The Other Snowden Scandal

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.

In other words, at various times he lied about his education, his achievements, and was regularly out talking about this on public forums.  All of which are easily checked, and yet, somehow, he managed to gain a top security clearance.  Which is the real scandal.  Who was responsible?  An outsourcing contractor.

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.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Other Snowden Scandal

  1. This is the other most disgusting part of it all. It is a colossal failure of those contractors and they put our country’s safety in jeopardy. NO. NO. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to outsource to private enterprises. When will we learn that? There’s no oversight on these contractors at all. What a mess. Snowden made 122k a year? Someone else deserved that salary – not that traitor.

    • Exactly. All I could think about was not just what I went through, but that I’ve had more “vetting” for jobs that didn’t involve any security clearances or paid anything like that. Given the number of highly qualified IT personnel who were looking for work, it’s astounding that they’d have hired someone like him in the first place, let alone without a serious background check of his academic record.

  2. Cappadonna

    Norbook – you hit it out of the park son. I work in healthcare IT – not only do you have to go through hoops and rigors just to get an interview – but once its known that you’re a known violator of HIPAA ( and the industry is small, people do talk) – your name is mud within the industry. And at most hospital and big boys in the industry would fire instantly if you leaked patient information – especially VIP’s. And Lord knows your head was on a spigot if you leaked company source code or algorithms – even if its just leaving your notebook at a cafe overnight.

    Simply put this kid would have made it pass level one tech support at most of the jobs I worked – hell he might not even been a janitor. Something stinks to high heaven. And I can honestly see a few Booz-Allen execs getting hauled off in jumpsuits very soon.

    • Exactly. I did work in healthcare IT, as a systems admin in medical records, and I’m still bound not to talk about what I know about various patients back then.

      Snowden’s record struck me as being like one of those people that used to send chills up my spine when I was running a computer business: the “friend who knows something about computers.” Which usually meant twice the work to fix what they’d done in addition to the original problem. :roll:

  3. nathkatun7

    Norbrook, As always you zeroed in on the real scandal that may not be sexy, but has huge implications on the National Security of this country. I suppose whatever Snowden stole has been shared with the Chinese and the Russians. Meanwhile, all the so called mainstream media, and the insufferable “holier than thou” progressives, want to talk about are exaggerated claims about government invasion of our privacy.

    Guess what, I am absolutely certain that the cameras on my street and the cameras in my condo garage are more invasive of my privacy than the NSA storage of mega data that they can’t access until they have a court order based on probable cause.

    From what I’ve read, It seems very obvious that Edward Snowden secured his job, at Booz Allen Hamilton, with a planned intent to steal classified information. Given his shoddy background, the question is who made it possible for him to secure such a sensitive job. My suspicion is that we have both and inside job as well as outside powerful outsiders who pulled the strings to get him the job.

    The worst scenario, of course, is that this might be, as you suggest, a case of total incompetency because of out-sourcing government functions to private business.

  4. see above

    Outsourcing is never cheaper or safer. I totally agree the real scandal is, he got the job. The R’s said government couldn’t do anything right and outsourced much of the functions but we never hear outsourcing is bad when a screw up like this happens.
    Corporations have one goal make money.
    Our government is a non-profit.
    You don’t run them the same.
    Let’s bring government functions back to government employees who at least have to take an oath to get the job.

    • There are things which are better done by outsourced contractors, but there’s a set of things that have to be done to determine that. I used to be a consultant, ;-) and one of the major factors against outsourcing was “is this a core or critical function of your operations.” Unfortunately, a lot of business executives (got their MBA’s!) are just as fad-prone as anyone else, and bought into the “outsourcing saves money!” bit. :roll: