The latest scandal to beset the Obama administration is the ominously-named Insider Threat Program, an executive order issued shortly after the Wikileaks scandal that attempted to plug such national security leaks by having federal employees and contractors rat on one another for any suspicious behaviors. This information comes courtesy of the McClatchy newspaper chain, which also reports that agencies having nothing to do with national security were also affected and that experts believe the suspicious behaviors that are to be reported are not reliable predictors of any illegal acts, and it’s attracted enough attention from the other media that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was forced to admit that he was “stumped” by the insistent questions at a news conference and was completely unaware of the program’s existence.
Although we never actually worked for the McClatchy company it has somehow acquired the obligation to pay us a pension in our old age, so we take its reporting seriously. The company’s reporting has been annoyingly pro-Obama for the most part, at least by the measure of the local newspaper that it bought a few years ago, but in this case it raises several troubling questions. One might well wonder, for instance, why it took so long — after the election, in fact — for a directive that was issued to some five million people to come to light. One might also wonder why Carney didn’t get the memo, given that he’s a federal employee who has surely witnessed enough strange behavior to fill a warehouse of files, and there are more significant questions as well.
As satisfying as it is to know that government workers have been subjected to the same level of insufferable co-worker snoopiness as their private sector counterparts, there is something troubling about the idea that they have been asked to tattle-tale for such easily explained behaviors as financial difficulties, odd working hours, or “unexplained travel.” Combined with the revelations of the Internal Revenue Service harassing the administration’s political opponents, the Department of Justice treating investigative reporting as a criminal conspiracy, the National Security Agency combing through the phone and internet records of millions of Americans, requests that the public report “fishy” information about Obamacare to a White House web site, attempts to silence whistle-blowers on Benghazi and other scandals, as well as a frankly stated view that “the government is the only thing we all belong to,” it starts to give a claustrophobic feeling to life in the age of Obama.
The program doesn’t seem to have been a success, either. It was in effect well before the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, but the officers who witnessed the crazed Islamist rantings and ravings of the shooter but apparently didn’t find it suspicious enough to overcome their fears of being thought Islamophobic by reporting it. Nor did it prevent the scandalous information about the NSA’s far-reaching data-gathering from being leaked by an unshaven 29-year-old with a stripper girlfriend and a penchant for Latin American satrapies. If the intent was to prevent any information embarrassing to the Obama administration from reaching the public, it must be judged an abject failure.
One might also wonder, for that matter, if Obama got the memo. Prior to the election there were a series of leaks about classified national security programs such as the weekly “kill lists” that the president approved to order drone strikes on suspected terrorists which bolstered his reputation as a tough-on-terrorism hawk rather than a Nobel Prize-winning peacenik, and all of them were attributed to “high-ranking administration officials” whose suspicious behaviors were presumably apparent to Obama. One of the leaks resulted in the imprisonment of a Pakistani doctor who had been helping the Central Intelligence Agency’s fight against terrorism, but it was one of those pre-election scandals that got little attention from the press. Perhaps Obama was every bit as outraged about those leaks as the ones that embarrassed rather than glorified administration, but that’s another thing one might wonder about.
— Bud Norman