Human Rights

Government Witch Hunt for 'Insider Threats' Profiles Public Workers for Sexuality and Financial Troubles

In hunt for next Chelsea Manning, the program is targeting people who fit the profile of potential whistleblowers.

Chelsea Manning is considered by many to be a hero for blowing the whistle on U.S. war crimes.
Photo Credit: Alicia Neal, in cooperation with Chelsea Manning

In a witch-hunt for the “next Chelsea Manning,” the Obama administration is mass surveilling public employees for characteristics that fall under a dubious profile of the jailed whistleblower, including financial problems, family issues and, perhaps most invasively, gender dysphoria.

The discovery was made by Manning herself, who obtained a  31-page document on February 16 through a freedom of information action request. Currently serving a 35-year prison sentence at a maximum-security military prison in Kansas, Manning is considered by many to be a hero for disclosing information to WikiLeaks about large-scale U.S. war crimes.

The file was compiled under Obama’s controversial “Insider Threat” program, which was initiated in 2011 following Manning’s revelations – and has since been derided as a form of modern-day McCarthyism. The document repeatedly mis-genders Manning, who is a transgender woman, and implies that non-normative gender identity and sexual orientation are justification for increased spying on other government employees.

“The program alleges that I am ‘disgruntled’ based on my perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, questioning my ‘self-image as a man’ while acknowledging that ‘he [sic] wanted to be an openly accepted female,’” Manning wrote on Friday, reporting her findings for the Guardian. “It describes me as ‘an advocate for homosexuals openly serving’ in the military, and my concern and advocacy of queer and trans rights as being expressed ‘obsessively.’”

“The broad sweep of the program means officials have been given a blank check for surveillance,” Manning continued. “Agencies implementing the Insider Threat program could examine anyone who has motives of ‘greed,’ ‘financial difficulties,’ is ‘disgruntled,’ has ‘an ideology’ a ‘divided loyalty,’ an ‘ego’ or ‘self-image,’ or ‘any family/personal issues’ – the words used to describe my motives.”

Manning’s revelations come amid mounting concern over the civil rights implications of the Insider Threat program. In January, 22 civil rights organizations released an open letter to Inspector General Charles McCullough over the mischaracterization of NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake as an “insider threat,” thereby “placing him in the same category as Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan and Navy Yard killer Aaron Alexis.”

Signed by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union and the America-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the missive underscores that whistleblowers “deserve our protection, not persecution.”

However, it appears that whistleblowing has, in fact, served as justification for a massive government spying program. Documents obtained from the Department of Defense by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists reveal that 100,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel are under “continuous evaluation.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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