America’s Informant Society
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President Dwight 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 George W. 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.