WASHINGTON — Even before a former U.S. intelligence contractor exposed the secret collection of Americans' phone records, the Obama administration was pressing a governmentwide crackdown on security threats that requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions.
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, 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.
Government documents reviewed by McClatchy illustrate how some agencies are using that latitude to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information. 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.
"Hammer this fact home ... leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States," says a June 1, 2012, Defense Department strategy for the program that was obtained by McClatchy.
The Obama administration is expected to hasten the program's implementation as the government grapples with the fallout from the leaks of top-secret documents by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed the agency's secret telephone data collection program.