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NASA Employees Fight Invasive Background Check 354

Electron Barrage writes "Longtime JPL scientists, many of whom do not work on classified materials, including rover drivers and Apollo veterans, sued NASA, Caltech, and the Department of Commerce today to fight highly invasive background checks, which include financial information, any and all retail business transactions, and even sexual orientation."
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NASA Employees Fight Invasive Background Check

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  • Pointless (Score:4, Funny)

    by GWLlosa ( 800011 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:07PM (#20418789)
    Because the rover drivers might use the rover to suicide-bomb.... something. That crater over there, maybe?
    • Re:Pointless (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ookabooka ( 731013 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:12PM (#20418835)
      We must not underestimate the bounds and abilities of the terrorists, they may have infiltrated any and all parts of our government, and it our responsibility. . nay, our duty, as freedom-loving Americans to find them and bring them to justice. These background checks are only a preventative measure, to ensure that government employees have the utmost integrity and loyalty. So long as nothing suspicious shows up on these reports government employees have nothing to fear, we must all sacrifice something in the battle against terrorism.

      (I pray that I never hear anything like this. . .)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Urusai ( 865560 )
        That a McCarthy quote (s/terrorist/Communist/)?
        • heh, no I just made it up; the language and content are eerily similar. . .Tried to capture the whole "reasonable on the surface" thing with "slippery slope" kind of thing.
      • you missed one... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by schwaang ( 667808 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @09:06PM (#20419269)

        [NASA Administrator Michael Griffin] said that it was a "privilege to work within the federal system, not a right"

        • Re:you missed one... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @09:25PM (#20419433) Homepage Journal
          Actually, since it is a government job, and there are equal opportunity laws, if someone is the most qualified and wants the job, it IS a right.
          • I'm with you on sentiment, but has anyone ever challenged conditions of employment like the McCarthy-era loyalty oaths and actually won?

            Myself, I've turned down or not applied for jobs that required more privacy invasion than I felt was justified for a given job, and I let them know why.
          • Re:you missed one... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Iron Condor ( 964856 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @10:51PM (#20420105)

            Actually, since it is a government job, ...

            It isn't.

            JPL is a division of Caltech. JPL employees have a contract with Caltech and receive a paycheck that says Caltech. Much of the funding comes from NASA (but by no means all of it and the proportion has been shrinking), but the employees at JPL are not civil servants and they are not NASA employees.

            Add to this that the people at JPL never signed a contract that said that there will be background checks (but now there are, suddenly, and they're a requirement for continued employment) and you might see where the uproar is coming from...

            • Re:you missed one... (Score:5, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, 2007 @11:36PM (#20420427)
              I might add that any contractor at any NASA center is subject to this equivalent of a personal cavity check. We recieve no official clearance for turning over our secrets, only the "privilege" of working for a company that contracts to NASA. (Or subcontracts, for that matter)

              Contractors are being screened first, actually. Civil Servants have already had a background check, so to resolve the glut of overdue checks, the government is hiring one of Bush's friend's companies to do all the screening. And once they do their screening - unlike any background check in the private sector - the information is available to any government agency complying with HSPD-12.

              Which, I believe, despite Griffin's protestations, is only NASA at this point.

              Posting anonymously for obvious reasons. I work at Ames.
              • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Friday August 31, 2007 @06:42AM (#20422561) Journal
                Wait a minute. It was OK for a Bush appointee with an associate's degree in political science to get a job editing the work of an esteemed NASA climate scientist, but the FBI has to talk to the neighbors of the guy who works for a contractor, who works for a contractor, who works part time for a company that does contract work for NASA?

                OK. Just wanted to be sure.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by bware ( 148533 )
            Actually, since it is a government job

            It isn't a government job. JPL'ers are employed by Caltech, which is a private university.
        • by FuzzyDaddy ( 584528 ) on Friday August 31, 2007 @09:20AM (#20423575) Journal
          I recently turned down a senior level engineering position at a company because of what I felt were onerous and ridiculous "intellectual property" clauses - the gist of which were that the company owns anything I create during my employment, whether related to my work or not, even if done on my own time with my own resources.

          I recently was on a plane coming from a trade show and I got into a long conversation with the guy next to me, who worked for this company at about the same level as I was applying for, and also in engineering. I told him I had turned down a job offer and that the IP clauses in the employment were one of my main concerns. His response was "But isn't that the industry standard?"

          This is a phrase I hear from most people when I tell them this story. Yes, it may be the industry standard. But it's an industry standard because no one complains about it, or protests it, or turns down jobs because of it. The thing is, it mostly affects the most talented, energetic, and entrepreneurial engineers - who might actually create something of value outside of normal business hours.

          I applaud these people for pushing back. Sure, working in the federal system is a "privilege". But the employers have an obligation to run the federal system in a way that produces the best results for the country. If you treat your employees like mechanical cogs, to be inspected and tuned and replaced, your not going to get those kinds of results.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        These background checks are only a preventative measure, to ensure that government employees have the utmost integrity and loyalty.

        "employment history, past residences and any illegal drug use." ... have absolutely nothing to do with integrity and loyalty. Although I'm sure they can be used to discriminate against people who don't fit into a certain right-wing profile.
        • Why would it be wright wing? It could be to exclude left-wingers, the "information wants to be free" people, blacks, jews, or anyone. More likely, it is to preclude or prevent that ability to blackmail someone into doing something they shouldn't.

          It could also be to weed out the possibility that some interesting tech might walk away. And yes, the mars rover drivers have some interesting stuff at their disposal. But it doesn't have to be at their disposal in order for them to get at it. In fact, If I was goin
          • OK, the "certain right-wing profile." was just an example... It could (and probably is used to profile many types people.) The blackmail premise is old and weak and just an excuse snoop. I've just written a somewhat light analysis of this premise: &cid=20420193 []
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Because in the last year we've seen a homicidal astronaut drive across the country wearing a diaper, a sabotaging contractor, and allegations of alcoholic astronauts. All they need is an astronaut getting busted having gay bathroom sex.

    • I thought *maybe* it was because a meterosexual doesn't exactly make the popular conception of an action hero.
    • Because the rover drivers might use the rover to suicide-bomb.... something. That crater over there, maybe?

      Those rovers on Mars are travelling at tens of KILLometers per second relative to the earth. Can you imagine how much damage one of those would cause if it were to hit a ranch in Texas.

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )
      I'm guessing you've never seen Contact.

    • Because the rover drivers might use the rover to suicide-bomb.... something. That crater over there, maybe?

      We have had the unsolved anthrax poisonings. Is it so impossible to imagine an engineer sabotaging a $600 million dollar space project over a grievance that no one else will ever really understand?

  • by nbarriga ( 877070 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:14PM (#20418851)
    How the hell asking those kind of things helps prevent terrorism?(which is the stated goal according to the article) And anyway, even if it did help I wouldn't agree.
    • by cnettel ( 836611 )
      Tell us all the sensitive and private stuff, so no one can blackmail you by threatening to expose it later! Clever...
      • Yeah AFAIK that's fairly standard, ensure there are no angles for blackmail and ensure that their financial position is OK.

        So for people with access to sensitive information you do in depth and quite invasive checks, the more sensitive the information you have access to the more invasive the information required for clearance (well more comprehensive anyway)

        For people with no access to sensitive information, carry out a minimal background check and ensure that there are no glaring issues and then ensure that they have support and feel that they can tell their employer about their gambling addiction/cross-dressing using some sort of sensitive mechanism (wont stop all blackmail but its a decent start and if they are blackmailed they cant give anything away anyway.)

        Most important - make sure that those without clearances DO NOT have casual or informal access to information that they are not cleared to see.
        • I think the problem is proving that it is too hard to keep all the sensitive stuff secrete. And I'm not talking about Joe's medical weapons or how to fit a nuke to a missile. There could be a lot of cross over stuff and opportunities where someone makes a mistake and holds a door open from someone else with their hands full.

          Also, you have less of a chance of pissing an employee off when promoting from within and finding out that the only thing stopping them from getting another $10,000 a year and project le
    • by _merlin ( 160982 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:46PM (#20419105) Homepage Journal
      Well, I'm not saying I agree with it, but here's a possible line of assumptions they could be following:

      1. Most extremists are Muslims
      2. Islam forbids homosexuality
      3. Homosexuals are not likely to be Muslim extremists

      Therefore, it should be safe to hire gays...
  • by oringo ( 848629 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:18PM (#20418891)
  • Levers (Score:5, Informative)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:23PM (#20418939) Homepage Journal
    If you peruse my website and/or posting history you'll see that I'm against almost everything the government does. That said . . .

    I held a TS with SBI once upon a time. The main reason for background checks, as I understand it, is to ferret out any levers that could be used against you by hostile agent. Too much debt? We'll get you out of trouble if you give us info. Cheating on your wife? With a man?! It would be a shame if we had to call her. Think of your kids.

    It's not that they're morally judging you, its that they're making sure that you're not unduly susceptible to influence.

    It's not fair, but it's not about fairness.

    • held a TS with SBI once upon a time. The main reason for background checks, as I understand it, is to ferret out any levers that could be used against you by hostile agent. Too much debt? We'll get you out of trouble if you give us info. Cheating on your wife? With a man?! It would be a shame if we had to call her. Think of your kids.

      It's not that they're morally judging you, its that they're making sure that you're not unduly susceptible to influence.

      This is a BS excuse. Anyone wanting to blackmail someone can always either dig up a truth, or manufacture a lie, that is good enough to "get the job done."

      Want to make someone look like they're on the take? Deposit 20k in their bank account in cash. Then, a week later, before they get their bank statement, meet and greet them, and tell them what you've done, and how "gee, its going to look like drug money - do this shit for us, and we'll "fix it"". Better yet, make a lump-sum payment on their mortgage for them, when they're swimming in debt over their heads.

      Want to make someone look like they're cheating on their spouse? Photoshop to the rescue. Especially if you have some unshopped pictures of the victim and the "sex object" elsewhere - for example, approach them in a restaurant, sit at their table for a minute asking for directions, and getting them to make a sketch.

      Want to make someone look like a pedophile? Dump pics on their computer at work. (boot off usb, copy pics to drive, mission accomplished. Worst-case scenario, you'll have to connect the drive's cable to another machine as a slave for a few minutes).

      There are ALWAYS ways to blackmail someone. If NASA believes that these sorts of background checks really work, they've been breathing too much vacuum.

      • by SL Baur ( 19540 )

        Want to make someone look like they're on the take? Deposit 20k in their bank account in cash.

        This particular attack is not going to work. Any cash transaction 10k and over must be reported to the IRS so there is going to be a paper trail (if they're allowed to do it at all, bank laws here really suck now - financial privacy is only for the elite).

        Probably more effective would be to make a series of deposits just under 10k (to avoid the reporting requirement) and make it look like tax evasion.

        Protecting against blackmail made sense when it was the Soviet government and the KGB you were dealing wit

        • My ATM allows up to 50k per day. You can always find what are known as "pret-noms" - name-lenders - who, for a percentage, will let you "borrow" their account to do the transaction, then claim identity theft.
        • I don't think there's any proof that a terrorist organization has ever used blackmail as a weapon.

          You know, I wouldn't exactly sit around waiting for them to make the first move. Everyone goes apeshit about airline security after they hijack jets, but then they bomb a train while you're looking away. Only defending against a tactic after the enemy uses it is a good way to lose.

          • by SL Baur ( 19540 )

            Only defending against a tactic after the enemy uses it is a good way to lose.

            Preemptive tactics that leaves more enemies standing than existed before the action is lunacy. Blowback is a bitch. That should be common sense, but sadly isn't. Using WMDs (all the evidence we've accumulated so far indicates that DU-based weapons are WMDs of the worst kind - they kill everyone slowly) is the worst thing the US could have done in a payback war against an innocent country. All of the facts that the US government has provided indicate that 911 was perpetrated by Saudis. Osama Bin Laden

        • "A terrorist (as opposed to a freedom fighter) is fundamentally an irrational and stupid person."

          Stereotyping will get you killed, possibly with a box-cutter.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Firethorn ( 177587 )
        While they could theoretically do that, doing it to random joe patriot is far more likely to get you into trouble. For example, if you tried to do that to me, I'd report it. Am I going to get questioned? Certainly. Is it going to be pleasant questioning? Probably not. Will I get to keep the money? Most likely not. Might they try to make me a double agent(the old spy you know)? Possibly.

        Better yet, make a lump-sum payment on their mortgage for them, when they're swimming in debt over their heads.

        • "Little bit of ignorance here: This is specifically one of the things I look for. I knew somebody once who got to spend a year cleaning the dorms because he lost his clearance over debt(expensive truck on an E3 pay doesn't work). "

          So it works ... :-)

          Yes, people in debt over their ears will sell you out - and so will people who aren't in debt.

          "It might mostly psychological, but blackmailing somebody who's innocent is far riskier than somebody who's guilty. The innocent is much more likely to blare out

      • If NASA believes that these sorts of background checks really work, they've been breathing too much vacuum.

        If you believe that this is about NASA or a NASA policy, you might want to consider RTFA. This is about Homeland Security Presidential Directive #12 involving everybody who works at any federal facility. NASA has no authorship in this, no control over it, no initiative in it.

        Mike Griffin is just a spineless pig when he publicly defends the whole nonsense. He's trying to look as if he's somehow supporting hspd12 because if he seemed to oppose it, it would show how powerless he really is. When the preside

        • Good point. I guess its too much to expect any bosses to fall on their own swords or show any sort of real leadership nowadays. Its gotten to the point where even Miss Carolina couldn't cause more damage.
    • Not to mention that if they know your secrets they can exert the leverage themselves.

      Thanks for sharing. I own you now, weasel boy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      It's not that they're morally judging you, its that they're making sure that you're not unduly susceptible to influence.

      Why is it that politicians don't have to undergo the same background check before being eligible for office then? They have far more power in terms of changing laws, setting budgets etc. than the average NASA employee. Of course they also make the rules about who needs to have background checks...

      Background checks make sense for people dealing with classified material but not for non
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by pete-classic ( 75983 )

        Why is it that politicians don't have to undergo the same background check before being eligible for office then?

        Put that on the ballot and I'll vote for it!

    • Never be caught in bed with a dead woman or a live man...
    • Too much debt? We'll get you out of trouble if you give us info.

      People in debt don't give out information that they shouldn't. Only unscrupulous people do that. Students are not inherently unscrupulous.

      Also, knowing "whether they've ever had sex and, if so, what type." has nothing to do with being dishonorable or embarrassed. Does this mean they are less likely to hire virgins because of the embarrassment of virginity? And apparently they ask people I know about my sex habits? ... what if I don't tell my bo

  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:24PM (#20418945)
    If you work on the same floor as someone handling classified information, you obviously have more chance to steal it than an outsider. And if you have a large gambling debt or are having a clandestine gay (or straight) affair unknown to your spouse, you are more likely to be motivated to sell some of your knowledge or reveal it to avoid damaging exposure. Basically to work on - or around - government secrets you better not have too many secrets of your own.
  • The real issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @08:53PM (#20419169)
    The biggest problem with our current administration is they have never been after the "terorists" as the call them their real agenda is findling the "enemy". For them the enemy is anyone who doesn't agree with them. That does include terrorists but it also includes many of their own people, Republicans that disagree on specific issues. NASA has been a thorn in their side lately because a few have complained about supressing facts and have spoken out in support of global warming. I think this is far more about towing the party line than about terrorists. They want dirt on everyone. There's an underlying paranoia in everything they do. Freedom isn't about free to think like they do but that's the interpretation. It's not whether potential terrorist can influence them but can the government yank their chain when they need to. We live in very scary times and it's not the country I grew up in. In some ways it was actually far more conservative but ironically there was far more freedom in the 60s. We're increasingly under a microscope and knowledge is power and it's always about power. The factions in Iraq claim it's about religion but even the factions are dividing into smallwer and smaller sub groups fighting among themselves but at it's heart it's about power and control.
  • by 2Bits ( 167227 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @09:00PM (#20419225)
    It's not just government agencies, and not after 9/11 either. This kind of practice happened even before 9/11 in corporate world.

    In early 2001 (pre-9/11), the investors pulled out of our company and we went belly up. Two weeks later, I got an offer from a new startup, developing high-end IDS. I would be the second software engineer there. The offer was really good, with a good amount of stock options, and 3 weeks vacation. Except one thing: the background check.

    The wording of that agreement was amazingly terrible. It is more than invasive. I kept that page until two years ago, finally threw it away with other junks. Basically, it stated that the company could do any background check, any time, on any thing, including but not just my previous and future phone logs (including personal phone), email log (including personal email), bank accounts, trading accounts, 401K, IRA, credit card expenses, credit check, newsgroup, web postings, .... yada yada. Whatever you can name it, it's on that piece of paper. The whole piece of paper is filled with these items. And the funny part was, for some checking, I had to foot up the expenses too, although it didn't say which ones.

    I didn't sign, and went to the president, had a nice and polite discussion with him. I told him that I understood their concern about security, but this agreement obviously went overboard. I don't mind "normal" background check, but not those mentioned there. He also agreed that it went a little too far. So he asked me to re-word it so that I could accept. I rewrote the agreement, using standard background check format and wordings from other companies which I could accept. The president thought it was fine with him.

    But the corporate attorney, with the support of the investors, didn't want to hear about it. He said that engineers and technical people had too easy an access to implement backdoors in the system. It is this way, or the highway.

    I chose the highway. The company recruiter (external hired recruiter, actually) kept calling me for two months, but I already started working at other place for almost two months by then.

    • For a Top Secret, you have to undergo a "lifestyle polygram". Nobody who has done this has told me exactly what the questions are, but they have suggested that they are extremely invasive.

      Even for lesser clearances, they can (and will) interview neighbors, family and childhood friends.

      This goes far beyond the public records and credit reports that private sector employers are demanding.
      • For a Top Secret, you have to undergo a "lifestyle polygram".

        Not true. It remains an option though.
      • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Friday August 31, 2007 @12:22AM (#20420713) Homepage Journal
        Nobody who has done this has told me exactly what the questions are, but they have suggested that they are extremely invasive.

        You'll be pleased to learn that the question regarding homosexuality has been softened up.

        Old question: Are you now or have you ever been a homosexual?

        New question: Are coffee, salmon, and moccha foods or colors?
  • They want to make sure they know what kind of people, past and present, the space program attracts. If you get a big enough sample, you can profile wanted vs. unwanted by the numbers. Corner cases are risky, so you don't have to be exact. Profiling makes sure you get the type of population that you want.
  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @09:07PM (#20419279) Homepage
    First they came for the security clearance jobholders.

    Then they came for the government employees.

    Then they came for employees of government contractors and vendors.

    And now that the only jobs I can have or transactions I can conduct are with the 1% of the population and market that refuses business with the government, I'm too broke to pay my property tax on my supposedly private property. So now they're coming for me.

  • by Mr. Roadkill ( 731328 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @09:37PM (#20419511)
    Dear NASA Scientists,

    I know you like the collegial atmosphere out at JPL. I know you like being able to have your work peer-reviewed. In short, I know that you like the lives that some of you have lead for the last several decades. Unfortunately, you and I both know that things are changing, largely at the request of your own government.

    I know you don't like the new security checks. No matter how squeaky-clean your lives are, or how much you love your country, there are always some skeletons in the closet that can come back to haunt you. Also, the rules are always changing - what was unacceptable twenty years ago but acceptable ten years ago is now unacceptable again. Nobody should have to live like that.

    My organisation already knows all your secrets. They weren't that hard to find - as you've probably already realised, money talks. And you know what? We don't care. That's right, we don't give a shit that you cross-dress, have sex with livestock, eat your own boogers or have a gambling problem. (Actually, on that last point, we do - and treat it as a medical problem with treatment covered entirely under our health plan, and our financial planners can help you get your life back together too. Same deal with drugs.)

    From our secret base of operations somewhere south-east of Florida we plan World Domination. Our Weather Machine and Death Ray divisions are approaching the deployment phase, but there's still a pressing need for talent in the Heavy Launch, Orbital Habitat and Orbital Weapons Platform divisions.

    Our employees receive world-class free health care, six weeks paid vacation each year and a pension plan that makes the GDP of many small countries look pitiful - and there's lots of room for advancement, so your pension payout could actually *be* Lichtenstein or Peru. We also pay all re-location expenses, and have great schools a short submarine ride away. We have a wide range of recreational and sporting facilities. We are family-friendly, with common-sense and generous carers leave provisions. On the subject of family-friendly, we have a petting zoo. We also have a less family-oriented heavy-petting zoo, but we don't usually like to talk about it.

    If you think it's time for a change and that you can make a difference, reply here - don't worry, although your government will find you we've paid their operatives enough to make sure we get to you first. No pressure - we won't tell your dirty little secrets, but then, we don't have to. The choice is entirely yours.


    Xavier F. Megalomaniac

    We have administrative, support and security
    roles available too - and leather and spandex
    are only required on formal occasions.
  • by Ernesto Alvarez ( 750678 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @11:13PM (#20420263) Homepage Journal
    It seems that NASA is implementing PIV-II. Those smart cards mentioned in TFA look like those mentioned in the FIPS-201 standard [].

    Basically, everyone getting a PIV card has to pass a background check. However, it seems that asking those scientists and engineers about all that data mentioned in TFA is a bit excessive. The standard has an informational appendix (appendix C) that specifies what sort of checks should be done. It even specifies two levels of checks for different security levels. Looks like someone got a little bit too anal when deciding what checks to do. The checks mentioned in FIPS-201 seem reasonable, though. Can anyone that knows about background checks explain what they are exactly?

    The cards themselves seem pretty good. It is pretty clear that the designers of FIPS-201 cards do not trust the wireless interface, making all biometric/sensitive information available only on the wired interface, unlike those e-passports every government is promoting. Pretty interesting reading material.
  • by pecosdave ( 536896 ) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @11:26PM (#20420361) Homepage Journal
    I lucked out by not having to do it this time. Yeah it's invasive, but unlike them I work at the Johnson Space Center, I myself don't have access to classified data, but I'm just the other side of a wall from it. To me getting the background check and the low security clearance I have is sort of a mark of prestige and reliability. Honestly I wouldn't mind having a few more background checks if it means promotions, better pay, and more prestige. I'm at NASA for crying out loud, I'm glad they don't let just any schmuck off the street work here without some kind of clearance.

    On another note, I don't recall my 85P [] form asking me if I was a homo or not, and I also don't recall retail transaction request. They did ask how much of what kind of debt I was in, I'm guessing to see if I was desperate for money or not. Yes they did ask about illegal drug use, but there was a time limit on it. I don't recall, but it wasn't to many years, four or so. All in all, I don't think much of the form was unreasonable, sure it was a pain in the ass to fill out, but it wasn't unreasonable.

    If you want to see the form for yourself, here it is [].

    As for being at the JPL instead of the Cape or Johnson? Suck it up. This is for every federal position. Expect your postal carrier to be grouching about the form to.
  • I see this as a simple issue of psychology.... human psychology.

    As I see it - various jobs attract people of certain character.

    Science for instance will attract people who are naturally curious.

    Computer programming should be expected to attract people who like games and puzzles and are good at dealing with detail.

    Administration should be expected to attract people who like to tell other people what to do. One would expect to see a lot of control freaks in managment and administration.

    If so, then how would
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31, 2007 @03:06AM (#20421643)
    At least where jobs in the government are concerned, if you were going to be discriminated against, you wouldn't be filling out the clearance questionnaire-- you would have been stopped loooong before that point, especially considering that the lowest clearance, the NAC (National Agency Check), costs about $10,000 to complete. Colleges, contractors, and vendors foot the bill to clear their employees; direct government employee clearances are on the taxpayer.

    Every government position that has access to dangerous materials, sensitive/proprietary information, or responsibility of human life requires such checks, and rightly so to protect the public and the Union. Anyone who has worked in the government is quite used to the clearance process. To make matters "worse" for you privacy doom and gloomers, it occurs at regular intervals-- every 10 years for Secret, 7 years for Top Secret, and 5 years for clearances beyond that.

    Sure, its uncomfortable to have a stranger rummage through your life as everyone has skeletons they'd prefer to hide, but its not worth sweating bullets about. Considering that the goal is to exclude obvious risks to the public, I'm more or less okay with the occasional privacy reinvasion to maintain my clearance knowing that the same process is going to hopefully keep John Q. Smackhead from becoming a reactor safety manager at the nuke plant in the next county.

    Maybe if people understood the process...

    After completing the encyclopedic questionnaire, a team of investigators is sent to verify your answers-- very often these will be local people that have retired from law enforcement who are contracted by DSS. If its your first clearance, an upgrade, or if clarifications are needed after the precursory review, you'll also sit down with an investigator for an interview where the two of you go over the questionnaire. They'll proceed scour PUBLIC record and talk to your references, neighbors, and acquaintances (heck, during my first TS clearance, the investigator spoke to my 2nd grade teacher!) Once all of the information is assembled, you are assessed as a whole person by DSS. Adjudicators (employed directly by DSS) look at the following in order of importance:

    -Honesty in answers versus the investigative findings (you didn't report that you had declared Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in 1997? Whoops!)
    -Accuracy of your answers versus the investigative findings (correct addresses, date ranges, employment history, account numbers, etc. mostly to determine if there's a deliberate attempt to misdirect or hide aspects of your history)
    -Immediate red flags (habitual substance abuse, uncontrollable debt, felony convictions, etc)
    -Travel/residence for the scope of the investigation (frequent visits to a 'non-friendly' foreign country not of your origin or without familial association)

    Its the adjudicator's job to generate a mean risk assignment to your case based on these criteria. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have a spotless history to obtain a clearance. As long as you are HONEST and UPFRONT about your history, there's little that will stop you from obtaining it. 75% of clearance requests that are rejected are due to that alone. Many of those rejections get a second chance to come clean, as it were, and ultimately receive a clearance assignment.

    Regardless of rejection, you are entitled to appeal the final decision. ALWAYS. In that event, I believe a team of 3 adjudicators (not including the original) independently assess the package with the majority ruling.

    Its a rough approximation of how trustworthy a person you are. That's all.

    Now, that's all fine and dandy for the government sector, but what about the corporate world?

    I don't necessarily agree with some of the extensive garbage that is foisted upon corporate folk, especially for positions that don't justify such extensive checking, but it comes down a point that I mentioned earlier.

    Investigations are EXPENSIVE. A potential employer isn't going to i
  • by whiteyonthemoon ( 774423 ) on Friday August 31, 2007 @03:26AM (#20421717)
    When everyone was paranoid about communism, JPL ran background checks on all of the members of the "suicide squad", the scientists who started the rocketry program at Cal Tech, basically the first people in America to get anywhere with rocketry. They didn't like what they found (some members were actually communists (Weinbaum, Summerfield), others just too into the occult(Jack Parsons, friend of Alister Crowley)), so they took away their clearances(revoking clearances:rocket scientist::excommunication:Catholic), and lost their experts.

    One of the people who had their clearances revoked was the first "Robbert Goddard Professor of Jet Propulsion" at Cal Tech, Dr Tsien. I'm sure I don't have to explicitly mention that he was a total genius. They arrested him and then wouldn't let him leave the country for five years so that his scientific knowledge would be obsolete. As soon as he was allowed to, he moved back to China.

    In China Tsien was very well respected (respecting intelligence is an archaic custom of some Asian cultures), he became Chairman Mao's tutor in science, and went on to supervise the development of China's ICBM program. So when the US gets nuked by the China, we'll have American paranoia to thank.

    That's one thing that the US can make better than the Chinese ever will. We are great at making enemies out of friends.
  • by wikinerd ( 809585 ) on Friday August 31, 2007 @08:57AM (#20423393) Journal

    NASA Administrator Michael Griffin [...] said that it was a "privilege to work within the federal system, not a right" - International Herald Tribute; The Associated Press []

    Hello Mr Griffin. It is a privilege to employ these exceptional engineers, not a right. If you make their lives difficult, they will leave.

    Employees are not sheep to be slaughtered. They are stakeholders of your organisation and you have to take their views into account when you draw new policies.

Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. -- Christopher Morley