1. Headline
  1. Headline
By Michael Isikoff National investigative correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/5/2011 9:03:36 AM ET 2011-01-05T14:03:36

The Obama administration is telling federal agencies to take aggressive new steps to prevent more WikiLeaks embarrassments, including instituting “insider threat” programs to ferret out disgruntled employees who might be inclined to leak classified documents, NBC News has learned.

As part of these programs, agency officials are being asked to figure out ways to “detect behavioral changes” among employees who might have access to classified documents.

A highly detailed 11-page memo prepared by U.S. intelligence officials and distributed by Jacob J. Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, suggests that agencies use psychiatrists and sociologists to measure the “relative happiness” of workers or their “despondence and grumpiness” as a way to assess their trustworthiness. The memo was sent this week to senior officials at all agencies that use classified material.  

    1. Hoffman withdrew $1,200 hours before death: sources

      Philip Seymour Hoffman withdrew a total of $1,200 from an ATM at a supermarket near his New York City apartment the night ...

    2. NYC mayor will skip St. Pat's parade over gay ban
    3. Indiana man back home 18 years after abduction
    4. 32 states in the path of another wild storm
    5. Judge vows quick ruling on Va. marriage ban

The memo also suggests that agencies take new steps to identify any contacts between federal workers and members of the news media. “Are all employees required to report their contacts with the media?” the memo asks senior officials about the policies at their agencies.

Click here to read the memo

The memo is the latest step in a high-priority administration initiative begun in the wake of the WikiLeaks debacle. It has taken on potentially even more significance in recent days with the disclosure this week that Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee,  plans to investigate what policies the White House is implementing to prevent future leaks.

But in its efforts to root out the next Bradley Manning (the Army private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks), the administration may be misfiring, according to one national security expert.

“This is paranoia, not security,” said Steven Aftergood, a national security specialist for the Federation of American Scientists, who obtained a copy of the memo.

What the administration is doing, he added, is taking programs commonly used at the CIA and other intelligence agencies to root out potential spies and expanding them to numerous other agencies — such as the State Department, the Energy Department, NASA, Homeland Security and Justice — where they are unlikely to work.

'It's triply absurd'
For example, the idea of requiring workers to report any contacts with members of the news media, as though all such contacts are suspicious, is “absurd” at the CIA, where it has long been standard policy, said Aftergood.

“It’s triply absurd at most other agencies,” he added.

  1. Stories from
    1. RHONYC Recap: Aviva Drescher Angrily Tosses Her Artificial Leg Across a Restaurant
    2. Is Zoë Saldana Pregnant? See the Telling Photos for Yourself
    3. Ian Ziering: I Never Thought Sharknado Would Come Out
    4. PHOTO: Kerry Washington and Nnamdi Asomugha Visit Disneyland
    5. Orange Is the New Black Spurs Michigan Sheriff to Change Inmate Jumpsuits

Representatives of the OMB and the Director of National Intelligence Office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

In late November, the OMB instructed senior federal officials throughout the government to set up special “assessment teams” to review how their agencies were safeguarding classified information. Robert Bryant, the chief counterintelligence official at the Director of National Intelligence Office, and William J. Bosanko of the Director of Information Security Oversight Office, which monitors the handling of classified information for the National Archives, prepared the memo outlining questions that agency officials should answer about their practices before reporting their progress to the OMB by Jan. 28.

The memo doesn’t directly mandate the actions federal agencies should take in fulfilling their requirement to safeguard classified information. But it appears designed to prod them to take strong measures.

“Strong counterintelligence and safeguarding postures are necessary to protect classified national security information,” the memo states. Citing the OMB directive, it then spells out “questions your department or agency assessment team should utilize, as an initial step to assess the current state of your information systems security.”

“Do you have an insider threat program or the foundation for such a program?’ the memo asks. It also seeks information about whether the agencies are using polygraphs and have instituted efforts to identify “unusually high occurrences of foreign travel, contacts or foreign preference” by employees.

  1. Only on NBCNews.com
    1. From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
      OWN via Getty Images
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali

Monitoring of former employees?
Perhaps the most impractical question, according to Aftergood, relates to what steps the agencies are taking to monitor whether federal workers have visited the WikiLeaks website before they started their jobs or after they retired.

“Do you capture evidence of pre-employment and/or post-employment activities or participation in online media data mining sites like WikiLeaks or Open Leaks?” the memo asks.

Aftergood said he was baffled as to how the administration expects to monitor what websites employees visit from their home computers after they have retired.

“It may be that this is what the administration needs to do to deflect congressional anger” over WikiLeaks, he said. “But some of it doesn’t make any sense.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Courtesy Aldrich Family

    ‘Extraordinary’ 8-year-old boy finishes triathlon with his disabled brother

    7/22/2014 4:35:28 PM +00:00 2014-07-22T16:35:28
  1. Feds ban airlines from flying to Tel Aviv airport

    Federal aviation officials issued an order to airlines prohibiting them from flying to and from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport for 24 hours after a rocket struck near the airport earlier Tuesday.

    7/22/2014 5:43:01 PM +00:00 2014-07-22T17:43:01
  2. Dutch collect DNA to match with MH17 victims
  1. Pool / Reuters

    Prince George's birthday: The royal tot's 10 cutest moments

    7/22/2014 1:11:51 PM +00:00 2014-07-22T13:11:51
  1. Khakimullin Aleksandr / Shutterstock / Khakimullin Aleks

    The 5 best exercises for tank top-worthy arms

    7/22/2014 8:56:50 PM +00:00 2014-07-22T20:56:50
  1. Coke is a stain remover? 6 surprising cleaners in your home

    From those annoying white deodorant stains on your little black dress to rust stains in the commode, some stains just won't go away — until now. With help from some savvy experts, we put together surprising tips to banish these stains once and for all.

    7/22/2014 4:48:22 PM +00:00 2014-07-22T16:48:22
  1. Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images

    Chris Pratt wows us — and his wife — on 'Guardians' red carpet

    7/22/2014 7:16:22 PM +00:00 2014-07-22T19:16:22