FBI Abruptly Walks Out On Senate Briefing After Being Asked How 'Insider Threat' Program Avoids Whistleblowers

from the because-the-whole-program-is-about-whistleblowers dept

While we’ve been disappointed that Senator Chuck Grassley appears to have a bit of a double standard with his staunch support for whistleblowers when it comes to Ed Snowden, it is true that he has fought for real whistleblower protections for quite some time. Lately, he’s been quite concerned that the White House’s “Insider Threat Program” (ITP) is really just a cover to crack down on whistleblowers. As we’ve noted, despite early promises from the Obama administration to support and protect whistleblowers, the administration has led the largest crackdown against whistleblowers, and the ITP suggests that the attack on whistleblowers is a calculated response. The program documentation argues that any leak can be seen as “aiding the enemy” and encourages government employees to snitch on each other if they appear too concerned about government wrong-doing. Despite all his high minded talk of supporting whistleblowers, President Obama has used the Espionage Act against whistleblowers twice as many times as all other Presidents combined. Also, he has never — not once — praised someone for blowing the whistle in the federal government.

Given all of that, Senator Grassley expressed some concern about this Insider Threat Program and how it distinguished whistleblowers from actual threats. He asked the FBI for copies of its training manual on the program, which it refused to give him. Instead, it said it could better answer any questions at a hearing. However, as Grassley explains, when questioned about this just 10 minutes into the hearing, the FBI abruptly got up and left:

Meanwhile, the FBI fiercely resists any efforts at Congressional oversight, especially on whistleblower matters. For example, four months ago I sent a letter to the FBI requesting its training materials on the Insider Threat Program. This program was announced by the Obama Administration in October 2011. It was intended to train federal employees to watch out for insider threats among their colleagues. Public news reports indicated that this program might not do enough to distinguish between true insider threats and legitimate whistleblowers. I relayed these concerns in my letter. I also asked for copies of the training materials. I said I wanted to examine whether they adequately distinguished between insider threats and whistleblowers.

In response, an FBI legislative affairs official told my staff that a briefing might be the best way to answer my questions. It was scheduled for last week. Staff for both Chairman Leahy and I attended, and the FBI brought the head of their Insider Threat Program. Yet the FBI didn’t bring the Insider Threat training materials as we had requested. However, the head of the Insider Threat Program told the staff that there was no need to worry about whistleblower communications. He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people.

Now I have never heard of whistleblowers being required to “register” in order to be protected. The idea of such a requirement should be pretty alarming to all Americans. Sometimes confidentiality is the best protection a whistleblower has. Unfortunately, neither my staff nor Chairman Leahy’s staff was able to learn more, because only about ten minutes into the briefing, the FBI abruptly walked out. FBI officials simply refused to discuss any whistleblower implications in its Insider Threat Program and left the room. These are clearly not the actions of an agency that is genuinely open to whistleblowers or whistleblower protection.

And yes, it’s equally troubling that the FBI insists that as long as someone “registers” as a whistleblower, the FBI will suddenly, magically agree to stop investigating them as a “threat.” We already know that’s almost certainly bullshit. The stories of Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou are both clear examples of whistleblowers, who then had the DOJ search through basically everything they’d ever done to try to concoct some sort of Espionage Act case against them. In both cases, the eventual charges were totally ridiculous and unrelated to the whistleblowing they had done, but clearly the only reason they had been investigated was because of their status as whistleblowers. Drake was charged with having a classified document, which was just a meeting agenda and was both improperly classified and then declassified soon after. Kiriakou was charged with revealing the name of a CIA operative to a reporter, where the person in question was already widely known to journalists as working for the CIA.

Meanwhile, while Grassley still hasn’t come out in support of Snowden as a whistleblower, he does seem reasonably concerned that James Clapper’s plans to stop the next Snowden will have severe consequences for whistleblowers:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper seems to have talked about such procedures when he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 11, 2014. In his testimony, he said:

We are going to proliferate deployment of auditing and monitoring capabilities to enhance our insider threat detection. We’re going to need to change our security clearance process to a system of continuous evaluation. . . . What we need is . . . a system of continuous evaluation, where . . . we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job, to see if there is a potential clearance issue. . . .

Director Clapper’s testimony gives me major pause. It sounds as though this type of monitoring would likely capture the activity of whistleblowers communicating with Congress.

As Marcy Wheeler notes in her post (linked above, which called my attention to all this), by declaring war on whistleblowers, the administration is almost guaranteeing that many fewer will use “official channels” to blow the whistle. That just makes them targets with the likelihood of getting no results. Instead, all this does is incentivize people to go the Chelsea Manning/Ed Snowden route of going directly to journalists to make sure the stories get out.

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Comments on “FBI Abruptly Walks Out On Senate Briefing After Being Asked How 'Insider Threat' Program Avoids Whistleblowers”

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45 Comments
ysth (profile) says:

directly to journalists

by declaring war on whistleblowers, the administration is almost guaranteeing that many fewer will use “official channels” to blow the whistle. That just makes them targets with the likelihood of getting no results. Instead, all this does is incentivize people to go the Chelsea Manning/Ed Snowden route of going directly to journalists to make sure the stories get out.

This contradicts Mr. Snowden’s contention that he did try official channels first; did you mean that?

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Well if you don’t have to answer to anyone, of course you get to just walk out.

We’ve seen media outlets not report on things to keep access.
We’ve seen lawyers talking to clients while being listened to.
We’ve seen a program where they create fake trails to coverup how evidence was gathered.

How many more core protections can we hollow out until the entire thing collapses?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Disgusting and telling I’d say, as cases like this make it abundantly clear that the government and it’s agencies don’t see themselves in any way, shape or form as serving the public, but rather as rulers over the public.

A boss can question their employees, but the reverse is not true, so the fact that the government believes itself above reproach or question makes it pretty clear just which position they believe they hold.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

If not for the fact they don’t keep them on computers because they can’t secure anything, I would LOVE to see what all of the acronyms have and are using to keep our supposed representatives at bay.

If they walked out, perhaps it would have been best to demand the director appear and start answering questions… starting with what is the disciplinary action you intend to take against your subordinates for deciding they get to just walk out after ignoring straight forward questions. Or perhaps they think they can ignore subpoenas as well as they ignore the Constitution.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: More manure

why don’t you ask the guy in florida who was acquainted with one of the tsnarevs (sp?) and was being ‘interviewed’ by two, no, make that one feeb…
oh, wait, you can’t, ’cause evidently he tried to leave that interview and got a severe case of lead-poisoning…
all ‘justified’, of course…

here i am, a privileged, white, middle-aged patriarch, and i ‘trust’ NO ONE in ‘my’ gummint… NO ONE, at ANY level, for ANY reason… the ONLY safe position to take, is to assume they are ALL lying scum who will kill you for any or no reason…

Jerrymiah (profile) says:

Re: Otherwise speechless. I suppose nobody answers to anyone any more

They definitely answer to somebody but not the right people. Just as Obama, they answer to the military industrial complex. They’re the one running the country. That’s who Obama is taking his orders from, Obama was even taking his orders from Michael Hayden and then Keith Alexander and now from the news chief of the NSA Mike Rogers. The Protection of Whistleblowers Act was just an act that lasted only during the few seconds that he procounced them. After that, it returned to being business as usual.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Clapper's World

“We are going to proliferate deployment of auditing and monitoring capabilities to enhance our insider threat detection. We?re going to need to change our security clearance process to a system of continuous evaluation. . . . What we need is . . . a system of continuous evaluation, where . . . we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job, to see if there is a potential clearance issue. . . .”


In Clapper’s World when you go to work for the Government, your TOS includes their right to implement TIA (aka Total Information Awareness), meaning yours. Constant surveillance and with even a slight twitch expect that an in-person interview will be imminent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Clapper's World

Good morning Mr. Snowden. We hope you are well, please disregard the heavily armed escort, but we noticed that you had your eggs over easy this morning… and our TIA program has revealed that previous ‘malcontents’ have all had eggs over easy the day they decided to fly out of the country prior to releasing ‘sensitive’ information to the media or the public at large. We would be grateful if you would kindly return to the water-boarding room with us to conduct your weekly performance review.

this won’t hurt a bit…..

Jeff_Davis (profile) says:

Re: Clapper's World

We’re in a whole new age. The Internet age. It’s run by coders. The Obamas, Brennans, Alexanders, and Clappers cannot accept that they are no longer in charge. No doubt they failed to notice that Manning, Assange, and Snowden were all genius coders.

The NSA is run by coders, thousands of coders. If you ask them to write code to screw other coders, you’re gonna get a whole bunch of really pissed-off coders. The more pissed-off they get, the more problems you’re gonna have. More paranoia. More hacks to get around Big Brother(Hell, that’s what NSA coders do). More bugs. More back doors. And a whole lot more attention paid to figuring out how to screw the “suits” that are trying to “own” the coders. “Homey don’t play that.” It’s a coder (ie hacker) thing.

And here’s the key to it all: coding requires a logical mind. Good coders therefore, generally have a talent for discerning the truth from baloney. A logical mind is resistant to, and offended by propaganda. It insults the obsession that a logical mind has with the logic of truth. Consequently, the same Internet environment that has made it possible for the authoritarians to know everything about everyone, has also made it impossible for the authoritarians to control the information or the secrecy through which they maintain their power. Harassing coders will just make more whistleblowers.

We shall see.

ahow628 (profile) says:

So journalists are the only place to go now?

[B]y declaring war on whistleblowers, the administration is almost guaranteeing that many fewer will use “official channels” to blow the whistle. That just makes them targets with the likelihood of getting no results. Instead, all this does is incentivize people to go the Chelsea Manning/Ed Snowden route of going directly to journalists to make sure the stories get out.

Or, you know, to the Chinese or Russians or whoever else might be willing to grease the wheels. Seriously, reporting this type of stuff should be as frictionless and unfrightening as possible or people with issues will go the path of least resistance.

Jonathan says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, I remember. It meant the landed gentry and their courtiers win, just folks lose as much as possible without people abandoning the system entirely, and the field help is useful.

What, exactly, about that has changed? Do you really believe all the religious puffery written about the Founders since then over something like Federalist #10 that endorses factionalism and squabbling as a national sport to keep the landed gentry safe in their status?

Anonymous Coward says:

this shows to me that congress, senators, politicians, government, whatever you want, it’s the law enforcement agencies that are running the USA! when a body such as the FBI can refuse to produce manuals when asked to do so by senior officials and then rub salt into the wound by vacating a hearing called by those same senior officials because the manuals wanted weren’t produced, it shows the senior officials, the top politicians in government, can be rebuffed in this manner, the control of those security agencies has gone! keep a lookout people, i have a feeling there’s gonna be some serious shit happen in the not too distant future!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The entertainment in Nevada clearly shows that there are plenty of Americans willing to put pressure on overreaching Federal Agencies.

I am sure stuff like this has happened at one time or another throughout history, but when it happens this often and vigorously as it has been of late… well history does shows that bloodshed is soon to follow. Someone somewhere, is already too big for their britches… we are now just waiting to see which one finally busts at the seams.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Powerless or just acting like it?

I’m confused, do none on those in Congress or the Senate have the power to order those document to be handed over, and/or the answers given, no matter how much the FBI might want to stonewall or refuse to answer?

Either Congress and the Senate really are powerless to do anything, or they’re too cowardly to actually do so, and the other agencies/branches know it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Powerless or just acting like it?

It is absolutely the case that they are too cowardly to take meaningful action, regardless of how many times Congress’ face is spat in. They’ll try to tell you otherwise, but a little historical research shows different.

Congress has the power not only to issue subpoenas, but also to make arrests and imprison people for contempt. These powers were given to Congress specifically to stop this sort of thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

how about we just take the sarcasm away…and be dead serious.

If the Federal Government is doing nothing wrong… then they have nothing to hide or classify when it comes to protecting us, how they do it, how they interpret the words, or their opinions on the matter. None of this is even remotely like classifying military projects.

If you think there is some reason that laws governing your freedom and how the government can respond to you as a threat, can be classified on any level, then you need a lead lobotomy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Sarcasm as in, the folks who used that on folks righfully protecting their right to their lives and everything that pertains to it, to sarcasm the double standard that is the fact that the government itself is unwilling to “open its books”…….hence the fucking karma response of……..if they have nothing to hide

With all due respect

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Contempt of Congress

Well to be fair, they are a pretty contemptible and cowardly group, so ‘Contempt of Congress’ is generally seen as more ‘common sense’ than ‘crime’ these days, and even if Congress does get angry, so what, it’s not like they have the guts to do anything about it.

(Not quite sure if this deserves a /s or not…)

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow! Just get up and walk out of the Senator briefing. Right after talking crazy about a “whistle blower registry list”.

The only apparent answer for the FBI’s seemingly bizarre response to the Senator, is they’re planning on coming down hard on journalists who report leaked government material. In an effort to intimidate both them and their employers with legal threats that they will most likely follow through on.

James Clapper, has hinted at this when he equated journalists as accomplices of Edward Snowden. I’m sure there’s all sorts of secret interpretations of the law, concealed inside the FBI’s training material.

Michael Vilain (user link) says:

Why can't the committee chair charge the FBI person with contempt

I can just imagine the hijinks that would ensue if a sargent-at-arms stopped the FBI spokesman, handcuffed them, and took them into the holding facility in the building, eventually to the Bastille.

Contempt of Congress used against another branch of the government might make things really interesting. I wonder what Mr. Holder would have done then…

Oregoncharles says:

FBI Walks Out

Don’t Grassley and Leahy have subpoena power? The FBI have a lot of gall walking out on them – or refusing to produce documents.

This incident is another example of a (rapidly) developing police state. The police, actually just bureaucrats supposedly carrying out Congress’s will, clearly feel that they have the upper hand – and are prepared to be openly contemptuous.

Cut off their budget.

lordkoos (profile) says:

What difference does it make?

If the government continues to outsource security matters to private contractors, it doesn’t really make any difference what the FBI does, they cannot oversea tens of thousands of workers in private companies.

It is also my view that with modern survellience techniques, most lawmakers on capitol hill are compromised. I’d guess that the NSA, FBI etc have dirt on many if not most of them.

Dean Weingarten (user link) says:

FBI walks out on Grassley

The Obama Administration showed it had the power to ignore comtempt of Congress charges with Eric Holder.

The separation of powers breaks down when you have the majority party in the Senate unwilling to hold the President to account.

It also appears that the Judiciary has been brought to heel by the President, with Justice Roberts last minute change on Obamacare.

We live in perilous times.

I have not seen this story reported on any U.S. news outlet.

I do not count CSpan’s coverage.

I will send it to my Senators, it might give them a little courage if they see some public support to stand up to the administration.

This is straight out of the Hugo Chavez playbook in Venezuela.

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