Intelligence: Take It To The Bank


January 2, 2009: After seven years, the U.S. government is still struggling to do prompt background investigations for newly hired translators, analysts and investigators. This investigation procedure was always long and cumbersome, and often the target of ridicule and calls for reform. After September 11, 2001, this problem was recognized, but the solution was to move the work from the Department of Defense to the Office of Personnel Management. That just made the situation worse, as the Office of Personnel Management was not prepared to handle the flood of new work. Back in 2005, there was a backlog of 185,000 background investigations. It took over four months to get a clearance. Now it takes about three months. By 2009, it's supposed to be down to two months. The problem was there before September 11, 2001, and just got much worse after that. This year, there were 450,000 requests for security clearances.

The number, and intensity, of complaints from counter-terrorism organizations (both government, and civilian contractors), makes it clear that the problem was bad, and it did not get any better for years. Desperate for skilled personnel, many new hires were allowed to work on sensitive material without security clearances. Officially, this is not done. But, with lives at stake, corners were being cut to get the work done.

In many cases, newly hired personnel were not allowed to work with classified data until their security clearances came through. So lots of valuable people sat around, doing not much, for months. The solution to the problem was hiring more investigators, and borrowing methods 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.



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