updated 02:59 pm EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
Government employees will be subject to near-constant surveillance
US intelligence and military commands are in the process of evaluating a widespread government employee surveillance system that would accumulate databases in order to evaluate the behavior of security clearance holders. The system would be tailored to identify present and future corrupt officials, data leakers, and other "rogue agents", and pulls from aspects of a US military model that has been in the works for more than 10 years. The new system will collate data from many databases, public and private, to form a profile of a targeted individual, and evaluate them for threats to the US government from within.
As part of the vetting process, prospective employees and soldiers needing classified data access already undergo fairly comprehensive background checks, including psychological, financial, and personal data. More recently, a subject's circle of acquaintances is now being examined for potential problems. One Electronista writer was subject to these checks throughout the '90s, and found them in the simpler state that they existed in more than two decades ago as "extremely intrusive" to himself and "disruptive" to colleagues and friends interviewed for the clearance.
A more recent security evaluation candidate told us that the process was "demeaning" and stressful emotionally and physically. She cited military regulations, and declined to provide us with more information on the current security screening methods.
The new program is intended to provide more "real-time" monitoring of governmental employees than a one-time evaluation allows. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress in February that "what we need is a system of continuous evaluation where when someone is in the system and they're cleared initially, then we have a way of monitoring their behavior, both their electronic behavior on the job as well as off the job."
There are few concrete details of the program available. Outgoing NSA director Keith Alexander noted that an "insider threat" program us well underway. Recently-declassified documentation has revealed that the NSA monitors its own personnel who are performing surveillance for compliance with NSA regulations and federal law, more for solidity of law enforcement and court proceedings than anything else.
Sources familiar with the matter told the Associated Press that the program will use a continuous data stream from law enforcement databases, military records, government files, licensing, public record repositories, credit agencies, and other data services. The software developed for the program will comb through the data and flag individuals for additional scrutiny.
The foundation of the program is the Northrop Grumman-designed ACES program. The project isn't in full use, but has passed some initial testing after a 10-year development cycle that has cost taxpayers $84 million so far. Former Admiral Mike McConnell spoke of the ACES program, saying that "if one guy has a Jaguar on a (government) GS-12 salary, that's a red flag." Ostensibly, the new program, as well as ACES, is intended to automate the evaluation process.
General counsel for for the American Federation of Government Employees David Borer sees a problem with the forthcoming program. "The problem is you're spreading all this private data around to more and more people, both inside and outside," Borer said. "As a result of the Snowden disclosures, I think we're seeing what an open book workers' lives are becoming."
As expected, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) doesn't care for the program either. It believes that individual freedoms, including free speech, freedom of religion, and the basic right to privacy will be violated by the system. Additionally, the EFF is concerned about erroneous scrutiny because of inaccurate information in a collated database, either by simple error, or on victims of identity theft.
According to Clapper, monitoring of some government employees could begin as soon as September of this year. Full coverage of all employees could be in place by September 2016. At best, Clapper believes that the system "is going to be costly."