An EFF sticker on your laptop is an Insider Threat warning sign?

In light of recent leaks about NSA’s PRISM, it seems dubious that government domestic surveillance could still be labeled as “going dark.” Nevertheless, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified [pdf] last week that the FBI is still “going dark.” Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The rapid pace of advances in mobile and other communication technologies continues to present a significant challenge for conducting court-approved electronic surveillance of criminals and terrorists. ... Because of this gap, law enforcement is increasingly unable to gain timely access to the information to which it is lawfully authorized and that it needs to protect public safety, bring criminals to justice and keep America safe.” 

Note that he didn’t say the feds don’t have the capabilities for surveillance, only that “There is a growing gap between law enforcement’s legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance, and its ability to conduct such surveillance.” Mark Jaycox, a policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that the “FBI needs to provide better reasons and more information about why they need this, when technologists and academics across the board are consistently saying and have shown … the whole ‘going dark’ messaging is incorrect in the golden age of surveillance.”

An EFF sticker on your laptop is an Insider Threat warning sign?

Speaking of the EFF . . . You surely appreciate the EFF that fights for your digital and privacy rights and opposes government surveillance. Yet according to a former security clearance investigator, Nicole Smith, supporting the EFF is a “warning sign.” That's ludicrous! If you are on the Internet and you don't support the EFF, then that seems a lot more like a warning sign about a person. But while talking about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Smith told Time:  

In a photograph posted online after Snowden revealed himself, his laptop displays a sticker touting the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a longstanding advocate for online rights and staunch opponent of government surveillance. That would have been enough of a warning sign to make it into his file, Smith says, but investigators wouldn’t have come across it because clearance interviews aren’t performed at their homes: “You’re not around that person’s personal belongings to make any other additional observations about that person’s characters.” 

Last year at Def Con, NSA Chief General Keith Alexander wore a t-shirt that ironically sported the EFF logo on the sleeve. No doubt that was to better blend in before the denials of domestic spying and possible word games began. Security expert Bruce Schneier said, “Everyone is playing word games. No one is telling the truth.” He advised us to “just assume the government collects everything” about everybody.

When it comes to word games, Yahoo News reported that since February 2011 when James Carney became the White House Press Secretary, he’s claimed he "did not have the answer" exactly 1,905 times in response to journalists' questions. In fact, the 1,905 times of not knowing is “a subset of nearly 10,000 instances when Carney declined to answer, passed off the question to a subordinate, or claimed ignorance about the subject matter.”

Apparently sick to death of word games, Congressman Mo Brooks has introduced a bill that would outlaw any fed pleading the Fifth. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution protects witnesses from being forced to give testimony that incriminate themselves, but the legislation would change the word games to answer me or you’re fired! Brooks told Government Executive that no federal employee should be allowed to plead the Fifth; his bill proposes to fire any federally appointed official who “refuses to answer questions before a Congressional hearing or lies before a congressional hearing. This legislation is constitutional and necessary to enable Congress to provide proper oversight for the American people.”

Long before NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Obama administration launched the Insider Threat Program. After obtaining government documents about the program, McClatchy wrote that the Insider Threat Program “extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide, including the Peace Corps, the Social Security Administration and the Education and Agriculture departments.” In fact, the program "requires federal employees to keep closer tabs on their co-workers and exhorts managers to punish those who fail to report their suspicions." The Defense Department strategy dated June 2012 states, “Hammer this fact home . . . leaking is tantamount to aiding the enemies of the United States.”

But it’s not only about leaking; it’s about identifying threats before they can leak. For example, the Department of Education “informs employees that co-workers going through ‘certain life experiences . . . might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.’ Those experiences, the department says in a computer training manual, include ‘stress, divorce, financial problems’ or ‘frustrations with co-workers or the organization’.” Meanwhile, “an online tutorial titled ‘Treason 101’ teaches Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration employees to recognize the psychological profile of spies.”

Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security law, said of the Insider Threat Program, “It was just a matter of time before the Department of Agriculture or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started implementing, ‘Hey, let’s get people to snitch on their friends.’ The only thing they haven’t done here is reward it. I’m waiting for the time when you turn in a friend and you get a $50 reward.”

“Protecting democracy is killing it,” wrote the ACLU’s Privacy SOS. “Who is the enemy the Obama administration says Snowden is aiding? It’s hard to arrive at any other conclusion but this: the enemy is us.”

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