Chuck Grassley: Insider Threat Program Poses Threat to Whistleblowers

Chuck Grassley rarely gets the credit he deserves for championing whistleblowers. But, while there have been notable exceptions, Grassley has long defended both generalized protections for whistleblowers, as well as whistleblowers themselves.

Yesterday, he gave a long speech on the Whistleblower Protection Act. As part of it, he laid out a number of ways President Obama’s Insider Threat detection program threatened whistleblowers.

He described how the FBI has refused to explain whether Insider Threat Program training adequately distinguishes between whistleblowers and inside threats. Just last week, FBI walked out in the middle of a briefing for Grassley and Pat Leahy!

Meanwhile, the FBI fiercely resists any efforts at Congressional oversight, especially on whistleblower matters.  For example, four months ago I sent a letter to the FBI requesting its training materials on the Insider Threat Program.  This program was announced by the Obama Administration in October 2011.  It was intended to train federal employees to watch out for insider threats among their colleagues.  Public news reports indicated that this program might not do enough to distinguish between true insider threats and legitimate whistleblowers.  I relayed these concerns in my letter.  I also asked for copies of the training materials.  I said I wanted to examine whether they adequately distinguished between insider threats and whistleblowers.

In response, an FBI legislative affairs official told my staff that a briefing might be the best way to answer my questions.  It was scheduled for last week.  Staff for both Chairman Leahy and I attended, and the FBI brought the head of their Insider Threat Program.  Yet the FBI didn’t bring the Insider Threat training materials as we had requested.  However, the head of the Insider Threat Program told the staff that there was no need to worry about whistleblower communications.  He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people.

Now I have never heard of whistleblowers being required to “register” in order to be protected.  The idea of such a requirement should be pretty alarming to all Americans.  Sometimes confidentiality is the best protection a whistleblower has.  Unfortunately, neither my staff nor Chairman Leahy’s staff was able to learn more, because only about ten minutes into the briefing, the FBI abruptly walked out.  FBI officials simply refused to discuss any whistleblower implications in its Insider Threat Program and left the room.  These are clearly not the actions of an agency that is genuinely open to whistleblowers or whistleblower protection.

Grassley raises concerns that the monitoring of intelligence community employees will help the IC track whistleblowers who communicate properly to Congress.

Like the FBI, the intelligence community has to confront the same issue of distinguishing a true insider threat from a legitimate whistleblower.  This issue could be impacted by both the House- and Senate-passed versions of the intelligence authorization.  Both include language about continuous monitoring of security clearance holders, particularly the House version.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seems to have talked about such procedures when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 11, 2014.  In his testimony, he said:

We are going to proliferate deployment of auditing and monitoring capabilities to enhance our insider threat detection.  We’re going to need to change our security clearance process to a system of continuous evaluation. . . .  What we need is . . . a system of continuous evaluation, where . . . we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job, to see if there is a potential clearance issue. . . .

Director Clapper’s testimony gives me major pause.  It sounds as though this type of monitoring would likely capture the activity of whistleblowers communicating with Congress.

[snip]

A federal employee has every right to make protected disclosures anonymously, whether at work or off the job.  Every member of this body should realize that without some safeguards, there is a chance their communications with whistleblowers may be viewed by the Executive Branch.

These same considerations apply in the intelligence community.  The potential problems are heightened if electronic monitoring extends off the job, such as Director Clapper mentioned.  We have to balance detecting insider threats with letting whistleblowers know that their legitimate whistleblower communications are protected.  With continuous monitoring in place, any whistleblower would understand that their communications with the Inspector General or Congress would likely be seen by their agency.

The rest of Grassley’s speech details more threats to whistleblowers: He describes how Obama successfully undermined legal protections to IC whistleblowers by passing a Presidential Policy Directive. He describes how stripping sensitive but unclassified employees of Merit Board protection makes it easier to target whistleblowers.

And he pitches changes that are in the current Intelligence Authorization bill.

Both Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden claim they tried to raise attention to abuses they saw. While it’s not clear their employers would ever had treated these abuses as such . But until such time as there is a safe way for whistleblowers to raise concerns, the country will see more people who go the route of Manning and Snowden.

 

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. Lydia says:

    It seemed pretty clear when it first was reported that the Insider Threat program was created precisely to spot potential whistleblowers.

  2. bloopie2 says:

    God, this is scary. These actions would be right at home in North Korea.

    I wonder if his children will have any fond memories of good ol’ Dad when they grow up.

  3. chronicle says:

    quote:”Unfortunately, neither my staff nor Chairman Leahy’s staff was able to learn more, because only about ten minutes into the briefing, the FBI abruptly walked out. FBI officials simply refused to discuss any whistleblower implications in its Insider Threat Program and left the room. “unquote

    Insider Threat Program. McCarthy must be rolling on the floor in gut splitting laughter.

    The FBI is as unaccountable as it ever was under Hoover. As is the entire executive branch.

  4. chronicle says:

    I’d submit Grassley ought to bring Contempt charges against the Director of FBI. These scumbags think they are above accountability. Same with every other agency in the USG. Time for some heads to roll.

  5. phred says:

    Clapper: “we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job”

    Huh. Good to know that federal employees have no right to a private life.

    Admittedly, Clapper and his henchmen don’t believe anyone on the planet, aside from themselves, has a right to privacy, but still, that is an extraordinary right for an employer to assert. I wonder how Clapper imagines he can “protect” the United States, when he is so profoundly ignorant of the Constitution upon which it is based.

  6. orionATL says:

    and where is our wimp of a prez in all this:

    he’s a dodger,

    a well-known dodger,

    just dodgin’ his way thru the world.

  7. orionATL says:

    sen grassley:

    “.. Unfortunately, neither my staff nor Chairman Leahy’s staff was able to learn more, because only about ten minutes into the briefing, the FBI abruptly walked out. ..”

    this extraordinary behavior for a government employee/official.

    are there precedents for a group of federal officials telling members of the congress to fuck off?

    • Peterr says:

      Yes. Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Dean, and others did just that for quite some time. It was only when Congress stood up for themselves and got Judge Sirica and a unanimous SCOTUS to back them up that the obstruction ended.

  8. orionATL says:

    wwljhd ? **

    ** “what would lyndon johnson have done?”

    i’ ll tell you what senate majority leader johnson would have done; he would have cut the doj’s next budget by 25% with the promise of more cuts to come if they didn’t fall in line – right now.

    harry byrd?

    • chronicle says:

      i’ ll tell you what senate majority leader johnson would have done; he would have cut the doj’s next budget by 25% with the promise of more cuts to come if they didn’t fall in line –
      “unquote

      Ditto. The only reason the Congress doesn’t cut the FBI and the rest of the BOONDOGGLE department budgets is …

      1. The FBI has some dirt on every single member of Congress

      2. The NSA has some dirt on every single member of Congress

      3. The CIA has some dirt on every single member of Congress

      4. We’ll all die.

      5. We’ll all die.

      6. We’ll all die.

      7. See#1

  9. dutch says:

    “We’re going to need to change our security clearance process to a system of continuous evaluation. . . . What we need is . . . a system of continuous evaluation, where . . . we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job, to see if there is a potential clearance issue. . . .”

    What Clapper desires is 24/7 surveillance of IC employees. Think about an agency whose employees spend all day every day just watching each other. The Washington elites are so detached from reality that they just can’t recognize the insanity of what they say or do anymore.

  10. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    Unless libertarians and progressives join together to put an end to this crap, the freedoms we all have enjoyed in the past will disappear into history and usher in a dark age for America. And it isn’t just the Insider Threat Program. Look what has been happening in Nevada (First Amendment zones – are you kidding me!) and what happened two decades ago at Waco – not to mention the ongoing abuses of the War on Drugs, particularly in minority communities. In the fifties, it took the Army-McCarthy hearings to finally bring an end to the character assassinations and wild accusations of Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn. In that instance, several courageous senators from both parties finally joined together to put an end to what was going on by censoring the senator from Wisconsin. Today, except for a handful of senators from both parties, I don’t see any evidence that President Obama will pay a price for the misconduct of his subordinates, which explains why they openly display their contempt for Congress. All of this makes me wonder just how much authority President Obama really has over his subordinates in the deep state.

  11. Westcoaster says:

    Let’s not forget what the FBI did to Sibel Edmonds for trying to tell the truth about espionage within the agency. She’s right up there with Snowden and Manning in my book, and whistleblowers must be shielded from the fucks doing the dirty deeds! BTW Sibel’s website is http://www.boilingfrogspost.com

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