The extent of the government’s internal surveillance system designed to prevent massive leaks of the sort linked to WikiLeaks and the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden is revealed in the document, published here by the Guardian for the first time. The US soldier, who is serving 35 years in military prison as the source of the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosure of secret state documents, requested her own intelligence file under freedom of information laws.
The file was compiled under the “Insider Threat” program that was set up by President Obama in the wake of Manning’s disclosures. The file shows that officials have been using Manning’s story as a case study from which they have built a profile of the modern official leaker in the hope of catching future disclosures before they happen.
At the start of the 31-page file, government officials list the eight characteristics that agents should look for in employees as tell-tale signs that they might be tempted to reveal state secrets. The character traits are called “Insider Threat motives”.
Those surveillance categories are themselves extracted from an analysis of Chelsea Manning’s story. In the document Manning is referred to in male gender pronouns as the file was composed on 14 April 2014 – nine days before the prisoner was legally allowed to change her name as part of her transition as a transgender woman.
The Insider Threat analysis claims that Manning displayed several of those eight core motives of the prototype leaker. Before she transmitted hundreds of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks, she showed signs of disgruntlement, the file states.
She also subscribed to the ideology that all information should be made public, which the officials suggested stemmed from her association with “self-proclaimed ‘hackers’”.
In an opinion article in the Guardian, Manning said that the use of subjective labels in her file such as “greed”, “disgruntlement” and “ideology” meant that virtually every government employee could be targeted under the Insider Threat program. “The broad sweep of the program means officials have been given a blank check for surveillance.”
Manning writes that the program “works against innovation, creativity and the prevention of institutional corruption. Perhaps this is the real intent … to instill fear and project dominance throughout the intelligence community, the military and among government employees and contractors at large.”
The government has already put about 100,000 military and civilian employees and contractors under what it calls “continuous evaluation”, according to documents obtained by Steven Aftergood at the Federation of American Scientists. He told the Guardian that the character traits deployed in the Insider Threat file on Manning were strikingly similar to the formula used to detect traitors and spies back in the cold war.
Back then they used the acronym Mice, standing for “money, ideology, coercion or ego”. Aftergood said that the cold war record showed that the focus on those characteristics were not all that successful in sniffing out vulnerabilities. “They are not necessarily useful ways of predicting what an individual will do – that remains difficult though not entirely impossible.”
The expansion of the Insider Threat program has raised fears among whistleblower groups that it will spread paranoia among employees and make it increasingly difficult for workers who have concerns about corruption or other misconduct to sound the alarm. Thomas Drake, a former NSA senior executive who blew the whistle on problems and inefficiencies within the agency was prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act, said that the program was a form of mass surveillance of the government’s own workers that he likened to a dystopia.
“It puts employees under ‘continuous evaluation’ – interesting phrase – for all their activities including their outside actions and financial accounts. Whistleblowers and those who speak truth to power, especially when it’s about national security, are going to get hammered.”
In an Insider Threat presentation from last year, officials placed Drake and Snowden – two whistleblowers who sounded the alarm about what they saw as government excesses for no financial gain – within a gallery of “those who have done us harm” alongside Soviet spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hannsen and Fort Hood mass shooter Nidal Hasan.
Jesselyn Radack, who heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection program at ExposeFacts and who represents both Drake and Snowden, called Insider Threat a “modern-day McCarthyism that has friends and colleagues spy on and report each other. It effectively stifles workplace free speech, dissent and is openly trying to deter whistleblowers.”
The Insider Threat file on Manning suggests that the soldier’s gender dysphoria – where her gender identity is out of sync with her gender at birth – was also a character trait that could have been used to predict her desire to leak state secrets.
Chase Strangio, the ACLU lawyer who represents Manning in her legal disputes with the US military relating to her gender transition, said that the file was yet another example of the soldier’s voice and identity being used against her. “They are using her gender identity to suggest it fits into an offender profile.”
Strangio said the implication of the document was that anyone who pushes back on injustice against LGBT people within the military should be considered an inside threat. “We are seeing that argument used over and over again in Chelsea’s case.”
Author: Ed Pilkington