J. D. Heyes
June 28, 2013
Is there a fine – or a not-so-fine – line between the public’s right to know and keeping classified information classified? That is the question swirling around NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s recent disclosure that the spy agency he worked for was conducting blanket surveillance on American citizens, in apparent violation of its charter to focus on foreign-based threats.
Following his exposure of the NSA’s activities the Guardian, a British newspaper, earlier this month, the Obama Administration has since charged Snowden under the Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917 as the United States prepared to enter World War I. The law was aimed at preventing disclosure of top secret information that could help an enemy, but not just during wartime; some – mostly members of Congress and the Big Government establishment – now argue that Snowden, in disclosing the NSA’s activities, broke that law.
But it is interesting to note that, even before Snowden made his disclosures, President Obama – who, in 2006, criticized the Bush Administration for using the NSA  to spy on Americans – has launched a campaign against whistleblowers who disclose illegal and illicit activities committed by the federal government.
Do as I say, not as I do
“…President Bush is not above the law,” then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois said on the floor of the Senate, as his chamber considered the nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden to become head of the CIA. “No president is above the law.”
Unless, of course, he is president.
Per McClatchy Newspapers:
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.
How’s that for a man who once claimed his is the most open, ethical administration in U.S. history , even as his NSA was intercepting and spying on every Americans’ electronic communications? You can’t make this stuff up.
Under the “insider” program, according to McClatchy – whose journalists will now, most likely, join the ranks of Fox News, CBS and The Associated Press to be targeted by Obama’s Justice Department – some Executive Branch agencies are using the wide latitude to pursue disclosures of any information – not just classified materials, government documents reveal:
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.
Chilling whistleblowing, but that is the goal, isn’t it?
A June 1, 2012 Defense Department communique regarding the program encapsulates the Obama Administration’s intolerance for leaks of any sort: “Hammer this fact home…leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”
That apparently includes blowing the whistle on any government program or operation that violates both the U.S. Constitution and the trust of the American people.
McClatchy reports that, in the wake of the Snowden disclosure, the president and his staff will most likely hasten the implementation of the insider threat program because again, the administration considers disclosure of illegal activity improper, not the actual activity itself.
‘I’m waiting for a time when you turn in a friend and get a reward’
“Leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” Obama said on May 16, in trying to defend his administration’s vigorous criminal investigations into a series of leaks – not all of which, admittedly, have been whistleblowing efforts.
“They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk,” he said. “So I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as commander in chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”
Well, true – but those same “American people” want to be assured that you have our backs when it comes to protecting our privacy, Mr. President. And apparently, you don’t.
What’s more, national security experts, as well as current and former U.S. officials familiar with the way government works, are afraid the Insider Threat Program will, at its worse, discourage the kind of whistleblowing Snowden’s revelations represent, which in turn will harm the public’s right to know and national security overall.
“It was just a matter of time before the Department of Agriculture or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started implementing, ‘Hey, let’s get people to snitch on their friends.’ The only thing they haven’t done here is reward it,” Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security law, told McClatchey. “I’m waiting for the time when you turn in a friend and you get a $50 reward.”
Sources for this article include: