By Lauren C. Williams:Credit:Think Progress
While police departments flock to use technology that predicts crime, the U.S. military is building a database that goes a step further — predicting who is most likely to reveal state secrets.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) is developing a data system that collects information on government employees and contractors with security clearances in hopes of being able to pinpoint those with the potential to become whistleblowers, Defense One reported.
The “DOD Component Insider Threat Records System” is part of the military’s response to classified documents leaked by former PFC Chelsea Manning in 2010, which revealed U.S. military practices including civilian deaths and physical abuse of detainees during the Iraq War.
As a junior Army intelligence analyst with a top-secret security clearance, Manning had access to a classified computer system and downloaded more than 700,000 documents in what has been considered the largest breach in military history.
Following Manning’s 2013 conviction and the shooting attacks at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the Defense Department took steps to prevent the next leak by creating a “centralized hub” for detecting potential internal threats, Defense One reported. DOD assembled experts in psychology, cybersecurity, and intelligence to lead an “insider threat” task force and oversee the security clearance database.
The database is continually updated with information on security-clearance holders’ criminal and mental health history, financial information, drug and alcohol use, citizenship status, fingerprints, and other available biometric data. The system also keeps track of the clearance holder’s past residences and personal identifying and contact information for current and former spouses, relatives, associates, and roommates. This information is typically revealed during the background check process.
DOD’s internal threat system, along with the task force charged with analyzing the data, was created in accordance with an executive order President Barack Obama issued in 2011 aimed to protect classified materials. But while the initiative falls in line with national security precautions, it could have a negative effect on government transparency by making it difficult for future whistleblowers to come forward.
The Obama administration has been aggressive in pursuing those who leak information that could compromise national security. The administration has led eight prosecutions under the Espionage Act, compared to zero under the former President George W. Bush.
But the crackdown has appeared to mainly apply to media leaks, while other national security breaches, such as the General David Petraeus case, aren’t punished as severely. That tendency has been correlated to the Defense Department’s internal culture. Former Pentagon inspector general John Crane went public in May about the agency’s mishandling of whistleblower cases, Defense One reported.
Crane filed charges asserting the Pentagon destroyed evidence and manipulated audits for whistleblower complaints in response to political pressure. At least one case has been forwarded to the Justice Department for further investigation.
But while intelligence and law enforcement agencies have supported the Obama Administration’s emphasis on national security protections, there is evidence of some internal dissent over the value of whistleblowers who leak information to the public.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Snowden did a “public service” in 2013 when he leaked classified NSA documents to media outlets. “We can certainly argue about the way in which Snowden did what he did, but I think that he actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made,” Holder told CNN.
Holder went on to say that Snowden’s behavior was inappropriate, illegal, and jeopardized national security, but his remarks highlight the government’s reluctance to recognize the potential good document leaks can have for the public.
As Snowden put it, “I’ve already said from the very first moment that if the government was willing to provide a fair trial, if I had access to public interest defenses and other things like that, I would want to come home and make my case to the jury. But, as I think you’re quite familiar, the Espionage Act does not permit a public interest defense. You’re not allowed to speak the word ‘whistleblower’ at trial.”