Obtaining Security Clearance

Steve Jobs' Top Secret Security Clearance

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?

Comment Archive

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    I wonder if Job’s Investigator had more than two weeks to investigate?


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    That had to be one long ROI.

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    Can somebody explain to me the purpose of wasting four hours of time questioning somebody with 40 financial items, 10 of which are delinquent? WTF? Why are these people even being considered for a security clearance? It is apparently the investigator’s job to do the best that they can to question and then report this person INTO their clearance, rather than their clearance being denied from the get-go because they are blatantly financially irresponsible.

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    Can’t we all just get along 🙂

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    skittles….we all hate it when those come along. and yes it is most likely due to irresponsibility. BUT in some scenarios its not. I have come across it too many times walking into the interview thinking that this is going to be a doozie for it only to be the totally opposite. I have seen things like divorce, deployment, sickness, etc wreck havoc on someones finances. Will this have an effect on the individual….maybe….but who are we to be judge jury and executioner……now if we could only make them worth more points….because we all know that 3-4 points for an esi nowadays is BS.

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    Johnson –

    I agree. I worked with a man (a saint of a man, actually) who was very near retirement when his wife was diagnosed with cancer. After the medical insurance ran out (yes, that does happen) this man emptied out all of their bank accounts and sold everything they owned to continue funding his wife’s cancer treatments. Sad to say, when she died and he was left, literally, penniless.

    I had several SUBJs who broke down in tears during PRSIs because they were certain that their financial difficulties (which were clearly outside of their control and could be mitigated) were going to cause revocation of their clearance and subsequent job loss. Their co-workers, and worse – their security officers – were filling their heads with this nonsense.

    It’s very unfortunate that the stigmas of certain issues cause so much heartache for the good people out there.

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    Howdy BW!

    Blue’s and johnson…rightly so. One just wishes there was a way to streamline the process for those who are blatantly financially irresponsible rather than sitting through four hours with someone who clearly does not care about their finances…

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    I think the point they’re making is that it’s often difficult to tell that the person is “blatantly financially irresponsible” until they’ve been interviewed.

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    Consider a more extreme example. In the early 1990s my office got a case on a man who was convicted and served a prison term for espionage. Actually it was an ITAR violation–selling embargoed rocket technology to Egypt. We had been involved in his clearance investigation in the late 1980s that resulted in his conviction. I objected to our HQ about wasting any time on the case, but I was told the investigation had to be conducted as long as someone sponsored his clearance request. Miraculously his employer (a defense aerospace company) withdrew sponsorship a couple of weeks later. There are no limits to the right to due process. Today we have the Bond Amendment that requires the denial of security clearances to certain applicants, but it still doesn’t short circuit the investigative process.

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    Random question with regards (somewhat) to the article: is the President (or -elect) required to go through the clearance process? Accordingly, and if so, is it possible for him/her to receive an unfavorable adjudication?

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    Can god create a rock so big, he can’t lift it?

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    The President or Elect is automatically granted clearance as the public has deemed him trustworthy by electing him.

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    Fed….I don’t get the metaphor… 🙁

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    Don’t worry Skittles, I don’t get it either. Just thought it sounded good.


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    I’m still wondering how Jobs’ SF86 got released. Can anyone get a copy of a deceased persons investigative record? If so, that’s not information that I recall from the process of getting my clearance. Even when redacted, the info on these forms could prove embarrassing to SUBJ if the public at large has access.

    Please, someone tell me that Jobs or his family had to authorize the release of the SF86.

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    What about financial delinquencies over 1 year that involve: Best Buy, Victoria’s Secret, Macy’s, etc., not medical collection. The scenario for justifiable financial delinquency is related to a serious/chronic medical condition. Anything else signals a compulsive tendency IMO.

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    Darrow –

    A mitigatable financial issue may have left SUBJ unable to pay Best Buy, Victoria’s Secret, etc. You can’t judge a book by its cover.

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    As the article states, upon Jobs’ death his file was available to anyone willing to pay the service fees via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

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    It is on all I-PADS, versions 1-3,000

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    Blues –

    The article states that it was obtained by a FOIA request, that much I deduced. But it did not mention any pre-qualifiers, such as Jobs himself being advised of its potential release when he originally filled out the forms.

    Neither did the author indicate if such files are be available via FOIA only if the subject concerned is deceased. I suspect that might be true, hence the major reason we don’t see more of these files on celebrities, politicians or other public figures unfortunate enough to have filled out an SF-86 without being advised of the eventual public nature of the document.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one surprised to learn a mere FOIA request is all that separates potentially embarrassing information from a world full of busybodies. Applicants valuing their privacy, you’ve hereby been warned.

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    Let’s ask you,my TS clearance in process since 2009 November, no answer yet ,why?
    I undestand, I was born in Soviet Republic, was drafted to the Soviet Army,but still , it is taking so long …?