Wednesday, January 05, 2011

By Michael Isikoff
National investigative correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/5/2011 9:03:36 AM ET

The Obama administration is telling federal
agencies to take aggressive new steps to
prevent more WikiLeaks embarrassments,
including instituting “insider threat” programs
to ferret out disgruntled employees who might
be inclined to leak classified documents, NBC
News has learned.

As part of these programs, agency officials are
being asked to figure out ways to “detect
behavioral changes” among employees who
might have access to classified documents.

A highly detailed 11-page memo prepared by
U.S. intelligence officials and distributed by
Jacob J. Lew, director of the White House
Office of Management and Budget, suggests
that agencies use psychiatrists and
sociologists to measure the “relative
happiness” of workers or their “despondence
and grumpiness” as a way to assess their
trustworthiness. The memo was sent this
week to senior officials at all agencies that use
classified material.

The memo also suggests that agencies take
new steps to identify any contacts between
federal workers and members of the news
media. “Are all employees required to report
their contacts with the media?” the memo asks
senior officials about the policies at their
agencies.

Click here to read the memo

The memo is the latest step in a high-priority
administration initiative begun in the wake of
the WikiLeaks debacle. It has taken on
potentially even more significance in recent
days with the disclosure this week that Rep.
Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the new chairman of the
House Oversight and Government Reform
Committee, plans to investigate what policies
the White House is implementing to prevent

future leaks.

But in its efforts to root out the next Bradley
Manning (the Army private accused of leaking
classified documents to WikiLeaks), the
administration may be misfiring, according to
one national security expert.

“This is paranoia, not security,” said Steven
Aftergood, a national security specialist for the
Federation of American Scientists, who
obtained a copy of the memo.

What the administration is doing, he added, is
taking programs commonly used at the CIA
and other intelligence agencies to root out
potential spies and expanding them to
numerous other agencies — such as the State
Department, the Energy Department, NASA,
Homeland Security and Justice — where they
are unlikely to work.

'It's triply absurd'
For example, the idea of requiring workers to
report any contacts with members of the news
media, as though all such contacts are
suspicious, is “absurd” at the CIA, where it
has long been standard policy, said Aftergood.

“It’s triply absurd at most other agencies,” he
added.

Representatives of the OMB and the Director
of National Intelligence Office didn’t
immediately respond to requests for
comment.

In late November, the OMB instructed senior

federal officials throughout the government to
set up special “assessment teams” to review
how their agencies were safeguarding
classified information. Robert Bryant, the chief
counterintelligence official at the Director of
National Intelligence Office, and William J.
Bosanko of the Director of Information
Security Oversight Office, which monitors the
handling of classified information for the
National Archives, prepared the memo
outlining questions that agency officials
should answer about their practices before
reporting their progress to the OMB by Jan.
28.

The memo doesn’t directly mandate the
actions federal agencies should take in
fulfilling their requirement to safeguard
classified information. But it appears designed
to prod them to take strong measures.

“Strong counterintelligence and safeguarding
national security information,” the memo
states. Citing the OMB directive, it then spells
out “questions your department or agency
assessment team should utilize, as an initial
step to assess the current state of your
information systems security.”

“Do you have an insider threat program or the
foundation for such a program?’ the memo
asks. It also seeks information about whether
the agencies are using polygraphs and have
instituted efforts to identify “unusually high
occurrences of foreign travel, contacts or
foreign preference” by employees.

Monitoring of former employees?
Perhaps the most impractical question,
according to Aftergood, relates to what steps
the agencies are taking to monitor whether
federal workers have visited the WikiLeaks
website before they started their jobs or after
they retired.

“Do you capture evidence of pre-employment
and/or post-employment activities or
participation in online media data mining sites
like WikiLeaks or Open Leaks?” the memo
asks.

Aftergood said he was baffled as to how the
administration expects to monitor what
websites employees visit from their home
computers after they have retired.

“It may be that this is what the administration
needs to do to deflect congressional anger”
over WikiLeaks, he said. “But some of it doesn’
t make any sense.”

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