FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama’s Informants

President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address more than 50 years ago is famous for its warning about the military-industrial complex, but he also warned that permanent war and a “permanent arms industry” would do great harm to American rights and liberties.  Over the past decade, we have experienced a Bush administration that deputized the Pentagon to spy on law-abiding citizens, with military officers attending antiwar rallies and staff sergeants engaged in the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping.  And now we have an Obama administration that has encouraged the creation of its own informant network among millions of federal employees and contractors to watch for “high-risk persons or behaviors” among co-workers.

The use of informant networks dates at least as far back as the Roman Empire.  Delatores (informants) were recruited from all classes of society, including slaves, lawyers, and philosophers.  Prior to the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union used pervasive informant networks in the Communist Party’s efforts to eradicate so-called “crimes” against state property.

Massive citizen informant networks were used throughout the Soviet Bloc in Eastern Europe to destroy perceived opposition to dictatorial rule, particularly in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary.  The best example of an informant network in the communist world, of course, was in East Germany where the Ministry of State Security (or Stasi) controlled one informant for every 60 citizens.  These informants were told that they were their country’s first line of defense against threats to national security.

The informant network of the Obama administration is similarly insidious, with federal employees required to keep close tabs on co-workers, and managers facing penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report their suspicions.  According to Marisa Taylor and Jonathan Landay, reporting in McClatchyDC.com on June 20, there are government documents that equate leaks with espionage.  A Defense Department paper issued in 2012 exhorts its employees to “hammer this fact home…leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”

The Obama administration’s initiative is called the Insider Threat Program and it is not restricted to the national security bureaucracy.  The Department of Education has informed its employees that co-workers going through “certain life experiences,” such as divorce or “frustrations with co-workers,” could turn a trusted employee into “an insider threat.”  According to Taylor and Landay, the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have produced online tutorials titled “Treason 101” to teach employees to recognize the psychological profile of spies.  They say that the Peace Corps is implementing such a program.

The Bush administration initiated similar programs to conduct surveillance against American citizens, not merely federal workers.  Vice President Dick Cheney encouraged the Pentagon to create the Counter Intelligence Field Activity (CIFA) in 2003 to conduct surveillance against American citizens near U.S. military facilities, particularly against those Americans who attended antiwar meetings.  In the summer of 2004, CIFA monitored a small protest in Houston, Texas against Halliburton, the giant military contractor once headed by Cheney.  At the same time, Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz created a fact-gathering operation called TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) to collect “raw information” about “suspicious incidents.”  The unauthorized spying of CIFA and the computer collection on innocent people and organizations for TALON were illegal; both organizations were eventually shut down.

In addition to instituting the Insider Threat Program, the Obama administration has expanded the domestic reach of the intelligence community, perpetuated the culture of secrecy, and instituted a pervasive lack of transparency.  Although President Obama has stated that American citizens are not the targets of the NSA’s sweeping electronic collection system, it is possible that Britain’s G.C.H.Q., London’s counterpart to NSA, is collecting intelligence on Americans and sharing the information with Washington.  Under a program called Tempora, the British communications intelligence agency has an unequalled capacity to tap high-capacity fiber cables.  Britain, moreover, has a weak oversight regime, and G.C.H.Q. has a unique and storied collaboration with NSA and CIA.

Our congressional intelligence committees have failed in their primary task–providing oversight over this pervasive and secret surveillance system. Oversight and accountability must be part of government, particularly the secret agencies within government, and congressional oversight is needed to correct the collective harm that has been done to the United States and its reputation at home and abroad because of the zealous actions of the past decade.

Vice President Cheney defended the Iraq War in 2003 on the basis of the infamous “one percent doctrine,” which justified the invasion on the grounds that if there was a one percent chance that something is a threat, it requires that the United States responds as if the threat was 100 percent certain.  This logic has been applied in many ways to the problem of terrorism with the Department of Homeland Security and the 16 agencies of the intelligence community assuming that “Today’s terrorists can strike at any place, at any time, and with virtually any weapon.”  As a result, the War on Terror has become a permanent fixture in our national security architecture, and an economic cornucopia for private contractors.

Last month, President Obama told a high-ranking military audience at the National Defense University that our torture and detention policies “ran counter to the rule of law;” that our use of drones will “define the type of nation that we leave to our children;” that even legal military tactics are not necessarily “wise or moral in every instance;” and that we must repeal the mandate of the Authorization to Use Military Force to fight terrorism.  Referring to Guantanamo, he argued that holding “people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country” is not “who we are.”  And that “leak investigations [that] may chill investigative journalism that holds government accountable” is not “who we are.”

If so, then massive surveillance programs at home and abroad as well as massive informant networks within the entire federal bureaucracy should also not be who we are.  It is long past time for President Obama to address these issues with operational policies and not mere rhetoric.  The audacity of hope requires that he do so.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy.  He is the author of the recently published National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers)and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: The Story of a CIA Whistleblower” (City Lights Publisher). Goodman is a former CIA analyst and a professor of international relations at the National War College.

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His forthcoming book is American Carnage: Donald Trump’s War on Intelligence” (City Lights Publishers, 2019).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail