Intelligence: The Poisonous Fruit


April 10, 2007: As is often the case in wartime, the government looks to the civilian economy for solutions to military problems. This is now the case with security clearances. The Department of Defense handles most of the background checks for people getting government security clearances. There is a huge backlog, because the Department of Defense was not able to scale up their background check operation to deal with the larger demand after September 11, 2001.

Since then, the Department of Defense has not been able to make much of a dent in the backlog. Now, the new director of National Intelligence proposes that methods be borrowed from corporate America. There, the equivalent of Top Secret clearances can be obtained in less than two weeks. As with most situations like this, the business community wants to get things done, and done right, for the lowest possible cost. Data security is as important to the commercial sector, as it is to government and military organizations. In fact, the CIA and the military have long looked to the American financial community for help in protecting secrets.

While the government, and particularly the Department of Defense, could probably learn some useful techniques about background checks, from the business community, they will also find that there are some things a business can do, that a government agency cannot. For example, there are massive databases, containing extensive information on most Americans, that corporations use for marketing, and background checks. But the minute a government agency goes near this stuff, someone in the media or Congress shouts that civil liberties are at risk, and the bureaucrats back off. Expect to see another round of this when the Department of Defense security clearance operation tries to go corporate.


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