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Insider Threat Program Uses Chelsea Manning As Example To Criminalize Whistleblowers

A file published by The Guardian reveals “motives” or “behavior indicators,” which the United States government’s “Insider Threat” program cited to document signs that Chelsea Manning posed a threat to the government. The “indicators” highlight her gender identity, sexual orientation, and interest in efforts to get rid of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy as signs she would commit unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

The file raises significant concerns, particularly whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons within the government are subject to extra scrutiny as a result of officials within the National Insider Threat Task Force believing sexual orientation and gender identity issues are signs one may pose an “insider threat” to an agency.

Manning is serving a thirty-five year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. She was convicted of offenses stemming from her decision to provide WikiLeaks over a half million U.S. government documents, which exposed war crimes, diplomatic misconduct, and other instances of wrongdoing and questionable acts by U.S. officials.

One day after she was sentenced, Manning came out as a woman. She changed her name from Bradley to Chelsea. Throughout Manning’s court martial, evidence was heard in court related to her struggle with gender identity disorder during her deployment in Iraq.

The U.S. Army whistleblower’s disclosures—and the disclosures of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden—fueled the drastic expansion of an “insider threat” program to monitor the activities of employees. The program has reportedly encouraged government officials to treat potential leakers as people who intend to aid America’s enemies.

In the file published by The Guardian, which is dated April 14, 2014, “insider threat motives” are listed: greed or financial difficulties, disgruntled or wants revenge, ideology, divided loyalties, vulnerable to blackmail, ego/self-image, ingratiation, and family/personal issues.

Manning exhibited all of these “insider threat motives,” according to the file. She was “disgruntled” because of her “social and physical identity, which [she] felt was suppressed by the U.S. Army and its atmosphere toward homosexuality.”

“During Pvt. Manning’s service in the U.S. Army, [she] struggled with [her] self image as a man, when [she] wanted to be an openly accepted female in the U.S. Army. Pvt. Manning was also an advocate for homosexuals openly serving” in the Defense Department against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The file highlights Manning’s interest in matters “outside” of the scope of her responsibilities as a “behavior indicator” that she posed an “insider threat.” For example, she “obsessively researched websites regarding [Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell] and politicians who supported or didn’t support the lesbian/gay community.” She “conducted this activity while being assigned to research and analyze the patterns and threats of IED attacks.”

It also once again highlights Manning’s gender identity problems, labeling the problems a “behavior indicator” that Manning was “overwhelmed by life crises and/or career disappointments.”

Additionally, the file states, “Pvt. Manning was associated to a group of self-proclaimed ‘hackers’ who deemed all information (government in particular) should be public knowledge. [She] was accepted in this group and associated [herself] as a ‘hacker’ and subscribed to the group’s ideology.” The group is quite clearly WikiLeaks, which the government to this day refuses to treat as a media organization.

At the time this file was compiled, Manning no longer identified as a male. The government compiled the file with male pronouns and total indifference to the issues, which U.S. military policy were responsible for compounding.

It is also clear from the file that people who are struggling with issues of gender identity or sexual orientation may be treated as individuals, who need to be monitored through total surveillance of their activities as well.

As Chelsea Manning wrote in a column published at The Guardian, “The broad sweep of the program means officials have been given a blank check for surveillance. Agencies implementing the Insider Threat program could examine anyone who has motives of ‘greed,’ ‘financial difficulties,’ is “disgruntled,’ has ‘an ideology,’ a ‘divided loyalty,’ an ‘ego’ or ‘self-image,’ or ‘any family/personal issues’ – the words used to describe my motives. Such subjective labeling could easily be applied to virtually every single person currently holding a security clearance.”

There are more than 5 million people working for the government, who have security clearances.

At the Defense Department, at least a hundred thousand military, civilian, and contractor personnel are subject to “continuous evaluation” or total surveillance of their electronic activities and communications. The program has developed into a model various government agencies, like the Department of Homeland Security, are incorporating.

Effectively, the “Insider Threat” program represents a massive McCarthyist program. Government employees are encouraged, pressured, and, in fact, rewarded for spying on their fellow employees.

In 2013, McClatchy reported on a “Treason” course that was posted to the Agriculture Department’s website. It informed employees they may be “eligible for a reward of up to $500,000” if they help “stop a case of espionage.” A payment would be made for any arrest or conviction of a person who committed espionage, conspired or attempted to commit espionage, or for information which prevented or frustrated an act of espionage.

A Defense Security Service online pamphlet suggested, “It is better to have reported overzealously than never to have reported at all.” There are no penalties for informing on someone, if that tip is completely unfounded or found to be submitted for disingenuous purposes.

The Defense Department told McClatchy, “The individual is not penalized for reporting something in good faith that may turn out to be unfounded. Pursuant to DoD directive 5240.06, Counterintelligence Awareness and Reporting, department personnel are required to report suspicious incidents concerning possible foreign intelligence service or international terrorist threats.”

Nothing in the file describes what would happen if a person exhibiting these “behavior indicators” or “insider threat motives” is, in fact, going through “proper channels”—through the chain of command or to a member of Congress—to reveal waste, fraud, abuse, illegality, or other acts of corruption. However, it is entirely possible an employee could exhibit these behaviors because he or she is concerned their superiors will find out he or she is exposing their misconduct to officials and there may be consequences to their careers if superiors find out.

The psychological profile of Manning, and other whistleblowers who the Insider Threat Task Force uses to “educate” personnel, make up the chief basis for teaching personnel to look out for employees, who may damage the government. What this means is people who are good government employees, who have a conscience and choose to challenge government policies or take a stand against internal corruption, automatically run the risk of being seen as suspicious by their colleagues.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."