GCHQ Follows NSA Into Paranoia -- Just As Julian Assange Predicted

from the cognitive-decline dept

One of the knock-on effects of Snowden's leaks is that the NSA is terrified there might be more whistleblowers, and has taken extreme action in an attempt to reduce the risk of that happening by stripping 100,000 people of their security clearances. In other words, it no longer trusts huge swathes of the people it works with -- hardly a healthy situation. Now it seems that GCHQ has succumbed to a similar paranoia about its employees:

GCHQ is sponsoring ways of identifying disgruntled employees and those who might go on to be a security threat through their use of language in things like office emails.
The article in the Gloucestershire Echo -- the English county where GCHQ is located -- explains how potential whistleblowers will be identified:
"research will investigate the use of techniques from the field of natural language processing to detect the early indicators of an insider’s threat."

That means changes in the way a person communicates can give a clue that they are unhappy and perhaps prepared to do something to harm the organisation.
Of course, what this also means is that people working at GCHQ will become more self-conscious, start to watch their words, and probably think much more carefully about how they share their insights and analyses. That will inevitably lead to a loss of spontaneity, and of efficiency; the more GCHQ starts hunting down potential whistleblowers, the more it is likely to diminish its own effectiveness.

What's interesting about this development on both sides of the Atlantic is that it was predicted as far back as 2006:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Those words were written by a certain Julian Assange before he became (in)famous. Say what you will about him, you have to given him credit for being spot-on here -- and well ahead of his time.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

Filed Under: gchq, julian assange, nsa, paranoia, snitching


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Dec 2014 @ 1:26pm

    That will inevitably lead to a loss of spontaneity, and of efficiency; the more GCHQ starts hunting down potential whistleblowers, the more it is likely to diminish its own effectiveness.

    While that would suck for those working for them(though considering who they're working for, my sympathy for them is rather low), if it decreases the effectiveness of the spy agencies to violate the rights and privacy of the public, that seems like a good thing to me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:46pm

      Re:

      Agreed, but one of the perverse things is that we need a well-functioning spy agency. I would prefer that we have that but if we can't, then it's better to have a defanged one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 5:33pm

        Re: Re:

        And they wouldn't be defanged by it is they weren't so damn evil that they have to worry about whistleblowers. Or actually listened to them instead of throwing them under the bus. Lets face it, their problems are all their fault.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:00pm

    It's sounding more and more like the vibe I got from 1984 where everyone has to watch what they say and how they say it and even avoid certain body language because someone was always watching and listening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:04pm

      Re:

      Hey... they are developing that technology already... just you wait... it will be a new dawn for the corrupt in power.

      The Sheeple, there are too damn many!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Chosen Reject (profile), 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:06pm

    Good ol' Guvnah Tarkin

    I'd say Leia (or Lucas) had it called much earlier
    The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:22pm

    The old adagium applies: in God we trust, all others we monitor...
    Add the sentence:(including ourselves)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:31pm

    Way too many positions are given security clearances in the US Govt.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:32pm

    i wonder if Theresa May is driving the paranoia if if she is being driven by someone else's? whichever, it would be better for the UK citizens to be best buddies with someone otherthan the USA. if they carry on like this, they will be going insane, not just led by paranoia!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:35pm

    Gee, perhaps they now have some idea how WE feel

    when we know that all our words, activities and movements are constantly monitored.

    How can NSA/GCHQ folk go home & kiss their kids each night, knowing that they will be surveilled by their 5-eyed buddies, and have their kids' nude pix used for god-knows-what?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Patriot, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:39pm

    Down w/ the system...

    I hope there are more Snowdens out there. Man up an release that information. People shouldn't fear governments, but governments should fear people. Remember the first 3 words of the declaration of independence. RELEASE IT FOR ALL OF US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 2:40pm

    This sort of internal paranoia is hardly new. James Angleton put the CIA thru this during the 50's and 60's in his famous hunt for Soviet moles, and it did have a real effect on efficiency. not sure this is avoidable in an intelligence agency, regardless of technology.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 3:08pm

    GCHQ receives payment from the US so not surprising if it mirrors the paranoia of its masters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 4:11pm

    Colossus

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    drjimmy (profile), 10 Dec 2014 @ 4:47pm

    Government agencies that operate in the dark hate the idea of the light of truth being shined on them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 4:57pm

    What exactly does this accomplish though?

    If someone is disgruntled and a potential whistleblower, firing them or demoting them (by killing their clearance) hardly reduces the chance of them speaking out. They now have even less to loose. It pisses the person off even more and makes the organization look vindictive and spiteful.

    Confronting the person may keep them quiet but will basically kill any motivation the person had. It's not like that is magically going to improve moral and make the person a model employee.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 5:12pm

      Re:

      From Techdirt:
      GCHQ is sponsoring ways of identifying disgruntled employees and those who might go on to be a security threat through their use of language in things like office emails.

      Obvious question: given their general disregard for personal privacy, why are they only analyzing office e-mails for signs of future leakers? Shouldn't they be sifting all the personal communications of their employees too? Once they make that leap, then obviously they also need to keep a close watch on anything to or from an account that their employees might have ready access to, meaning spouses, parents, children, and close friends.

      From parent poster:
      What exactly does this accomplish though?

      I think the theory is that you remove their access to sensitive documents while they are at most mildly disgruntled, so that once they become seriously disgruntled and willing to begin leaking, they no longer have the access to leak anything juicy. This assumes, perhaps falsely, that (1) the Internal Security Service will identify future risks in a timely manner, (2) the efficiency loss caused by losing that access is outweighed by the perceived improvement to the organization's overall secrecy, and (3) individuals thus stripped will consistently not have archived copies of juicy content. Assumption #3 can be reasonable, depending on how much the stripped individual fears the rules about unauthorized possession of classified material.

      Secondarily, the mass stripping may be intended to counter the morale hit. If one guy loses his clearance, everyone will wonder why. If the entire department gets hit, it can be blamed on institutional paranoia, rather than the conduct of the employees in the department.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 5:22pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm not sure how that is good for the institution. It allows them to cya, but ensures that moral will suck, everyone is paranoid, and nobody feels they can speak frankly. You need people to say what they think so crappy ideas get weeded out (or at least have a chance to be). Good talent isn't going to stick around if they feel paranoid so you have an intellectual drain.

        I'm not trying to say the entire concept is unworkable but implementation is critical to it not sinking the organization. They really need to understand whistleblower mentality and their workforce.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 7:08pm

          Re: Re: Re: Whistleblower mentality

          I'm not trying to say the entire concept is unworkable but implementation is critical to it not sinking the organization. They really need to understand whistleblower mentality and their workforce.
          Based on the failure to prevent whistleblowers, the NSA's generally pathetic internal security, and their handling of the existence of whistleblowers, I am comfortable saying they neither understand nor want to understand the whistleblower mentality. They have repeatedly demonstrated they view whistleblowers as a greater evil even than the one they supposedly protect against.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 5:14pm

    I suppose not acting like your trying to set up a fascist dictatorship is not an option to those whose forefathers gave their lives preventing that eras of fascism from being a worldwide reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Dec 2014 @ 6:19pm

    Assange's Paradox strikes again.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    franc, 10 Dec 2014 @ 7:44pm

    Celine's First Law

    "National Security is the chief cause of national insecurity"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celine%27s_laws#Celine.27s_First_Law

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 10 Dec 2014 @ 11:23pm

    Sadly this is going to continue.
    I expect that after a major failure of the system, they will have 'reforms' and crack down harder... and then the real failures will come. They will try to hide that they failed to protect the country because they were to busy watching themselves. People will finally grasp that for everything they gave up/had ripped away was for nothing.

    The system is sick, and if someone being a whistle blower about what they are doing is so fear causing it is time to stop the system. It has outlived its usefulness.

    People can't blow a whistle & get a response if you aren't breaking the law or exceeding what you were allowed to do. You don't have to have every program in the open, but the levels of paranoia these systems now operate in... they are doing much more harm than good and the world would be safer if we stopped them and started over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Geoffrey de Galles (profile), 11 Dec 2014 @ 2:46am

    But beware -- the other side of the paranoia coin is psychosis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 11 Dec 2014 @ 4:08am

    GCHQ employees

    "research will investigate the use of techniques from the field of natural language processing to detect the early indicators of an insider’s threat."

    and the people who they are targetting include high level experts in these very fields.

    Good luck with that!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 11 Dec 2014 @ 6:47am

    Dear NSA and GCHQ

    Why the paranoia?

    Haven't you heard?

    If you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rinah Devi, 11 Dec 2014 @ 7:25am

    First impementation of koalang?

    I've seen something a like in one story.
    There also was a computer that was trying to analyse language I wonder if this will lead to first implementations of 'koalang'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2014 @ 10:15am

    Good

    "Of course, what this also means is that people working at GCHQ will become more self-conscious, start to watch their words, and probably think much more carefully about how they share their insights and analyses."

    You mean the very same effects the surveillance apparatus seek to instill in our societies are the very same effects now affecting them? Good! Let the beast consume itself I say.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Christopher, 11 Dec 2014 @ 11:15am

    Oh, the irony!

    How truly, truly ironic! The watchers now have to watch themselves for that rogue with morals and a conscience!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Dec 2014 @ 11:36am

    Isn't being paranoid part of the job description of someone at the NSA?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    MinnTarget, 27 Jan 2015 @ 6:19am

    McCarthy Was Right!

    Apparently the communists are winning. They are just calling it democracy now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.