PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Feb. 9, 2014) – Recent findings about employee finances have raised security concerns for the U.S. government. Officials say employees and contractors who have financial problems are top targets of foreign intelligence agents.
More than 80,000 Defense of Department employees and contractors with security clearances owed $730 million in unpaid federal taxes as of June 2012, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, or GAO.
The GAO, a nonpartisan watchdog agency for Congress, stated in a 2014 report that about 31 percent of tax delinquent workers already owed money when the government issued their security clearances.
Picatinny Arsenal’s Security Specialist Kathryn Cuff said if you are in trouble, you need to tell your supervisor, and also report to her so that action can be taken to rectify the situation.
“Tell us, but also do something about it,” she said.
Internal Revenue Service records show that about 3.2 percent of federal civilian employees owed back taxes in 2013.
National policy mandates that all persons with security clearance eligibility be continuously evaluated to determine if they meet the requirement to maintain a security clearance.
All Department of the Army personnel who have security clearance eligibility, regardless of their access to classified information, are subject to continuous evaluation.
An order signed by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence initiated a continuous evaluation program to be implemented in the near future.
Cuff said that “the continuous evaluation program is not new but was broken. Also, random automatic screenings, sort of like drug testing, will be implemented very soon due to low self-reporting.”
The process is still in a pilot phase, which will consist of 100,000 randomly selected DoD military (active-duty Service members, Reserve, National Guard), civilian and contractor personnel.
Cuff said the two biggest reasons why employees lose their clearances are due to financial or criminal problems.
A general rule of thumb for determining a criminal problem is anything that results in arrest and court-ordered restrictions and punishments. Examples include, but are not limited to, situations such as drinking and driving, disorderly conduct, lewd behavior, etc., Cuff said.
Once derogatory information is discovered through continuous evaluation, it is compiled into a report and forwarded to commanders and their security representatives for action through normal security channels.
“We are not trying to scare everyone,” Cuff said. “But if you do not self-report, it only looks bad for you.”
Not every minor financial issue will cause you to lose your clearance. After all, who does not have debt?
“It is when you become seriously delinquent and creditors are after you that you become a security risk,” said Ed Kilduff, Picatinny Arsenal industrial security specialist. Continuous evaluation and self-reporting of derogatory information also applies to DoD contractors with security clearances and or Common Access Cards, or CAC.
Both Cuff and Kilduff said that if you feel your personal situation could raise red flags, you should self-report and provide any documentation that you can.
They will send the information to an adjudicator who will decide if the security clearance shall be revoked, temporarily suspended or sustained.
“We act on behalf of the government,” Kilduff said. “We do not decide the case.”
MORE FREQUENT ‘SECRET’ CLEARANCE
In addition to a revamped process to continuous evaluation, changes as a whole are coming to the security clearance process.
In the past, government employees with Secret security clearances were re-evaluated every 10 years.
“If you remember, you had to fill out a 23-page document, providing every little detail about your life. Where your brother or sister lives, what they do for a living, what school you went to, etc,” Kilduff said. “You did that every 10 years. Now, we are moving toward every five years.”
Kilduff said the change is supposed to begin toward the end of fiscal year 2015. Top secret clearance checks will remain at every five years.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is for employees to self-report and tell the truth,” Cuff said. “There are processes we can take and put corrective measures in place, but if you lie, you will always lose your clearance. No exceptions.”
Persons with access to classified information must promptly report the following to their security office:
1. Any form of contact, intentional or otherwise, with a citizen of a foreign country unless occurring as a function of one’s official duties or attempts by representatives or citizens of designated countries to cultivate friendships or to place one under obligation. This includes online chat rooms, blogs, gaming, etc.
2. If anyone tries to cultivate a friendship to the extent of placing one under obligation that they would not normally be able to reciprocate, or by offering money or bribery to obtain information or potential intelligence value.
3. All foreign travel (including Canada and Mexico).
4. Any criminal or legal charges, such as DUI/DWI, domestic offenses, illegal drugs, etc.
5. Any potentially negative credit/financial status that could result in collections, lawsuit and or significant debt.
In addition, security officials say it is not just the obligation of the individual to self-report. Employees must remain vigilant and keep a watchful eye. If you see something, say something.
Coworkers and supervisors have an duty to advise their supervisor or appropriate security official when they know of information with potentially serious significance regarding someone with access to classified information or in a sensitive job.
Multiple situations could trigger security concerns about employees. The following are examples of behaviors that may indicate an individual has vulnerabilities of security concern, or that a person needs assistance.
This list of behaviors is not all-inclusive. The list is not a statement of government policy, but simply illustrative of the kinds of behaviors that may be considered when a person is under consideration for a security clearance or a position of trust.
Some behaviors are obviously more significant than others.
Too much stress or chronic stress can lead to poor judgment. No employee ever exploded in violence or committed suicide because they were happy and relaxed. They were stressed out and desperate. A safe and secure office environment is one in which employees know how to recognize and manage the negative aspects of stress.
ALCOHOL ABUSE OF DEPENDENCE
It is a security concern when:
• It affects an individual’s ability to exercise the care, judgment and discretion necessary to protect classified information or perform sensitive duties.
• It is part of a pattern of impulsive, immature, sensation-seeking, hostile, or antisocial behavior.
An alcohol problem is more serious when it is part of a broader pattern of undesirable behavior. It may indicate an underlying psychological disorder that will cause future problems and resist treatment. How the person behaves under the influence of alcohol is more important than how much or how often subject drinks, and even whether or not the subject is formally diagnosed as an alcoholic.
Severe eating disorders are primarily a medical problem, but anorexia and bulimia do have security overtones. Both are frequently accompanied by other mood, anxiety and personality disorders that may be a security concern. Those who suffer from bulimia are typically ashamed of their eating problems and attempt to conceal them. Their binge eating usually occurs in secrecy. Any out-of-control behavior that a person is ashamed of and seeks to conceal is a potential vulnerability of security concern.
DEPRESSION: USUALLY NOT A SECURITY ISSUE IF APPROPRIATELY TREATED
As a general rule, depression alone is treated as a medical or performance problem, not a security issue. It is not the type of illness that is likely to trigger impulsive or high-risk behavior.
• The depressed person generally lacks the energy and confidence to embark on new initiatives, especially a high-risk activity such as espionage.
• Depressed individuals are more likely to do nothing, for fear that whatever they do will be wrong and cause even more problems.
Depression could become a security issue if:
• The individual fails to take prescribed medication.
• The depression affects judgment or is accompanied by other problems that cause insecure, unsafe, irresponsible or unreliable behavior.
Depression is sometimes accompanied by periods of mania, in which case it is a different illness altogether. Mania, or extreme excitability or irritability, may cause impulsiveness, poor judgment, and increased talkativeness, all of which are security concerns.
Compulsive or addictive sexual behavior is a security concern because it may lead to poor judgment or lack of discretion, indicate a serious emotional or mental problem, or attract the attention of hostile intelligence or security services and open one to exploitation, manipulation, or coercion.
Drug use or abuse raises a number of specific security concerns:
• Use of an illegal drug indicates an unwillingness or inability to abide by the law.
• Users of illegal drugs may be susceptible to blackmail, especially if exposure of drug use could cost them their job.
• Procurement of illegal drugs while traveling abroad or carrying drugs across national boundaries risks attracting the attention of foreign intelligence services or other individuals who may seek to exploit this vulnerability.
• The more dangerous the drug, the more the drug use indicates a propensity for irresponsible or high risk behavior, rebellion against social norms, alienation, or emotional maladjustment, all of which may be security concerns. These characteristics cast doubt upon an individual’s judgment and ability to protect classified information or perform sensitive duties even when not under the influence of drugs.
• Drug abuse or dependence often indicates the presence of broad emotional or personality problems of security concern. It may also cause financial problems, leading to criminal activity to financial drug habit.
An individual who is financially overextended is at risk of engaging in illegal acts to generate funds.
• If a person is not at fault for the financial problems and is dealing with in a reasonable manner, security concern is substantially alleviated.
• Debts caused by irresponsible or impulsive behavior or by gambling, alcohol abuse or drug abuse are a serious concern. A person who is irresponsible in fulfilling financial obligations may be irresponsible in fulfilling other obligations, such as following the rules for protecting classified information or performing sensitive duties.
Gambling debts may:
• Compromise one’s financial stability.
• Cause problems with family and work.
• Prompt some individuals to engage in illegal activities, including espionage, as a means of covering their losses.
Addicts of all types typically organize a part of their life and their circle of friends around their addiction. Foreign intelligence and security services generally maintain sources in these circles, and it is easy for them to place an agent in contact with a potential target who attracts attention through these activities. Habitual behaviors that provide such access opportunities for foreign intelligence and security services increase the risk that an individual will become a target and that any vulnerability that does exist will be discovered and exploited.
Failure to report paid or volunteer work for any U.S. or foreign media, publisher, academic institution, research organization or corporation relating to the topics on which one has access to classified information.
• Recurring pattern of poor judgment, irresponsibility, or emotionally unstable behavior
• Deliberate omission or falsification of material information about background when applying for security processing
• Association with persons involved in criminal activity
• Indications subject may succumb to blackmail rather than risk exposure of a personal issue
HANDLING PROTECTED INFORMATION
• Persistent lax security habits despite management counseling (such as discussing classified information on non-secure phone, not properly securing classified information or areas, or working on classified material at home)
• Collecting or storing classified information outside approved facilities
• Revealing of classified information to unauthorized persons, including news media
• Inappropriate, unusual, or excessive interest in classified information outside one’s need-to-know
• Statements or actions that demonstrate an individual believes the security rules do not apply to him/her