DEA Agent Security Clearance Debacle
It has been a while since I have focused on the adjudicator’s role in the security clearance process, but a recent Department of Justice report of investigation caught my eye, specifically because it detailed the failure of senior Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) managers to follow the recommendations of personnel security adjudicators in suspending the security clearance of a rogue agent despite a mountain of evidence pointing to criminal conduct, lack of candor, unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information, ethical misconduct and misuse of his authority as a DEA Special Agent. Here is how it went down:
The DEA’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) opened an investigation into the agent’s misconduct in 2013 and discovered that he had been involved in an extramarital affair with a woman who also was a convicted criminal. The agent brought this woman into the local DEA office multiple times using his government vehicle, had sex with her there, and allowed her to listen to voice messages and access information related to ongoing DEA investigations. OPR established the misconduct occurred and recommended a 45 day suspension without pay. Due to a failure to have a formal information sharing process in place, the DEA Office of Security Programs (OSP), which is responsible for all personnel security matters and clearances, was not made aware of this conduct until 2014 when it was time for the agent’s periodic reinvestigation. The reinvestigation came back from OPM with major issues and an OSP adjudicator reviewed all of the adverse information, determined that the conduct was inconsistent with maintaining eligibility for a security clearance, and recommended that the clearance be revoked. OSP immediately suspended the agent’s clearance and notified the Chief at the time, who concurred. However, because the Chief personally knew the agent, he wanted to pursue an alternate course.
He consulted with the Chief of Operations and DEA Administrator a few days later and determined that the agent was not a threat to national security and ordered his clearance reinstated. Unbelievably, the OSP Chief also stated that the agent deserved punishment for his actions up to and including removal, and yet he reinstated the security clearance!
Ultimately, the DEA Office of Inspector General got involved, all of the information was sorted out, and OSP suspended the agent’s clearance for a second time and eventually revoked it. This was a classic case of bureaucratic interagency failure to communicate, not asking the right questions, and not heeding the advice of the personnel security subject matter experts who process, review, and adjudicate thousands of background investigations every year. I have seen this happen more than once. Managers, supervisors, and human resources office personnel allow personal opinions, natural biases, and a lack of subject matter expertise to influence the decision-making process. This is exactly why the subject matter expert (personnel security adjudicator) is there; to ensure processes are followed, guidelines are properly applied, and factual data is communicated to ensure an informed decision is made.