Publications such as The Daily Caller, Human Events, MSNBC, Democracy Now!, Salon, and The Huffington Post expressed various levels of outrage and derision at recent reports about the Insider Threat Program by the Obama administration. The Insider Threat Program is said to be designed to detect people who might betray national secrets or otherwise harm the nation. Yet while people are expressing outrage at this program, they are at the same time ignoring how its existence shows that the Obama administration implicitly agrees that U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was correct in expressing her concern about the potential security risk of Huma Abedin. Here is why.
|Standard Form 86|
Questionnaire for National Security Positions
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Background and Analysis
McClatchy published an article in late June and another one in early July on the Obama administration’s Insider Threat Program. Many media outlets picked up on this and either vented outrage or derision at this news, with some focusing on how the Insider Threat Program isn’t just aimed at intelligence agencies or those with security clearances, but for the entire federal government.
But while people have expressed anger at the government for what they see as problems with the Insider Threat Program, they have not noted how its existence demonstrates that the Obama administration implicitly agrees that Michele Bachmann was right for voicing her concern over the potential security threat posed by Huma Abedin.
Michele Bachmann and other members of the House of Representatives expressed their concern, on June 13, 2012, that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government. This concern included the potential security risk of Huma Abedin because of her familial relationships with people with associations or ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Critics on the left and right dismissed the concern from Bachmann and her colleagues as outrageous and unwarranted.
For example, President Obama subtly dismissed the concern when he praised Abedin as an “American patriot”.
And U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) took to the floor of the Senate in defense of Abedin. His comments included the following:
Our reputations, our character, are the only things we leave behind when we depart this earth, and unjust attacks that malign the good name of a decent and honorable person is not only wrong; it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans.Newsmax quoted Former FBI Director William Webster as saying the following on the matter:
“This is unfair, counterproductive, and it’s probably, in some respects, illegal or tortuous to be saying those things,” Webster says. “But more importantly, it gets in the way of our being able to prevent terrorist acts from happening.”The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast published negative articles and/or columns on Bachmann and her colleagues. The Washington Post went further and published an editorial that included the following remarks:
Ms. Bachmann’s accusations are tissue-thin garbage of the someone-said-something variety — or, as Mr. McCain put it, “nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American and a loyal public servant.”
Among the co-signers of Ms. Bachmann’s letter are Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, notorious for describing abortion as having done more harm to blacks than slavery; Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who described then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, as “uppity”; and Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, known for evidence-free rants about plots involving U.S. passport-bearing “terror babies,” born here and trained overseas to carry out attacks on America.Matt Lewis of The Daily Caller wrote, “Shame on you, Michele Bachmann: Apologize to Huma Abedin”:
In this instance, Rep. Michele Bachmann, who gave these wildly unsubstantiated attacks the credibility of a congressional seal of approval, clearly failed to live up to those expectations. On the floor of the House of Representatives, facts should rule the day — not rumor mongering.
These accusations stemmed from a report from The Center for Security Policy. This group, run by Frank Gaffney, has been on the forefront of combating “creeping Sharia,” and if there were actually such a thing, I’d applaud Gaffney’s work.
But it’s a phantom, a straw man, a fear of something without any there there. It needs to stop now.
National Review, the magazine seen by many as the intellectual backbone of modern conservatism, spent years pushing back against conspiracy theories fostered by groups such as the John Birch Society. Their work was essential to keeping the right wing from being typecast as a bunch of loons and fools.
It appears we might need a similar effort today. Conservatism cannot allow itself to be the residence of cranks.Ultimately, the concern of Bachmann and her colleagues were dismissed and the matter largely forgotten.
Yet, the existence of the Insider Threat Program (which directs federal employees to report potential insider threats) shows that the Obama administration implicitly agrees that Bachmann and her colleagues were right to voice their concern (based on actual insider threat indicators—not rumor or hearsay) about people who might pose an insider threat to national security. (In fact, the Insider Threat Program was initiated prior to Bachmann and her colleagues voicing their concerns over the Muslim Brotherhood and Huma Abedin. Thus, Bachmann and her colleagues essentially were adhering to the philosophy behind the Insider Threat Program.)
Furthermore, this should have been obvious from the start. After all, family relations are critically important to security clearances. The questions on Standard Form 86 (SF-86) demonstrate this. Another example is the number of people denied industrial security clearances because of familial relationships. (See the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) website; click here for 2013 alone.) Bachmann and her colleagues even cite the potential security problem of familial relationships in their letter to Rep. Keith Ellison (Defense Human Resource Activity, “Foreign Influence,” Adjudicative Desk Reference: Background Resources for Personnel Security Adjudicators, Investigators and Mangers, http://www.dhra.mil/perserec/adr/index.htm).
Finally, just because someone is an “American patriot” or has a security clearance doesn’t mean that he is forever above suspicion. (That’s why the Army investigated personnel with security clearances at Guantanamo Bay when situations warranted it.)
The Insider Threat Program shows that the Obama administration implicitly agrees that Michele Bachmann and her colleagues were right in expressing concern about a group of people (the Muslim Brotherhood and Huma Abedin included) who might pose an insider threat to national security.
Nevertheless, few people will likely acknowledge this. At the same time, the press, pundits, and politicians will continue asking questions such as how Edward Snowden got a security clearance.
Two critical points emerge from this.
First, the disrespect shown to Michele Bachmann and her colleagues after they voiced their concern demonstrates how following the law can result in derision and dismissal of a legitimate concern. At the same time, someone like Edward Snowden demonstrates how breaking the law can result in praise and focus on that person’s concern. This will encourage people to choose unlawful or unofficial routes of whistleblowing in the future which in turn will, ironically, undermine the stated desire of the Insider Threat Program.
Secondly, these events show that even when government officials implicitly agree with people such as Bachmann and her colleagues, people such as Bachmann and her colleagues still risk ridicule and being ignored.