Jesse Walker, the books editor for Reason magazine, is the author of “The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory.”
In the popular stereotype, conspiracy theorists direct their paranoia at the government: The CIA shot JFK. NASA faked the moon landing. Sept. 11 was an inside job.
But the most significant sorts of political paranoia are the kinds that catch on with people inside the halls of power, not the folks on the outside looking in. The latest example is a crackdown on leaks that has the government crippled by a fear of its own employees. Washington is petrified of itself.
The federal effort, called the Insider Threat Program, was launched in October 2011, and it certainly hasn’t diminished since Edward Snowden disclosed details of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying. As McClatchy reporters Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay have described, federal employees and contractors are encouraged to keep an eye on allegedly suspicious indicators in their co-workers’ lives, from financial troubles to divorce. A brochure produced by the Defense Security Service, titled “INSIDER THREATS: Combating the ENEMY within your organization,” sums up the spirit of the program: “It is better to have reported overzealously than never to have reported at all.”