obama’s plan to catch evil whistleblowers

The program was put in place before Snowden, and obviously failed. Basically, the idea is to extend existing security mechanisms (polygraphs, background checks, knowledge of employees’ creditworthiness and financial status) to include a mandate that employees report suspicious behavior of peers. In fact, the failure to report any suspicious behavior is itself a crime.

Security guru Bruce Schneier has an opinion on this issue as well.

I agree with Schneier. This probably won’t work. It will create an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty. It also strikes me as a “machiavellian playground,” wherein some people will use the policy to damage reputations of perceived rivals in an effort to climb the bureaucratic ladder. Even the implied threat of being turned in (wrongly) might be enough to scare some people away from speaking their minds, however necessary it might be for them to do so. As an analyst, how fervently would you argue your views on an issue if the person on the other side of the table glared back and questioned your allegiance to the country? Most people would back down. Do we really want such an outcome at the agencies charged with safeguarding our security and foreseeing potential threats?

Innocent mistakes can happen as well. Someone who is having some financial trouble and who, by coincidence, is flagged for vaguely defined “suspicious behavior,” might find himself out of the job for no good reason. In essence, politically unpopular ideas will more easily be used as weapons against others, threatening not only their jobs but their liberty as well.

The leaks of Manning and Snowden had nothing to do with financial gain. Both gave away leaked documents rather than selling them. Regardless of one’s opinion of the wisdom of leaking classified material, neither involved profit motive, and neither had financial problems. Anyone can appear suspicious to another if the accuser has sufficient incentive to report that person. Bias or dislike for the individual will no doubt play into this as well.

In the corporate world, the best and most enjoyable companies implicitly trust their employees, and employees trust their employers as well. Those are the companies that people want to work for, the ones that win the “best places to work” awards. They are able to recruit and retain top talent, not just because of compensation or benefits, but because of a pleasant corporate culture. The government will have greater difficulty in this regard, meaning that our country’s best and brightest will steer clear of the bureaucracy of fear.

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