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Chelsea Manning Revealed How the US 'Insider Threat' Program Tries to Catch Whistleblowers

The soldier, who is currently serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified information, obtained documents that show how the US is using profiling to prevent future leaks.
March 19, 2016, 3:25pm
Foto di Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

Do you work with an egomaniac? Does your colleague seem disgruntled? Are they worried about money? Are they greedy? Or a pushover?

If so, they might be a whistleblower, according to the US government's handbook for its "Insider Threat" program. The program surveils the internal communications of the government's military and civilian contractors, combing them for evidence of particular personality traits and flagging would-be whistleblowers — like US soldier Chelsea Manning and former NSA staffer Edward Snowden — to prevent future intelligence leaks.


Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence for leaking classified information to Wikileaks in 2010, obtained documents about the program after she submitted a Freedom of Information Act request from behind bars in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The documents show how officials used Manning to establish a prototype of a whistleblower. Her character and personality are dissected and presented as being symptomatic of the kind of person who would reveal state secrets.

The document, which was first published by the Guardian, lists broad categories at the beginning of the soldier's 31-page file. The main categories are listed as "greed or financial difficulties," "disgruntled or wants revenge," "ideology," "divided loyalties," "vulnerable to blackmail," "ego/self image," "ingratiation," and "family/personal issues."

Related: Chelsea Manning Is Suing the Government to Get Her FBI File

Manning contends that those purported "motives" are overly broad and subjective, and essentially give US officials the green light to spy on whoever they want. "The broad sweep of the program means officials have been given a blank check for surveillance," Manning said.

"This lack of focus has already led to the program becoming industrialized," Manning said, referring to a document from 2015 in which the US Department of Defense revealed the existence of "continuing evaluations" of 100,000 personnel on and off the job.


In the aftermath of the Wikileaks revelations in 2010, where Manning downloaded and distributed thousands of classified documents, the Obama administration formed the National Insider Threat Task Force. The task force was comprised of a number of government agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice. That initiative was applicable to anyone who worked for a federal agency.

Some civil rights groups have found the way Manning's gender dysphoria is cast in the document to be particularly egregious. US officials imply that Manning's gender identity had a significant part to play in her decision to leak the documents. The version of the document using Manning as a case study was drawn up in 2014, 10 days before she legally changed her gender from male to female. As a result, the document uses male pronouns to describe Manning.

"During PVT Manning's service in the US army, he struggled with his self-image as a man when he wanted to be an openly accepted female in the US army."

"The program alleges that I am 'disgruntled' based on my perceived sexual orientation and gender identity," Manning wrote in response to the documents. "It describes me as an 'advocate for homosexuals openly serving' in the military, and my concern and advocacy of queer and trans rights as being expressed 'obsessively.'"

Related: Edward Snowden Calls 'Bullshit' on FBI's Claim That It Can't Unlock iPhone

The ideology Manning espoused, according to the document, was that of a hacker who deemed "all information (government in particular) should be public knowledge."

That Manning had reportedly broken up with her boyfriend before being deployed to Iraq, that she worked the late shift, and that she researched gay rights "obsessively," were also red flags, according to the document.

There are no federal statutes that limit a private employer from surveilling their staff. However, the Federal Privacy Act does limit the amount of information a federal employer can collect on their employees. As a way of getting around those restrictions, the "Insider Threat" initiative basically provides all federal employers with a warrant.

The program also fosters a "if you see something, say something" mentality in the workplace — effectively encouraging people to keep tabs on their co-workers. "In past espionage cases, we find people saw things that may have helped identify a spy, but never reported it," Gene Barlow, a spokesman for the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive said in 2013. "That is why the awareness effort of the program is to teach people not only what types of activity to report, but how to report it and why it is so important to report it."

Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misstessowen