Obama’s Insider Threat Program Turns “Colleagues Against Each Other”

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: President Obama’s program encourages federal employees to report suspicious actions by their coworkers, creating a culture similar to the East German Statsi

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome back to The Real News. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And we’re picking up our conversation with Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, who joins us in-studio.

Thanks for being with us, Marsha.

MARSHA COLEMAN-ADEBAYO, FMR. SENIOR POLICY ANALYST, EPA: Thank you for having me.

DESVARIEUX: So let’s start with talking about the current state of affairs for whistleblowers in the United States. In the last segment I mentioned President Obama has used the Espionage Act against whistleblowers more than every other president combined. And now there’s an “insider threat” program that encourages federal employees to report suspicious actions by their coworkers. Have us understand why are these practices so dangerous, so dangerous to bringing the truth forward to the public.

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: Well, I think we first have to identify or define what a suspicious act is, because according to the Insider Threat Program a suspicious act is any kind of activity that places stressors on various employees. And so, for example, a stressor can be financial difficulties at home. A stressor can be difficulties with your children. A stressor can be a health-related issue. Those are the stressors that this act is addressing as a problem for the administration. That’s very important for you to understand.

So, for example, if an employee goes to lunch with a colleague and she’s bemoaning the fact that her 15-year-old son is giving her a lot of problems, that’s a stressor, that’s a problem, and the employee who is listening to this narrative must go back to the Insider Threat office at their agency and report that their colleague is having problems with her 15-year-old son. Or if you find out that one of your colleagues is having trouble paying their mortgage, that is a stressor that must be reported.

DESVARIEUX: And if you don’t report it?

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: And if you don’t report it, there are all kinds of penalties, including being fired from your job. So essentially what this act has done is to take a chapter out of the Stasi, out of East Germany, in which you basically turn colleagues against each other. Basically they’re rewarded for snitching on each other. So you break up any possibility of community inside the organization, any possibility of collegiate relationships inside of the organization, and you basically have everyone looking over their shoulders trying to determine whether or not someone is going to snitch on them, whether that narrative is truthful or not.

So you can imagine how this can be–this kind of executive order can be abused. If you want to get rid of a colleague, all you have to do is, you know, go to the Insider Threat office and say, I heard that Mary said that she’s having trouble with her husband.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah, that certainly makes the work environment suffer. But also the public will be suffering if we aren’t getting people coming forward.

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: Oh, exactly. But that is the point, isn’t it? I mean, the point is that, you know, this Executive Order will make it impossible for people to create the kind of alliances that we did to pass the No-FEAR Act, which was the No FEAR Coalition, because everyone will be, you know, looking over their shoulder, trying to figure out, you know, who is trying to get me in the workplace. Right? And so it’s one that–it’s an absolutely horrendous policy.

But I think it’s interesting that almost word-for-word it comes out of the Stasi documents. So it’s interesting that now we’re actually lifting Nazi Germany literature and actually implementing it in the U.S. workplace. I mean, that’s an absolutely terrifying precedent to set, and that’s what’s happening now. So throughout the entire federal government they have set up these Insider Threat offices that are waiting for people basically to snitch on each other.

DESVARIEUX: Yes. And we can’t talk about whistleblowers and talk about people snitching on each other and–.

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: And by the way, the president has also authorized psychologists to be basically unleashed throughout the federal government. So in many instances now when you apply for a federal job, outside of just the application process you also have to undergo a psychological test to determine whether or not you’re someone who might blow the whistle in a future.

DESVARIEUX: So essentially they can now measure behavior and determine whether or not you have the potential to blow the whistle.

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: They’re attempting to predict behavior to determine whether or not you have the characteristics that might lead you to blow the whistle.

DESVARIEUX: Okay.

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: And that’s just how dangerous the federal government sees whistleblowers or truth-tellers, that they would go to such measures to make sure that they basically weed out anyone who would warn the public about neurotoxic levels of lead in the water or, you know, of mercury in the food. They want to make sure that people like me do not work for the federal government.

DESVARIEUX: Do you have a sincere fear that people like you won’t come forward? I mean, we hear the case of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, all these people really–the Obama administration’s really gone after, gone after their jugular, really. Do you have a fear that we’re going to see fewer and fewer people come forward?

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: I would think so. I mean, I would–you know, it’s always difficult when people call me and ask me whether or not they should blow the whistle, because there’s a side of me that would like to encourage them to blow the whistle and to be true to their own sense of who they are and to sort of the god in themselves. On the other hand, I know the kind of journey that I’m setting people off on when I tell them to blow the whistle or encourage them to blow the whistle, and most people, quite frankly, cannot tolerate that journey, either because of financial issues or just psychologically the kind of pressure that it takes that you’re under when you make the decision to blow the whistle. So I would assume that most people would be discouraged from blowing the whistle.

But what I think is really interesting is that despite all of this, you still have Manning coming forward, you still have Edward Snowden stepping forward. And I think that that’s what should give all of us so much hope, that, you know, even when the worst punches are thrown at our generation or at the younger generation, people are just not deterred from telling the truth. That has really–I mean, I’m sure the people in the Aspen Institute and other places are up all night trying to figure out what does it take to get people to stop telling the truth. And I think it’s primarily because there is an innate quality in human beings that seeks goodness, that really does seek the truth. And in order to squash that, you almost have to level human society. So I think despite their efforts, they still have not been able to stop people from believing that human society has got to be better than what it is right now.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. I’m going to ask you about the counterargument to all of this, because you often hear that the likes of Edward Snowden–and I’m sure Chelsea Manning, of course, would be put in this category–these are people that should have gone and used the proper channels that were put in place to express their grievances. I mean, you clearly went through many channels and still weren’t able to get the truth out there. So what do you say to those people who look at whistleblowers and those who leak information as being unpatriotic?

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: Well, I think if you look at what happened with Edward Snowden and with Chelsea Manning, it seems to me that they both try to inform people in the chain that something was terribly wrong. And they received the perfunctory don’t worry about it, you know, that that doesn’t concern your pay grade, why don’t you sort of busy yourself, you know, decorating your office or whatever they were told. Right? So I think both of them actually did try to go through some channels.

We know, I think, that it was either Snowden or Manning tried to contact The Washington Post and The New York Times, just like I did, and were both just told that these were not stories of interest for those media. Right? So that’s one thing.

I think the other issue is for people to understand that the system is irretrievably broken. The system is irretrievably broken. And so once in the federal government in particular, if you let them know that you have information–not that you’ve even blow the whistle, but that you have information of interest, your life at that point is a living hell. You don’t have to blow the whistle. All you have to say is, you know, for some reason these figures aren’t adding up and I don’t quite understand why. You don’t understand what you’ve done, but the people in power understand what you’ve just said. And at that point, your performance ratings start to drop, that, you know, they start to make an example of you.

So what people I think perhaps don’t understand is how corrupt the system is, that this is not a system that’s available to truth, and that if you try to commit truth within the context of that system, the only thing that happens is that you’re crushed. So this is not a system that one can tweak. This is a system that operates on behalf of corporations. And if you go against sort of the corporate perspective, I think they first try to get you out of the corporation or the government. And then if you don’t leave at that point, all the forces of the government are used to crush you.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Marsha, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about your book No Fear: A Whistleblower’s Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. It’s actually being turned into a movie. Our good friend of The Real News, Danny Glover, he bought the rights to the book, and you guys are working on a script together. Is that right?

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: Right. Well, we’ve been working for a while on the script, and we’re now on the second script, and we’re hoping very much–I’m one of the producers, by the way. I have to be transparent about that. And so we’re hoping to make this work. It is a huge effort to go from a book to the big screen, but I’m confident that we’re going to be able to make this work. And now the book has come to the attention of a lot of people, who will remain nameless. But I think the book has traction, and I think we will be able to make this work.

And it’s important that we do, because it’s important that the entire world understand how this system works, and it’s important that they understand also that there are people inside the system that are committed to fighting the good fight, fighting to make sure that there’s poverty alleviation, that we clean up the water, that we clean up the earth, and that we are committed to the survival of the planet. And that’s really what’s at risk here is the survival of our planet, because if we leave that to the corporations and to, quote-unquote, the system, we’re going to have the same conditions that we’re seeing in China today where everyone is walking around with mask on and that you can’t see any further than a foot. And so it’s going to be up to people both inside and outside of the government to make a commitment that we are going to protect the planet upon which our livelihoods and our lives depend and that we’re going to have to fight corporations and governments that are at odds with that goal.

DESVARIEUX: Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, thank you so much for joining us in-studio.

COLEMAN-ADEBAYO: Thank you so much for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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