Monthly Archives: September 2013

What Does ‘Secret Clearance’ Really Mean?

Rachel Maddow, on her MSNBC show, said it best tonight when she talked extensively about the flaws in the background checks system in our country. The topic of the Federal “security clearance” is a hot one right now, due to the recent shooting rampage that happened at the Washington Navy yard. When such senseless acts of violence happen, most people ask questions in order to try to make sense of it. Along with the obvious question of “why did he do it?”, many citizens and lawmakers are asking how it could happen.

In the USA, there are 3 generally recognized levels of security clearance: confidential, secret and top secret. Most of our Federal government agencies use the SF86 to start the process. The applicant completes the form, submits it, and then an investigative agency is charged with the task of confirming the validity of the information that the applicant reported. It is generally known that the system relies on applicants to self-report honestly, and applicants sign their name and certify that their answers are true. A “knowing and willful false statement” can be punished by fine, imprisonment or both. Our government relies on the honor system of all who seek the clearance.

Once a person has successfully navigated the clearance process, they also agree to subject themselves to periodic reinvestigations in order to keep their clearance. The reinvestigation time will depend on the type of clearance they have.

You can see by looking at the actual SF86 the areas of interest that will be checked. Your financial history, employment history and family information are just a few topic areas. It’s not uncommon for neighbors, family members and friends to be interviewed in the process.

Since the investigators are supposed to be checking multiple databases and agencies in order to create or confirm the picture that the applicant is attempting to paint of themselves, what can be said about the thoroughness of that process if information blatantly slips through it? Can’t say that it isn’t possible, because as the following story shows, BOTH the Navy Yard shooter and Edward Snowden both had their background checks done by the same company. Click HERE

A security clearance, at least on the surface, gives people the indication that the person with the clearance can be trusted. If the clearance process and investigation is done thoroughly, it could weed-out people who are supposed to be trusted to be honest, forthright and trustworthy. When it comes time for the reinvestigation, the fact that the person has clearance in the first place often provides a false sense of security which leads to complacency. That leads to missed opportunities for mistakes and misdeeds to be caught. Those misdeeds, mistakes and downright fraud costs ALL of us in the end. If the Navy Yard shooter can fail to report a gun arrest on his background check forms, and still get his clearance, and a person can report that they are “married” (and get Federal financial dollars for years as a result) to someone who doesn’t actually exist, what does that say about the integrity of our clearance process? Huh, an investigator who admitted to having ‘investigated’ a person who had been dead for 10 years? (see recast of Rachel Maddow show). If a person lies on their form, that should send a flag about the person. Period. C’mon guys!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/after-navy-yard-shooting-vets-fear-crackdown-on-security-clearances-will-unfairly-hurt-them/2013/09/20/43cf64d0-2206-11e3-a358-1144dee636dd_story.html

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/17/navy-yard-shooter-security-clearance-contractors-shocked/2827665/

http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20130922/PERSONNEL01/309220005/Background-checks-under-scrutiny-after-Navy-Yard-shooting

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-clearance-shooting-20130919,0,2925033.story

http://www.wjla.com/articles/2013/09/government-background-checks-for-security-clearances-unreliable-review-finds-94289.html