On the day before Thanksgiving with little or no media attention, President Obama wrote a memorandum, which is an unofficial directive, to the “heads of executive departments and agencies” that addresses “insider threats.” While the corporate media has largely ignored this memo, there has recently been much speculation in alternative media as to why Obama felt the need to address insider threats at this time.
The subject heading of the memo is “National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs.” It is short enough to reprint in its entirety:
This Presidential Memorandum transmits the National Insider Threat Policy and Minimum Standards for Executive Branch Insider Threat Programs (Minimum Standards) to provide direction and guidance to 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. These threats encompass potential espionage, violent acts against the Government or the Nation, and unauthorized disclosure of classified information, including the vast amounts of classified data available on interconnected United States Government computer networks and systems.
The Minimum Standards provide departments and agencies with the minimum elements necessary to establish effective insider threat programs. These elements include the capability to gather, integrate, and centrally analyze and respond to key threat-related information; monitor employee use of classified networks; provide the workforce with insider threat awareness training; and protect the civil liberties and privacy of all personnel.
The resulting insider threat capabilities will strengthen the protection of classified information across the executive branch and reinforce our defenses against both adversaries and insiders who misuse their access and endanger our national security.
Much of the speculation regarding this memo is a result of the brevity and ambiguous wording. For example, what exactly defines an “insider threat” and why are “violent acts against the Government or the Nation” mentioned? Recent events raise even more questions. After a closer look at some of the theories regarding why Obama felt the need to write this now, readers can draw their own conclusions.
This memo obviously urges an expansion of powers granted to the Insider Threat Task Force that was created by an executive order in October 2011, ten months after Army Private Bradley Manning retrieved roughly 250,000 diplomatic cables from a government computer and turned them over to Wikileaks. Bradley Manning is facing hearings this week that could lead to him being imprisoned for life, after already being imprisoned is solitary confinement since May 2010. If that is not enough of a deterrent for whistleblowers in the military, what is?
Jesselyn Radack, writing for the DailyKOS, correctly points out that this memo “serves to reinforce the Obama administration’s woeful confusion of whistleblowing with espionage [and]…is completely redundant as agencies already have internal policies on classified information and secrecy agreements.”
Radack continues to advance the theory that the memo is meant to stifle whistleblowers like Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou. Yet she once again correctly notes that “the memo equates disclosure of classified information with ‘violent acts against the government’ and ‘espionage,’ a certainly inapt and chilling comparison considering that…an employee taking violent acts to overthrow the government or conducting espionage…is a rare occurrence whereas classified information appears on the front pages of national newspapers daily.”
In fact, the New York Times pointed out last year that anywhere from 50 percent to 90 percent of classified documents could safely be made public.
Kevin Gosztola, who has been following the Bradley Manning case, appeared on RT with a similar assessment (see video). “During the clip, I point out the policy is extraneous as it is already official policy for national security agency employees to not release classified information without proper authorization. This adds another layer of procedures meant to chill speech and whistleblowing.”
Gosztala takes it one step further when writes, “it is an indication that the Obama administration, which prosecuted more whistleblowers or leakers in the past four years under the Espionage Act than any other previous administration, has a disposition against the free flow of information.”
It is quite possible that Obama wrote the memo with Manning’s case and other whistleblowers in mind, yet many speculate that there is much more to it. Obviously, none of these whistleblowers were plotting violent acts against the nation and it is a safe assumption that a President who is an ex-constitutional law professor can make a distinction between whistleblowing, espionage and violent acts against the nation.
Expansion of executive powers
Beginning with the Bush administration, there has been a rapid expansion of executive powers in government and the Obama administration has continued that trend with unprecedented bills such as the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1867) and the Federal Restricted Building and Grounds Improvement Act (HR 347). It is a legitimate concern that the insider threat memo is a directive authorizing a further expansion of executive powers.
David Hagmann, writing for the Canada Free Press, makes some good points when he interprets Obama’s memo in a broader perspective. Like others, he points out the ambiguity in the wording and acknowledges that it could just be geared at stopping leaks. Hagmann, however, takes note of a key word in the memo. The word is “centrally,” and when it is considered in the context of Obama’s agenda seen being implemented over the last four years, it is chilling:
The key to understanding this memorandum is to understand that we are witnessing the greatest consolidation of power and control under the Executive branch of the government in recent U.S. history. This process creates a closed system of surveillance that cannot be easily penetrated by other branches of…government. Accordingly, it becomes a self-policing network that has the ability to silence critics and individuals opposing a particular agenda or activity, even if such dissent is lawful…it gives Barack Hussein Obama the ability to redefine what constitutes a threat to the government, including treason. It is he, not laws enacted by congress or the workings of the judicial branch, who will now determine who and what constitutes an ‘insider threat.’
It is the very essence of ‘Big Brother’ within the government itself. Everyone needs to wake up and understand exactly what’s happening not only in the U.S., but across the world. We are witnessing the consolidation of power that historically precedes a war for absolute control.
Hagmann’s analysis encompasses the stifling of whistleblowers and takes it a step further to the stifling of any dissent within government agencies. Like Gosztala and Radack, he acknowledges the ambiguity in the wording. Unlike both, however, he fails to mention that the mechanisms for stifling whistleblowers and any form of dissent were already in place before this memo was written. So, the question still remains, why would Obama feel the need to write this memo now?
Real insider threats
The words “violent acts against the government or the nation” have rang the alarm bells of several writers who have covered this memo. Most seem to think they are out of context with the insider threats vaguely described in the memo. But that may not be the case. President Obama may be beginning to feel threatened by not only people within his administration, but also by people in this country.
One context to put that into is that President Obama has received more death threats than any President in U.S. history. At least two blogs have referenced Secret Service sources that say death threats to the President have increased by over 400 percent since Obama took office in 2008 and amount to about 30 per day. That’s 43,830 death threats for his first four years alone. Of course, that is impossible to verify because the media and not even the President is made aware of all threats against him. As the Secret Service says, “the sheer number would be overwhelming and, frankly, distracting.”
Combined with the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the spike in gun sales after the election, and many who have signed petitions for secession, the words “violent acts” and “insider threats” make more sense. Some writers, such as Gordon Duff writing for Press TV, have gone as far as to claim that Obama’s memo may be a preemptive response to an Israeli assassination attempt or an effort by AIPAC-backed groups to overthrow the U.S. government. Whether or not real threats of violence are from domestic insiders or foreign infiltrators, they cannot sit well with any President regardless of party affiliation.
As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The question then becomes, in between what? A simple silencing of whistleblowers or preventative measures against an assassination and/or overthrow of the U.S. government? Neither one seems good for Americans right now.
Gregory Patin writes for the Examiner where this article first appeared. Patlin earned a B.A. in political science from U.W. – Madison and a M.S. in management from Colorado Technical University. He is currently a freelance writer residing in Madison, WI who considers himself politically independent.