FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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 most recent book is “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing), and he is the author of the forthcoming “The Dangerous National Security State” (2020).” Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 12, 2019
Nino Pagliccia
Bolivia and Venezuela: Two Countries, But Same Hybrid War
Patrick Cockburn
How Iran Back Forces Are Taking Over Iraq
Jonathan Cook
Israel is Silencing the Last Voices Trying to Stop Abuses Against Palestinians
Jim Kavanagh
Trump’s Syrian See-Saw: From Pullout to Pillage
Susan Babbitt
Fidel, Three Years Later
Dean Baker
A Bold Plan to Strengthen and Improve Social Security is What America Needs
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Trump’s Crime Against Humanity
Victor Grossman
The Wall and General Pyrrhus
Yoko Liriano
De Facto Martial Law in the Philippines
Ana Paula Vargas – Vijay Prashad
Lula is Free: Can Socialism Be Restored?
Thomas Knapp
Explainer: No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights
Wim Laven
Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump?
Colin Todhunter
Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer
Binoy Kampmark
Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later
Akio Tanaka
Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica
Nyla Ali Khan
Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque
Yves Engler
Canada Backs Coup Against Bolivia’s President
November 11, 2019
Aaron Goings, Brian Barnes, and Roger Snider
Class War Violence: Centralia 1919
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
“Other Than Honorable?” Veterans With “Bad Paper” Seek Long Overdue Benefits
Peter Linebaugh
The Worm in the Apple
Joseph Natoli
In the Looming Shadow of Civil War
Robert Fisk
How the Syrian Democratic Forces Were Suddenly Transformed into “Kurdish Forces”
Patrick Cockburn
David Cameron and the Decline of British Leadership
Naomi Oreskes
The Greatest Scam in History: How the Energy Companies Took Us All
Fred Gardner
Most Iraq and Afghanistan Vets now Regret the Mission
Howard Lisnoff
The Dubious Case of Washing Machines and Student Performance
Nino Pagliccia
The Secret of Cuba’s Success: International Solidarity
Binoy Kampmark
Corporate Mammon: Amazon and the Seattle Council Elections
Kim C. Domenico
To Overthrow Radical Evil, Part II: A Grandmother’s Proposal
Marc Levy
Veterans’ Day: Four Poems
Weekend Edition
November 08, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
The Real Constitutional Crisis: The Constitution
Sarah Shenker
My Friend Was Murdered for Trying to Save the Amazon
Rob Urie
Left is the New Right, or Why Marx Matters
Andrew Levine
What Rises to the Level of Impeachability?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Enter Sondland
Matthew Hoh
And the Armies That Remained Suffer’d: Veterans, Moral Injury and Suicide
Kirkpatrick Sale
2020: The Incipient Bet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Growing Ecological Civilization in China
Conn Hallinan
Middle East: a Complex Re-alignment
Robert Hunziker
Ignoring Climate Catastrophes
Patrick Howlett-Martin
Repatriate the Children of the Jihad
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Neoliberalism’s Children Rise Up to Demand Justice in Chile and the World
John McMurtry
From Canada’s Election to Public Action: Beyond the Moral Tumor of Alberta Tar-Sands
Pete Dolack
Pacifica’s WBAI Back on the Air But Fight for Non-Corporate Radio Continues
Steven Krichbaum
Eating the Amazon
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail