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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/6/12

National insider threat memorandum: What is the threat?

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This OpEd article was originally published by the Madison Independent Examiner. The video referenced is available for viewing there.

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President Obama waits before a rally in a tent at the Commons in Rochester, NH in August 2012.
Photo credit: Callie Shell, public domain via the DailyKOS.

On the day before Thanksgiving with little or no media attention, President Obama wrote a memorandum, that is an unofficial directive, to the "heads of executive departments and agencies" that addresses "insider threats." While the corporate media 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 memorandum now, readers can draw their own conclusions.

Stifling whistleblowers

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 his imprisonment for life, after already being imprisoned in 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... 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 he 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.

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Gregory Patin is a free-lance writer residing in Madison, WI. He earned a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and a MS in IT management from Colorado Tech. He is politically independent and not affiliated with either (more...)
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