Stacey Singer, a health reporter for the Palm Beach Post in Florida, was perusing a medical journal in 2012 when she came across something startling: a federal epidemiologist’s report about a tuberculosis outbreak in the Jacksonville area. Singer promptly began pursuing the story.
But when she started seeking official comment about the little-reported outbreak, the doors began closing. County health officials referred her to the state health department. State officials referred her to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though the CDC’s own expert had written the investigative report, the agency’s press office declined to let Singer speak with him. A spokesman told her it was a local matter and sent her back to the state office in Tallahassee.
Through public records requests, Singer eventually was able to piece together the story of a contagion that had caused 13 deaths and 99 illnesses — the worst the CDC had found in 20 years.
A New Year’s goal of the federal office responsible for averting employee leaks is to make a career out of catching so-called insider threats.
It is a delicate task to simultaneously guard hard-working federal personnel and expose the bad apples. And it takes different talents than those one would find in a counterintelligence analyst, human resources professional or information security professional. The insider threat discipline melds all those disciplines.
“It’s a privilege to work in that program. And the only reason that you are there is to help protect your colleagues, not to out them. So, we’ve got to professionalize that workforce of people who do this for a living,” said Patricia Larsen, co-director of the National Insider Threat Task Force. “They have to view themselves as part of a community.”
Larsen was speaking at a forum hosted by Nextgov earlier this month.