"Trust but verify"

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Albert Einstein, via quoteambition.com

After forty years employment, in the U.S. Navy and in industry, working with information and equipment that preserve the national security interests of the United States, I know a little something about “trust”. The selection of those who will be entrusted with protecting our nation is, and should be, as a result of a thorough investigation of personal history and sober assessment of individual character.

Investigating the “whole person”

To evaluate eligibility for positions of trust, the government uses a “whole person concept”. Revised in 2015, the Federal Government’s National Investigative Standards implemented a multi-tiered system of checks. These indicate the criteria a candidate will be evaluated prior to granting access to specific levels of “public trust”. Criteria are laid out in guidelines published in the (2017) “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information“. These guidelines, evaluate an individual in several areas including creditworthiness, alcohol or drug use, psychological fitness, or any past criminal conduct. And any past or ongoing foreign contacts. Factors such as nature and extent of the conduct, its frequency, if a candidate completed rehabilitation, may restrict the level, or exclude a person from obtaining access to information that is in the national security interest of the United States.

Sensitive or Classified information

Some employees will have access to sensitive but unclassified information like that on many computer networks used by government employees and contractors. In industry, much of this is proprietary internal company information. On Federal Government contracts, documents containing unclassified, but sensitive information bear “For Official Use Only” markings, abbreviated “FOUO”. For this level of access, a candidate’s creditworthiness or spending habits are not reviewed as part of the overall process. This level of investigative review is called the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI). However, for those whose duties will require granting of a federal government security clearance, the National Agency Check with Local Agency and Credit Checks (NACLC) is initiated. This reviews seven years of a person’s prior residences, work history, and creditworthiness. The Law Checks portion reviews any criminal or civil actions over the immediately prior five year period recorded in law enforcement or other public databases. This involves checks of a person’s fingerprints in local, state or national law enforcement archives. Investigators look closely at the issues, corrective or rehabilitative measures, and make judgement on the likelihood for further recurrence of those issues.

An SSBI is for personnel requiring a Top Secret or special access Government clearances

A more thorough investigation is the Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) which is the process by which a candidate is authorized access to TOP SECRET classification information and special access programs such as Secure Compartmented Information (SCI)). Formerly, the investigation began with a candidate completing a Standard Form-86 (SF-86), that lists a person’s residence, activities, education, travel, work history, personal contacts and references for the past ten years or to age 18, whichever is earlier. If the candidate has a co-habitant, his or her information is gathered and is as thoroughly investigated also. All listed information will be corroborated. Further, the SSBI will have personal interviews with the candidate’s neighbors, employers, coworkers, friends, as well as by telephone. For the last dozen years or so, an online form, e-QUIP, has replaced the SF-86 paper form. All of these clearances are of a finite term with a periodic re-investigation for continued access. And all cleared individuals acknowledge they are to never divulge what was entrusted to them without obtaining permission from the original Government agency which classified such information.

human beings are flawed

The reasons are obvious why the Government takes stringent measures (the glaring failures by certain politicians and bureaucrats notwithstanding) to protect national security information. One of the creeds that we had made into an sew- on patch in my early Navy career was “In God we trust; all others we monitor.” The reality is that all human beings have flaws. Some of these flaws, under certain conditions, can turn a trusted person into a liability. People commit espionage, bribery, careless or deliberate mishandling of information and equipment. An adversary of the United States can manipulate a targeted individual’s illegal or improper behavior, debts, sexual relationships, or other potentially embarrassing personal life, to make a host of bad decisions.

The news reports incidents where sensitive or classified information is conveyed to a private server of a government official. A contractor or military member steals information from a classified network and releases it on a public forum, which damages national security and reveals methods of collection or sources to adversaries as well as critics. Of course, not everyone reported in the twenty-four hour news cycle violates the national security interests of the United States. Congressmen embezzling campaign funds; sexual impropriety between senior managers and their subordinates; government officials, military members and DOD contractors who take bribes to steer lucrative contracts to domestic and foreign suppliers may not have compromised national security but have demonstrated the character failures that compromise public trust.