Our Voice: Insider Threat Program proves Orwell prophetic

George Orwell's 1984 ought to be required reading for everyone in the Obama administration.

If they'd been more familiar with the concept of double-speak, surely they would have come up with a better name for the Insider Threat Program, which requires federal workers to spy on each other a la Big Brother.

Doublespeak, a term coined by others but generally attributed to Orwell, describes the use of language to distort reality that was prevalent in 1984. For example, Orwell's Ministry of Truth was tasked with producing an invented version of history to better suit the government's purposes.

Orwell would have called efforts to force co-workers to spy on one another something like the Government Employee Assistance Program.

Insider Threat Program sounds too much like what it is -- a Soviet-style attempt to crack down on dissidents in the government.

Jonathan S. Landay and Marisa Taylor of the McClatchy Washington, D.C., bureau recently reported on the program.

"In an initiative aimed at rooting out future leakers and other security violators, President Obama has ordered federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques," McClatchy reported.

"The techniques are a key pillar of the Insider Threat Program, an unprecedented governmentwide crackdown under which millions of federal bureaucrats and contractors must watch out for 'high-risk persons or behaviors' among co-workers. Those who fail to report them could face penalties, including criminal charges."

Under the program, security investigations can be launched when government employees showing "indicators of insider threat behavior" are reported by co-workers.

Federal employees and contractors are supposed to pay particular attention to the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors -- like financial troubles, odd working hours or unexplained travel -- of co-workers as a way to predict whether they might do "harm to the United States."

The implications are frightening. Fail to report your co-worker's flashy new way of dressing and face prosecution if he later leaks government documents to the New York Times.

Get behind on your credit card payments and become a target of investigation. Your personnel, payroll, disciplinary and "personal contact" files, as well as records of your use of classified and unclassified computer networks, polygraph results, travel reports and financial disclosure forms are all subject to scrutiny by Insider Threat investigators.

But it's not just frightening, it's also stupid. Experts say the sort of profiling mandated by the program isn't effective even when employed by trained professionals. Forcing every government employee to engage in psychological profiling is an open invitation to absurd abuses.

"Hello, Insider Threat Program? The receptionist ate my yogurt, and it was clearly marked with my name! Since she can't afford her own food, what government secrets will she be willing to sell?"