Experts: Obama's "Insider Threat" profiling program for government workers probably won't work

James Poulos is right. The fact that the program doesn’t work and will debilitate personal relations isn’t the story. The story is that the program itself, however flawed, is another step towards “precrime” detection. The feds are already well down that path in virtual space; the whole point of NSA data-harvesting, after all, is to identify and intercept terrorists before they make a move. The more information they collect and the more sophisticated their AI becomes, the more they’ll turn from focusing on terrorists in the early planning stages to “terrorists” who haven’t thought of planning anything “yet.” Insider Threat is an extension of that logic, with the wrinkle that it’s not happening in virtual space and it’s not based on high-tech information processing. It’s happening in real space, among government workers, based on hunches.

Because the state needs every pair of eyes it can get.

In an initiative aimed at rooting out future leakers and other security violators, President Barack Obama has ordered federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues based on behavioral profiling techniques that are not scientifically proven to work, according to experts and government documents…

Federal employees and contractors are asked to pay particular attention to the lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors – like financial troubles, odd working hours or unexplained travel – of co-workers as a way to predict whether they might do “harm to the United States.” Managers of special insider threat offices will have “regular, timely, and, if possible, electronic, access” to employees’ personnel, payroll, disciplinary and “personal contact” files, as well as records of their use of classified and unclassified computer networks, polygraph results, travel reports and financial disclosure forms…

But even the government’s top scientific advisers have questioned these techniques. Those experts say that trying to predict future acts through behavioral monitoring is unproven and could result in illegal ethnic and racial profiling and privacy violations…

“Doing something similar about predicting future leakers seems even more speculative,” Stephen Fienberg, a professor of statistics and social science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and a member of the committee that wrote the report, told McClatchy.

The FBI’s insider threat guide lists “a desire to help the ‘underdog'” as one of the alarming behaviors managers should watch out for in potential leakers. If they’re willing to go as far as encouraging government employees to be suspicious of each other, I assume they’re already targeting those employees with special forms of data-mining to increase their chances of predetection. And if they’re willing to invest billions in NSA and risk the PR backlash from initiatives like Insider Threat, I assume that a specialized federal agency devoted to predetection, if only among government workers, either already exists or is in the offing. (Maybe it’s tucked inside the FBI.) Like Poulos says, it’s hard to tackle this topic without descending straightaway into conspiracy theories and speculation, but paranoia is an inevitable side effect of living in a secretive, surveillance state.

And honestly, I don’t see a way to stop it. Which major technological advances have ever been halted and then rolled back due to public disapproval? We’ve lived with nuclear bombs for 70 years; people will allow themselves to live with some form of precrime detection. The trick for the government, I think, is sticking to surveillance and not outright apprehension of “precriminals.” Throw people in a cell because you think they might do something and you’ll see a real backlash. Keep your distance while watching them 24/7 and you might not. We’re already being watched 24/7 via programs like PRISM, after all. Inevitably the feds will have some sort of success story to show the public, intercepting someone whom they claim would have been the next Adam Lanza if they hadn’t intervened, and that’ll win a chunk of the public over. Which is to say, this is a tough, tough battle for civil libertarians. Think of how many populations have learned to live, kinda sorta, with totalitarianism. Even in a precrime world, America will likely still be a bit more free than most other countries, which of course will inevitably install their own precrime apparatuses. Once it’s the norm and you’ve accepted that “it could be worse,” what’s left?

Here’s Mark Levin sounding the alarm. Click the image to listen.