Security Clearance Process

Is Strain on Deployed Troops Also a Strain on the Clearance Process?

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.

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    This is an interesting article… I’m seeing more and more t/s clearance holders having to be confronted with information during their PR’s- info they were required to report when it occurred but didn’t. I wonder if there is a database that can tie in clearance holders to their credit reports, law enforcement databases, etc so that if there is a reportable issue it can be learned prior to the PR. Also, I think ALL clearance holders need to be subject to random, but not completely infrequent, drug screening. I think a lot of people, especially ones that have held clearances for a long time and feel as though they are, therefore, entitled to them, don’t think their bad behavior should be issues that can get their clearances suspended or revoked. Honestly, I think a lot more people get clearances than should…

  2. Avatar

    There are several databases used by multiple agencies to collect this type of information. Take your pick. So to make a long story short, either Bales was able to mitigate any concerns, or something was missed in the background investigation. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the final story plays out.

  3. Avatar

    I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of clearance holders do not report negative information (foreclosures, mental health treatment, etc.) between PRs as required. Lack of education by their FSOs? Simple noncompliance because they know there will not be consequences? I was NEVER instructed/ordered to question anyone regarding failure to report negative information.

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    I’m not referring to databases to check the info, I’m talking about tying in ckearance holders info so that when something happens (a collection, arrest, etc), it is immediately known and not dependant on the person reporting it. It will be caught durimg the next investigation but that could be several years later.

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    We can’t even get the Federal LE agencies to share. I don’t think this information will ever be readily available.

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    BW –

    I’m with you…lack of reciprocity is a major issue.

    Unfortunately, periodic credit checks, etc. won’t catch many of the reportable issues until it’s time for the next PR.