Ruchika Tulshyan is a freelance reporter from Singapore, based in Seattle.
Could you be Hema?
The Department of Defense has released a new security training test that warns federal agents of the “high threat” a hypothetical Indian-American a could pose. This woman should be considered suspicious because of she has money troubles, travels abroad to visit family in India and “speaks openly of unhappiness with U.S. foreign policy.”
The “Cyber Awareness Challenge” created by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), includes a slide about Hema under a section called “insider threats.” According to the training program, Hema frequently travels overseas and her political opinions could be considered a threat to security due to “possible divided loyalty.”The Aerogram said they had a, “Hey! That sounds like me!” moment when they read the news, first published on the Huffington Post.
“I thought it was disturbing that the federal government would consider me or someone like me a 'high threat,'" Pavani Yalamanchili, a writer and co-founder of The Aerogram, wrote in an email. "Traveling to where our parents and, or grandparents, were born is not just about visiting friends and family. It also helps us to be aware of other parts of the world, first-hand, and makes us grateful to live in the U.S. and have so many opportunities here.” Yalamanchili said. She said that training programs, like the DOD's latest, could put her at a disadvantage if she were ever to apply for a job within the federal government.
The Aerogram’s Lakshmi Gandhi took the training test online and noted that the character who frequently plays high-risk poker was less threatening than Hema. "If the fictitious Hema is anything like me, she spends about 80 percent of her time in India visiting her great aunts and eating mithai," Gandhi wrote in an email. (And for the record, Gandhi notes that the remaining 20 percemt of her time is spent shopping). "That vacationing in a foreign country is apparently much riskier than potentially having a gambling addiction or frequently risking your entire life savings, is a bit baffling.”
Gandhi also found the training discriminatory. “If Hema had exhibited genuinely suspicious behavior, that would be one thing. But to insinuate that she has divided loyalties merely because she visits her family twice a year is quite dark and ugly and sends the message that The Pentagon does not really want immigrants, or the children of immigrants, in their employ."
"It's interesting that this [article] was published the same week The New York Times' Charlie Savage revealed that the NSA is searching every email that enters or leaves the United States. So is it simply that anyone that has any sort of contact with the world beyond the borders of the United States is suspicious?”
Tanzila Ahmed, an activist, storyteller and politico based in Southern California, said the DOD is fortunate to have South Asian Americans working in the federal government as it “doesn't always treat the South Asian and Muslim community judicially.”
She points out that the two largest cases of insiders ratting out government secrets are white men – Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. “I haven't heard of a case where an Indian-American woman with a large debt that frequents travel to India who has been in the news for the same thing. So if news is a reflection, white males are clearly who the government have to worry about.”
She also wonders about the connection between well-traveled Indian-American women and ratting out job secrets. “As a Bangladeshi-American woman that is well traveled and has lots of debt, I sure as hell would never work for the Defense Department." Ahmed also wants to know: "Who is this Hema? I think we could be fast friends.”
Do you agree or disagree with Hema posing a hypothetical threat to American security? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
You can also take a version of the training test online here.
Content and information presented in this blog post does not reflect the views of the South Asian Journalists Association.