I had a friend contact me about undergoing a security clearance background check and screening process. He is applying for a low level “gig” with one of the intelligence agencies and is a little worried about the process going in. Which is perfectly understandable.
Admittedly its been a while for me, but there are basically three basic levels of security clearances within government. Secret, Top Secret and Top Secret/SCI. In my case throughout the years l have been processed for all three, but only received clearance for two.
All the processes for receiving clearance is basically the same.
The person (or applicant) is asked to fill out endless forms, about a half dozen if l remember right. Included on those forms are all important references.
Your employer then submits those forms for vetting, usually with a private sector company somewhere.
In most cases this is then assigned an investigator/ interviewer who may or may not be that qualified to do the job.
He or she then begins with the usual contacting your references, with the information you provided them. They then contact that person by conducting either in person or telephone interviews.
Having been a reference myself, l know the investigator will tell you up front that because of how privacy laws are written, anything you say about that person can be seen by your friend or associate – if requested.
Then they ask you a series of questions about that persons character, qualifications, strengths, weaknesses, training and personal and professional history. And skip the part about whether or not your actually qualified to answer such questions in the first place..
Most people try to give you a good references, generally speaking, I don’t care who they are, after all you may need a reference someday as well. I should add that even before l was contacted by the investigator, l was usually called by the applicant who said I have applied for such and such job, which requires clearance, can you help me out, because l listed you as a reference ?
The investigator may also contact your friends or famiy, if you got any?
This may include your landlord, neighbors like the old lady across the hall who talks to herself, etc.
They may also check public data bases – credit and criminal backgrounds are quite common.
Then you proceed to the polygraph – always fun of course. In my case I must have been polygraphed a least a half dozen times or more, while also being video tapped and recorded in the process.
Followed by, you guessed it, the blood and drug test.
A couple of problems of note here regarding the process.
Government agencies and departments really need to steer away from the use of for profit private companies, because as it sits now, your not even sure of their qualifications, number one. Second you create a perverse incentive for them to process quickly and in most cases they only get paid on the number of applicants screened or processed, not necessarily on the quality of those screenings.
This becomes a problem, when your dealing with people who don’t really care anyway except in getting paid, which is the vast majority of them l’m afraid. They could care a less about national security to begin with. Most are more worried about what mood their wife or girlfriend will be in when they get home, rather than real life or death issues that affect national security. Although if your involved with a difficult woman, l supposed it could be a life or death situation in many cases. Only God knows for sure.
Government agencies, if they can, should do the vetting themselves! But like most of the corporate world today, most of this is “outsourced” today – therefore the process could be compromised to begin with.
So you need to be very careful. That’s the problem because most government agencies are not!