Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
The news has been flooded with coverage of the secret service agents and military personnel who allegedly engaged prostitutes and indulged in drunken debauchery as a part of an advance team sent to prepare for President Obama’s trip to Colombia for the Summit of the Americas.
Secret service agents are required to obtain top secret security clearances as a part of their work. As a law enforcement body with a vital connection to national security and the safety of the president, they’re also held to personal conduct standards.
Prostitution is legal in Colombia, but violated the standards of the secret service as well as opening up the agents for possible blackmail. While this incident is spread all over the news, the question security clearance investigators and supervisors will be asking is whether or not this has happened before. (And the agents might as well start preparing for their polygraph examinations now…)
Foreign intelligence agents use every tool in their arsenal – including sex – as a means to coerce, and possibly blackmail targets for information and access. One need look no further than the Russian spy ring’s ‘red hot’ Anna Chapman as a demonstration of how sex, or sex appeal, is used to tease out information. Engaging in prostitution – even in countries where it is legal – also raises “lack of discretion” and “poor judgment” concerns.
It’s likely that if the charges against the agents are verified they will lose their jobs, most definitely. Whether or not they would be able to maintain a security clearance would likely depend on how egregious the behavior was and whether or not it was an isolated incident or a pattern of untrustworthy and potentially harmful behavior. News reports are saying that the accused agents have already had their clearances revoked pending the investigation. This should come as no surprise, and is a standard response in an investigation where issues of blackmail and access to sensitive information are concerned.
For the average security cleared professional, without such close access to the White House and with little risk to blackmail, it’s unlikely that visiting a prostitute in a country where it was legal would result in clearance issues. But you’d have to be so sure you wouldn’t succumb to blackmail or foreign influence and that you’d be okay with the story being told across the evening news.
The General Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report on the cost of “Background Investigations” (GAO-12-197) conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The first sentence of the report declared:
OPM’s reported costs to conduct background investigations increased by almost 79 percent, from about $602 million in fiscal year 2005 to almost $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2011 (in fiscal year 2011 dollars).
The news media chose to publish articles that focused on the overall increase in the amount spent on background investigations, rather than the actual increase in the price of various investigative products offered by OPM. It’s not until you get down to page 47 of the GAO report that you see the weighted average price increase for investigative products only went up 5.1% per year from 2005 to 2012. 2005 and 2006 were transition years for OPM. In 2005 OPM accepted the transfer of about 1,700 Defense Security Service personnel and the responsibility for all Department of Defense (DOD) background investigations. During 2004 OPM had conducted a portion of DOD’s background investigations and knew that their existing price structure wouldn’t cover the actual cost of these investigations, so they entering into a special agreement with DOD whereby OPM charged DOD an extra 25% over their standard prices. The DOD investigations increased OPM’s caseload by 200%. OPM was able to readjust their prices down a little in 2006. If you back out the two transition years of 2005 and 2006, OPM increased their average weighted price of investigations about 4% per year during the past five years. This was a pretty remarkable feat considering that they significantly reduced turnaround time on their investigations during the same period.
It’s a fallacy to ascribe to OPM the increase in the total cost of all investigations, because OPM has no control over the number or types of investigations they are requested to conduct. GAO also claimed that the total cost of OPM investigations continued to gradually increase from 2005 to 2011, even though the number of investigations conducted by OPM declined about 30% from 2008 to 2011. But GAO failed to report the types of investigations that OPM had conducted. When a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) at $4,005 costs about 14 times more than a National Agency Check with Law and Credit (NACLC) at $228, an increase in the number of expensive investigations can more than offset a large decease in the total number of cheaper investigations.
GAO doesn’t always get it right, and in my opinion this is one of those times that they got it wrong. There may very well be cost accounting and lack of transparency problems at OPM, but GAO failed to focus on these issues.
Attending FOSE, an annual gathering of government IT professionals at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center? The ClearanceJobs team will be there and we look forward to meeting you – be sure to stop by our booth to say hello, and keep on the look-out for the ClearanceJobs Uncle Sam. He wants YOU to find your next job on the Cleared Network. And as if just meeting Uncle Sam wasn’t great enough, you can get your picture taken with him (can you say, Facebook profile photo?) to be entered in for the chance to win a Kindle Fire.
Don’t have a pass yet? Don’t fret. Industry and non-government can get a free expo pass – just use the promo code EXPO1 or register at http://bit.ly/FOSEEXPO1. You can also get $200 off the full FOSE conference rate using GOVEB.
Look forward to seeing you at FOSE next week! Be sure to brush up on your networking skills – tradeshows are a great place to make connections that could lead to your next career opportunity.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged with 17 counts of murder last week, after allegedly shooting Afghan civilians in their sleep in a massacre that has strained already troubled U.S. –Afghan relations.
As analysts look to the cause and unpack the details one area that hasn’t escaped their scrutiny is the secret security clearance Bales held. It’s not uncommon for service members to receive security clearances, particularly prior to a deployment. The majority of both officers and non-commissioned officers and some lower-ranking enlisted service members will obtain security clearances as a part of their need to access sensitive information in the field.
So while it’s not odd for Bales to have possessed a security clearance some are questioning how he obtained one. In 2003 he was order to pay $1.3 million in damages to a couple he stole approximately $600,000 from while working as their stockbroker. After joining the Army, Bales’ financial troubles continued and in 2009 he defaulted on a mortgage.
Financial woes alone aren’t necessarily a cause for a clearance denial but the issue of trustworthiness implied by Bales’ financial dealings, coupled with continued financial uncertainty, would have likely set off red flags in regards to both trustworthiness, stability, and susceptibility to coercion. It’s certainly possible these issues were mitigated through the clearance process. Or Bales could have lied in his application, although it seems unlikely the problems wouldn’t have come up in an investigation.
The other issue at hand is Bales mental stability. Much like the recent case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who released thousands of classified cables to Wikileaks, Bales is calling into question whether or not we’re paying adequate attention to the mental stability of our deployed troops. Multiple combat tours, financial strain at home and other factors can combine to produce a strain some may find difficult to handle.
There are really two issues at hand here – one, the difficulty in assessing a person’s motivations and character in a cursory investigation and second, the “clearance inflation” that has occurred due to the rapid advancement of high-tech, high level signals intelligence and other technology on the battlefield, which requires more deployed troops to obtain clearances in the first place. As the military looks to draw down and lower troop numbers effectively, they may look at how a clearable force ties into that matrix – perhaps issuing security clearances to all troops as a part of the enlistment process, and ensuring service members are clearable before they enter the ranks.
Job searching and career networking for security-cleared professionals isn’t a casual affair – it’s something we take seriously at ClearanceJobs.com. The security and safety of our user’s information is important, and so is linking up professionals with the perfect job opportunity at the perfect time. Social tools have come a long way, and can be a powerful medium to help professionals find their next career opportunity.
Our upcoming ClearanceJobs.com hosted chat session with TASC, Inc., a leading systems engineering, integration, and decision-support services company, is one way we’re using social tools to link job seekers and defense industry employers. Register for the chat here and learn more about TASC. During the chat, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with recruiters, ask questions in an arena where you’ll get immediate response, and learn about a company with a variety of exciting job opportunities across the country, but in the Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania regions, in particular.
ClearanceJobs.com hosted chats are just one way we’re harnessing the power of social tools, in a secure setting, to help professionals search for their next job and network in their industry. Find our more about the Cleared Network, including how to register for groups, connect with companies, and use social tools in a secure setting.
So, we know email is a common problem filling security-cleared professionals’ inboxes, especially clearance investigators. Email can be a vital line of communication both within the office and to contact those outside of it, but it can also be a drain on time, especially if it becomes filled with useless messages.
Here is an interesting infographic that might help you consider whether or not to send that email, and one that might be worth sharing with a few colleagues as you clean out your inbox this morning… Continue Reading »
A Freedom of Information Act release of information about Steve Jobs made following his Oct. 5, 2011 death has unearthed a 191-page FBI file about the enigmatic, sometimes controversial and almost universally admired tech giant.
Among the details in the report is the fact that Jobs held a top secret security clearance from 1988 to 1990. The background investigation was conducted as a part of Jobs’ appointment to President George H.W. Bush’s Export Council. Jobs was the chairman and CEO of Pixar at the time.
Ironically, the information included in the investigation mirrors some of the challenges faced by investigators today – past drug use, a series of legal actions requiring research and investigative hours and conflicting reports from colleagues and associates concerning Jobs’ personal character and personality.
Issues of dishonesty and lack of integrity were mentioned, although even most critics said they would recommend Jobs to a position of public trust. Several mentioned that Jobs would distort reality to accomplish his goals, and that while his contributions to the tech industry could not be underscored, his willingness to do whatever it took to obtain them left some colleagues and employees disenfranchised.
Jobs is certainly a special case, perhaps – could an individual whose redeeming qualities were less stellar have obtained the same clearance? Perhaps it all goes back to mitigating circumstances – even in the face of lawsuits, LSD and questionable ethics, Jobs was able to demonstrate a “whole-person” aspect that rounded out the rough spots.
What do you think – if you were investigating Steve Jobs would he have gotten the clearance? What about a candidate today with a similar background, but a less famous name?
We’re launching a new article series at ClearanceJobs.com highlighting security clearance professions. If you work in the security clearance industry and would like to be featured email email@example.com.
Security Clearance Career Profile: Investigating the Tough Cases
by Ericka Cady for ClearanceJobs.com
Until recently I worked at the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA) where I adjudicated background investigations on defense contractors who had applied for security clearances. Defense contractor cases are usually handled by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO), but when DISCO is unable to grant a clearance due to the complexity of the case, the entire file is sent to DOHA.
I occasionally received an easily resolved single-issue case, but most cases that arrived at my desk were incomplete and contained multiple complex issues. These cases involved applicants with massive unresolved issues, such as delinquent debts, criminal records (some dating back to the 1960s), drug use, current alcohol abuse, foreign preference or nationality concerns, and deliberate falsification.
DOHA is now located at Fort Meade, Md. in a new state-of-the-art building specifically designed for clearance adjudication. DOHA shares the building with 9 other DOD adjudication agencies. The new facility is very secure. Personnel are required to clear 3 different checkpoints before arriving at their desks. Building rules don’t allow for any recording devices, cell phones or laptops to come inside. Lockers for the storage of such personal items are provided near the metal detectors in the reception area. Once inside, I would go directly to my workspace, a cubicle in a sea of cubicles.
After dropping my purse and lunch, I listen to 6 to 10 phone messages left for me since leaving work the previous evening. I turn on my computer and review the list of names from the phone messages, with full intent to marry them up with the actual file before attempting a return phone call.
Once logged into the computer, I pull up my email. Email is vital in DOHA. And by vital, I mean a lifeline. All information is passed in office email, from “Important all hands meeting in 20 minutes” to “Who left the coffee pot totally empty and still on?”
Maryland State Senator Roger Manno and 27 of his Senate colleagues have proposed a State income tax credit for costs incurred to obtain federal security clearances. The bill (SB296) would require “the Governor of Maryland to make a $6,000,000 appropriation in FY2014 and FY21015 for the tax credit, applying the Act to all taxable years beginning after December 31, 2011.”
Sounds great, but who would actually benefit from this tax credit. The bill does not define “federal security clearance” and it’s unclear whether the term “security clearance” is being used generically to cover all federal clearances (such as National Security Clearances, Public Trust Clearances, HSPD-12 Credentialing, and Transportation Worker Identity Credentials) or whether only National Security Clearances for access to classified national security information will be covered. Nor does the bill hint at the potential number of Maryland residents who might be able to claim the tax credit or the nature of the clearance-related expenses that will be covered. A call to Senator Manno’s office disclosed that the tax credit is primarily intended to benefit federal contractors and/or their employees, but no specific information was readily available.
The vast majority of federal contractor security clearances are processed by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO), a component of the Defense Security Service (DSS). DOD approved $238.5M in federally appropriated funds for FY2012 to pay for the cost of DSS processing contractor security clearances, and DSS has never charged defense contractors or defense contractor employees for either the cost of personnel security clearances or facility security clearances.
So, the question remains, who will benefit from this tax credit? Will most of the $6M languish in a special fund and be unavailable for other State purposes, or will someone in the Maryland Senate research the subject and either withdraw the bill or rewrite it so it might actually provide some benefit to Maryland workers who are seeking jobs in the defense industry?
A $39 million task order contract awarded this week to CACI International Inc. includes software engineering and integration services for the Defense Logistics Agency’s security clearance process.
Dan Allen, CACI President of U.S. Operations, said, “With this new task order to support the Department of Defense, CACI will directly enhance the nation’s ability to ensure that only the highest quality professionals receive security clearances. Our direct experience in building advanced interoperable and modular systems for the federal government makes us an excellent choice for this important work.”
The new contract is for a seven-month base period with nine option periods of varying lengths. CACI will provide a service-oriented architecture solution to the security-clearance process, with the goal of increasing timeliness and efficiency.