebayo worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a US multinational corporation that endangered vanadium mine workers. Marsha's successful lawsuit lead to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet.