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White House’s ‘insider threat’ program targets federal employees for surveillance

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In an effort to prevent another Bradley Manning, the Obama administration is urging all federal government agencies to watch its employees for signs they may be leaking classified information.

In a memo dated Monday, Jacob J. Lew, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, directed government agencies that deal with classified information to ensure that they are in compliance with secrecy rules brought in after WikiLeaks’ release of classified material.

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The document (PDF), which was leaked to NBC less than 48 hours after it was written, urges agencies to develop an “insider threat program” that would monitor employees for “behavioral changes” indicating they may be leaking classified documents or be willing to do so.

The document calls on agencies to hire psychiatrists and sociologists to measure the “despondence or grumpiness” of federal employees in order to “gauge trustworthiness.” It also urges the use of polygraph machines, and the monitoring of computer activities and signs of “high occurrences of foreign travel.”

Agencies are urged to “capture evidence of pre-employment and/or post-employment activities or participation in on-line media data mining sites like WikiLeaks or Open Leaks,” indicating that the administration wants to see personnel monitored even after they stop working for the federal government.

The memo, written as a check-list of questions, doesn’t order agencies to carry out these policies, but is written in such a way to suggest that agencies that don’t carry out these policies would be delinquent in their duties.

“This is paranoia, not security,” Steven Aftergood, a national security expert with the Federation of American Scientists, told NBC.

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Aftergood said the White House was simply expanding the methods used by the CIA to weed out spies to other agencies of the government, where they are unlikely to work. He called some of the recommendations — such as one that all employees report any contact with members of the media — “absurd.”

But the document appears to be at least in part a reaction to speculation that PFC Bradley Manning, the soldier alleged to have been WikiLeaks’ source, was disgruntled in his Army position.

Online chats allegedly between him and hacker Adrian Lamo suggest Manning was unhappy with the US’s conduct in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Others have suggested he was unhappy about disciplinary action against him, or about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

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As NBC noted, the White House may be under pressure to show to the new Republican-dominated House that they are reacting swiftly and concretely to the WikiLeaks releases.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the new chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has said he plans to hold hearings into WikiLeaks and the government’s response early on in the House session.

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We still don’t know how many people are in the hospital with COVID-19

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Late last month, Vice President Mike Pence sent a letter to administrators of the nation’s 6,000 hospitals requesting a favor.

He asked them to complete a form each day with data on the patients they are treating with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and submit it to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The data will help us better understand disease patterns and develop policies for prevention and control of health problems related to COVID-19,” Pence wrote.

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Mike Pence’s office blocks top health officials from CNN as punishment

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Vice President Mike Pence has kept the nation's top health officials from appearing on CNN since the network stopped carrying the daily coronavirus briefings in their entirety.

The vice president's office, which is responsible for booking those officials to deliver pandemic information, told CNN that Dr. Deborah Birx or Dr. Anthony Fauci would not be permitted to appear on the network until it carries the briefings, including Pence's remarks, in full.

"When you guys cover the briefings with the health officials then you can expect them back on your air," a Pence spokesperson told CNN.

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‘Well-spoken cultist’: Bill Barr trashed for praising ‘statesmanlike’ Trump and urging an end to COVID-19 lockdowns

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During an interview with Fox News host Laura Ingraham Wednesday night, Attorney General Bill Barr praised President Trump's "statesman-like" effort at the "beginning" of the coronavirus epidemic where he "tried to bring people together" while "working with all the governors" -- a characterization that did not go over well with many of the President's critics on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/matthewamiller/status/1248241999297339394

https://twitter.com/andeparks/status/1248255118291742722

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