Skip to main content

US federal agencies begin WikiLeaks witch hunt

US federal agencies have been prompted to begin a crackdown on whistle-blowing, instigating "insider threat" programmes to root out disgruntled insiders following the release of more than 250,000 diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks at the end of last year.

The policy has been outlined in a comprehensive 11-page memo sent by the Executive Office of the President on 3rd January and obtained by NBC News

The document was prepared by US intelligence officials and distributed by Jacob J. Lew, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and provides detailed guidance on how to "detect behavioral changes" among disaffected employees.

While the memo stops short of laying down any mandatory steps for agencies, it suggests measures including the use of psychiatrists to assess agency staff members' "relative happiness" or "despondence and grumpiness".

The memo's security audit questionnaire also includes references to the use of polygraph lie detector tests on staff.

The move by the Obama administration is designed to stem a flood of revelations about the inner workings of US government. These have included vast archives of classified Defense Department documents concerning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including damning helicopter cockpit footage showing US servicemen killing a number of civilians in Iraq, among them two Reuters journalists.

The later 'Cablegate' leaks of diplomatic correspondence caused red faces at the US State Department, as the private thoughts of US diplomats concerning foreign governments and heads of state were aired in public.

US government sources believe the leaks were carried out by Bradley Manning, a US Aarmy private who has been held in custody for more than seven months amid allegations that his conditions amount to torture.

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, denies any knowledge of Bradley Manning - although the group pledged $50,000 to Manning's defence fund shortly before Christmas. Assange currently faces extradition to Sweden from the UK, amid fears that the US will press for his further extradition to America to face charges of espionage.

The recent memo is a measure of how seriously US authorities are takes the threat posed by WikiLeaks, but experts are far from convinced the measures suggested will have the desired effect.

Steven Aftergood, a national security specialist for the Federation of American Scientists, who obtained a copy of the memo, derided the document as "paranoia, not security". According to Aftergood, the procedures outline in the memo are commonly used by intelligence agencies such as the CIA to flush out potential spies, but are unlikely to work in other federal bodies.

And it isn't just governments who have to fear WikiLeaks. In November, Julian Assange hinted that the organisation was in possession of a hard drive belonging to an executive of a major US bank that contained evidence of an "ecosystem of corruption".

According to a recent report in the New York Times, worried financial institution Bank of America has brought in consultants Booz Allen Hamilton to head up a broad investigation into potential leaks.