Many years ago, I was required to have a security clearance. As it later turned out, a much higher one than I actually needed, but at the time, the “guidelines” said that if I had a certain rank and was assigned to a certain post, I had to have it. So I sat down, and filled out a lot of paperwork. A complete life history, detailing where I’d lived during my life up to that point, what schools I’d attended, and a lot of other questions. I sent off transcript requests to my colleges, to have them send in transcripts to the agency in charge of the clearance. Then there were credit checks, criminal record checks, and the interviews which were … intensive. After that, came the reports from my family as various people called them to ask if I was “in trouble,” because they’d just been questioned about me by the FBI or by military investigators.
It was, to put it mildly, an intensely unpleasant experience. Yes, I did get the security clearance, and you can imagine my reaction when I was told a year later that “well, it turns out you really don’t need this.” In the years since then, I’ve gone after various positions, and I’ve had to undergo various versions of that experience. I’ve had to prove my education matches what was on my resume. I’ve had to undergo credit checks. I’ve had people I’ve worked with called up and questioned. I really can’t recall too many instances where my qualifications, work record, or personal behavior hasn’t been covered at least in some part.
Which is why the information about Edward Snowden and his life raised my hackles. He had a Top Secret clearance. Yet there were a number of red flags in his record:
2002: Snowden attends Catonsville Community College, according to his Army records, but a spokesperson for the school told ABC News that the name for that school had been changed in 1998 and there was “no record” of any student by that name.
1999-2005: Snowden takes a variety of classes from Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. He does not take any cyber security or computer science classes, however, and he never earns a certificate or degree.
And during his work:
Snowden’s background isn’t squeaky clean. During the eight years that he worked as a contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency and NSA, he routinely went online and ranted against corporations and citizen surveillance.
Records show that Snowden was employed by an unidentified classified agency in Washington from 2005 to mid-2006, by the CIA from 2006 to 2009, when he primarily worked overseas, and by Dell Inc from 2009 to 2013, when he worked in the U.S. and Japan as an NSA contractor. During those years, he posted hundreds of messages on a public Internet forum under a pseudonym.
Before he was hired by Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden also was screened by USIS, a Virginia-based investigations firm hired separately by the U.S. government to conduct background checks on prospective employees and contractors. Based on reports from firms such as USIS, the NSA decides whether a potential contract worker gets a security clearance.
During the hearing, Senator John Tester of Montana asked U.S. government personnel officials whether they had “any concerns that Mr. Snowden’s background investigation by USIS … may not have been carried out in an appropriate or thorough manner.”
Obviously, the answer is Yes. Somehow, a high school dropout, whose main computer training appears to have been a Windows systems engineering course, who lied about which colleges he’s attended and what courses he’s taken at them, was given a top security clearance. Along with that, hired by several contractors and government agencies based on that clearance and those supposed qualifications.
The process I went through has apparently been … streamlined. As in, not even a passing resemblance. Over the past two or three decades, there’s been a lot of effort on the part of conservatives to pass what were government functions to the private sector. Their mantra has been that the private industries will do it more efficiently and at lower cost. They’ve succeeded at handing over a lot of business to those contractors, but as it has been increasingly obvious for years, it isn’t “better, faster, and cheaper.” In fact, it often ends up not even a case of “pick any two,” but “none of them.”
The case of Edward Snowden is yet another example of that. We, the taxpayers, have been paying various contractors a lot of money – in some cases more than it would have had the government kept doing it – to perform these functions, and they’re not doing it.
Snowden would never have gotten a security clearance if he’d had to go what I went through to get mine. In fact, a number of the employers I’ve had or applied to wouldn’t have hired him because of the red flags in his resume and qualifications. Yet, because people we contracted to do the job didn’t, he ended up with access to things he should never have been near. The result? A huge mess, and the leak of information to foreign countries.
To me, that’s the real scandal. That there are contractors responsible for our most closely-held secrets, and who are determining who should have access to them. They’re not doing their job, and it’s apparently been a waste of our money. That’s the other Snowden scandal, and not many people have been talking about it.