Government's Response To Snowden? Strip 100,000 Potential Whistleblowers Of Their Security Clearances
from the surface-issues-neutralized.-underlying-causes-unaddressed. dept
Snowden just re-upped for three years in picturesque Russia, a land best known for not being a US military prison. Not exactly ideal, but under the circumstances, not entirely terrible. The government knows where Snowden is (more or less) and many officials have a pretty good idea what they’d like to do to him if he returns, but the NSA is still largely operating on speculation when it comes to what documents Snowden took.
But they do have someone looking into this. The government has tried to assess the damage posed by Snowden’s leaks, but so far all it has come up with is vague proclamations that the released have caused grave and exceptional damage to US security and an even vaguer CIA report claiming that a bunch of documents Snowden theoretically has in his possession might severely harm the US if a) they are released and b) they exist.
Charlie Clark at Defense One has a fascinating article on the man tasked with handling the intelligence community’s post-Snowden world.
The man filling that role, or the “NCIX,” as acronym-inclined national security feds call the National Counterintelligence Executive, is Bill Evanina, 47, a former FBI special agent with a counter-terrorism specialty.
Tapped in May 2014 by James Clapper, director of the Office of National Intelligence, Evanina is now immersed in coordinating multi-agency efforts to mitigate the risk of foreign infiltration, assess damage from intelligence leaks and tighten the security clearance process.
This means teaming up with the “‘most transparent administration” to help sniff out and stamp out so-called “insider threats.” This has always been a priority during Obama’s term and its efforts are now being redoubled. On one hand, the ODNI (James Clapper’s office) is dipping its toes in the transparency waters. (But mainly it’s trying to keep from being pushed into the transparency pool by a variety of litigants.) Evanina is working towards the “discussion” of security vs. privacy, but most of his efforts are focused on locking everything down.
The appearance of new leakers has the government even more concerned.
[W]hen queried about an Aug. 6 New York Times report of leaked internal documents showing “secret terror lists” that include 28,000 Americans kept by the National Counterterrorism Center, Evanina was firmer. “No unauthorized leak is routine,” he said. “It’s a criminal act that has us very concerned. In the intelligence community’s view, every disclosure is a problem because it betrays the people who collected that data. There’s a rationale on why it was classified,” he added, citing a need to protect “both the collection methods and lives.” The FBI is moving forward,” he said, with a probe into how the lists were leaked to an online magazine called The Intercept.
The government swears it protects whistleblowers but the efforts it makes undermines its assertions. Telling people the government is targeting them for reasons it doesn’t seem to be able to put into words is called a “criminal act.” But here’s the most surprising fact from Evanina’s profile.
One crisp action taken following agency auditing after Snowden’s exposure: 100,000 fewer people have security clearances than did a year ago, Evanina said. “That’s a lot.”
This looks like the proper response to someone like Snowden. Handing out too many security clearances undermines security. But it’s more than that: it’s a consolidation of power. By stripping 100,000 people of their clearances, the government eliminates 100,000 potential whistleblowers. With fewer eyes watching surveillance programs, odds of abuse multiply. Someone has to watch the watchers and sometimes that someone is nothing more than a government contractor.
This response doesn’t fix the underlying problems — the government’s broad surveillance programs that sweep up Americans’ data and communications. All it does is make it that much harder to expose wrongdoing.
If the government wants to solve its problems, it needs to listen to its whistleblowers rather than simply writing them off as security risks or criminals. The internal channels are a joke and no serious effort is being made to improve them. Instead, the NSA and others have reined in access, ensuring that whistleblowers are both fewer in number and limited in options.