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United States Privacy Security

US Intelligence Officials To Monitor Federal Employees With Security Clearances 186

Posted by samzenpus
from the watching-the-watchers dept.
First time accepted submitter Trachman writes in with news about a monitoring program designed to help stop future leaks of government documents. "U.S. intelligence officials are planning a sweeping system of electronic monitoring that would tap into government, financial and other databases to scan the behavior of many of the 5 million federal employees with secret clearances, current and former officials told The Associated Press. The system is intended to identify rogue agents, corrupt officials and leakers, and draws on a Defense Department model under development for more than a decade, according to officials and documents reviewed by the AP."
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US Intelligence Officials To Monitor Federal Employees With Security Clearances

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  • One would hope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by colin_faber (1083673) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:36PM (#46446355)

    I can't imagine why they wouldn't monitor people with access to secret clearances. I know they polygraph them all the time and regularly perform spot checks for law enforcement violations, etc.

    Don't want the government knowing everything about you? Don't request secret clearance from it.

    • 1984 Cascade (Score:5, Insightful)

      by xdor (1218206) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:38PM (#46446385)
      But who monitors the monitors?
      • "But who monitors the monitors?"

        Precisely.

        Besides: we already know that polygraphs don't work worth a shit except as tools of intimidation.

        Looks to me like they're trying to keep secrets from their bosses (us) by spying on themselves. Yeah, that's the ticket. I'm sure they'll get a lot of new recruits now.

        • Besides: we already know that polygraphs don't work worth a shit except as tools of intimidation.

          No, we don't "know" that. Polygraphs are not perfect. They can be fooled by a well trained subject. Their accuracy does not meet the standards of a court of law. But they are still a useful tool that can catch most liars most of the time.

          • I've long held a theory that polygraphs are near-useless as scientific lie-detection devices, but are used primarily as a sort of psychological "truth serum". In other words, the fact that someone is connected to something that they *think* can detect a lie encourages them to tell the truth. That's just my personal theory though - I have no science to back that up.

          • "But they are still a useful tool that can catch most liars most of the time."

            No, they are not. There is a boatload of studies to show it, too.

            Generally speaking, polygraphs have been shown to be less good at detecting lies than a friend is. And that's not very good.

            The government uses polygraphs as an effective tool of interrogation, attempting to get information that is given away due to intimidation. Not as actual lie detectors. There is a very big difference.

            • "But they are still a useful tool that can catch most liars most of the time."

              There is a boatload of studies to show it, too.

              Could you provide any references to this "boatload" of studies? I agree that there are plenty of studies that show polygraphs are not perfect, or even 90% effective (a rough threshold for use in court), but I am aware of NO studies that show they are less than 60-70% effective (where 50% = random).

              Generally speaking, polygraphs have been shown to be less good at detecting lies than a friend is.

              There you go. So a polygraph enables a stranger to tell if you lying as well as your friends can. Since I can tell if my friends are lying FAR better than I can tell if a stranger is lying, that is pretty damn

              • I included 3 links -- and I could include far more if I wanted to -- in a comment to someone else in this thread. Feel free to follow them and read.

                You could also find a lot of information on it yourself with a couple of minutes on Google.
          • No they don't. They don't detect lies. They detect changes in the subjects physiology, which has no connection to if the subject is lying. If the subject is nervous about the questions being asked because, say, they are worried about failing the test and losing their job

            Moreover, because they are relied upon as a method to detect lies, the real professional spies know how to defeat them. There were a couple of famous cases of Russian spies a decade or so back who passed all the polygraph tests they were
            • They detect changes in the subjects physiology, which has no connection to if the subject is lying.

              Nonsense. Polygraphs test for nervousness. This nervousness produces detectable physiological changes. To claim that nervousness has "no connection" to lying is just flat out wrong. Most people get nervous when lying, especially when they are lying about serious matters, and hooked up to a machine that they know can detect that nervousness.

              They will give you false positives and they don't catch the people who they really need to catch lying.

              Sure. That means they are imperfect. It does NOT mean their results have "no connection" to lying. Polygraphs are not perfect. Their accuracy is far below the "rea

              • by AHuxley (892839)
                They are "good enough" for preliminary screening is still useless. The bad people with no feelings or a not bad feeling about helping other countries/their faith/cult/politics will pass every time and be allowed to move up the security structure.
                The only winner with the testing system is the cash flow/wage from having tests in place.
                Good people have bad days, bad people never have to worry.
                The UK looked at this tech in depth in the early 1980's and correctly found it to be an easy way in for the wrong
        • by beatle42 (643102)

          Whether polygraphs work or not depends on what you want them to do. You may not be able to say for sure that a person is lying or not, but if you're using it as one tool in a suite to decide if someone is worthy of trust it can be effective. You may rule out some people that you could have trusted, but if you're ruling out people you shouldn't trust it's a good tool. You may trust some people you shouldn't still, but that's why it's not the only tool you use.

          And I think they'll still get plenty of recrui

      • by khr (708262)

        But who monitors the monitors?

        The Hawtch Hawtch Who Monitor?

      • You just aim one of the cameras onto its own screen. You've never done that?
      • by Bartles (1198017)
        That's the job of the 4th estate. It used to be a job they wholeheartedly supported and did well. Now they just take orders from the people who order the monitors, and pretend the monitoring isn't happening.
      • The Anti-Monitor!

    • Don't want the government knowing everything about you? Don't request secret clearance from it.

      It is absurd that we have five *million* people in the country whom the government has forced to waive their right to be free from *unreasonable* search in order to qualify for their jobs.

      If the government inquiries are reasonable, why would they need to make people sign the waiver?

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:55PM (#46446587) Journal
        Is it not more unreasonable that we have five million people (out of a total of just under 320 million, with labor force size ~155 million, unknown percentage of that with characteristics that make them getting a clearance rather unlikely) involved in Super Secret Uncle Sam Stuff?
        br> I'm less interested in crying for the poor, poor, clearanceholders and more interested in why a touch over three percent of the US labor force spends its time pushing classified paper.
        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday March 10, 2014 @01:05PM (#46446683) Homepage

          1. Because Government is a Big Business (about 40% of the GDP [usgovernmentspending.com]) and,
          2. The Military Industrial Complex is a large portion of that (particulars unimportant for now) and
          3. The MIC arguably does deal in quite a bit of classified paper ("We have top men looking into that....") and, most important
          4. When you have the only tool you know how to use is a Top Secret stamp, everything looks like a Classified Document.

        • The five million number doesn't make sense.

          According to official reports the federal government only employ's 4.3 million [opm.gov] including 1.5 million military personnel.

          • by Marillion (33728) <ericbardes@gmail . c om> on Monday March 10, 2014 @01:21PM (#46446831)
            One word: Contractors.
            • WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials are planning a sweeping system of electronic monitoring that would tap into government, financial and other databases to scan the behavior of many of the 5 million federal employees with secret clearances, current and former officials told The Associated Press.

              That's from TFA. According to the quote, "federal employees with secret clearances" are NOT contractors unless you are calling those contractors as "federal" employees (which is incorrect).

              • by Obfuscant (592200)

                According to the quote, "federal employees with secret clearances" are NOT contractors unless you are calling those contractors as "federal" employees (which is incorrect).

                You may have just detected the very first time the news media used imprecise language when referring to something where most people could not care less about the specific number of something involved (only that it is "large"). I sense an award of some kind is headed your way.

          • Contractors.

            Some of them also do independent work; but others (in terms of customer base and income) are basically federal employees in all but name and price.
          • by n7ytd (230708)

            There are plenty of people with clearances (most?) who are not direct government employees, but are contractors to the government.

        • by Quila (201335)

          That's just the number of people who have clearances, not the number of people who have access to anything. Sometimes you need a clearance just to work in a certain building.

      • It's absurd to have five million people working for the federal government, who need security clearance, and aren't in the military.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        as a holder of a SECRET clearance, I would disagree.

        'unreasonable' is meaningless when national security is involved. I don't particularly like it, but civil rights go out the window when there's actual national security concerns. Now, whether there really are any justifying this is another question entirely :)
        • Bullshit (Score:5, Insightful)

          by AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) on Monday March 10, 2014 @01:09PM (#46446705)

          Civil rights never go out the window. As a cleared government employee I have not waived my civil rights and would never do so. I have agreed to allow some intrusive inspection of my life but I still have and will always have my civil rights.

          Idiots like you who think that national security trumps all are what is wrong with today's national security infrastructure.

          • by hoeferbe (168081)
            Hear, hear! You said that very well.
          • I have agreed to allow some intrusive inspection of my life but I still have and will always have my civil rights

            So you've waived them 'a little'? Protection from unreasonable searches is a civil right, but you've admitted you've waived them somewhat...

            • Re:Bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

              by AF_Cheddar_Head (1186601) on Monday March 10, 2014 @02:32PM (#46447709)

              I have not waived my right against unreasonable search and seizure, even with my clearance the US Government has the same warrant requirements to come into my home as they have for the general public. The intrusiveness that I have agreed to is the following: periodic re-investigations where they may or may not interview my associates and family members as to my trustworthiness, the possibility of submitting to a non-lifestyle polygraph because of clearance type, having to report contact with foreign nationals (depending on the type of contact), and informing the security manager if I plan on traveling out of the country.

              Not unreasonable search and seizure and a fairly well defined set of requirements for reporting.

            • by Sarten-X (1102295)

              In a sense, yes.

              Regardless of clearance, it would be unreasonable to demand a search every time you enter or exit your house. It's probably not so unreasonable to demand a search when you enter or exit a classified lab, though. The probability of working with secrets greatly increases the scope of what's "reasonable". The Fourth Amendment, after all, doesn't protect you from all searches.

              Working with classified material doesn't really waive one's civil rights, but the applicable meaning of those rights does

              • Working with classified material doesn't really waive one's civil rights

                Yes it does. If you're working for the President or some such highly classified post, they are most definitely going to be looking at much of what you do outside of work. That's clearly giving up you're rights. They wouldn't be able to do so otherwise without a warrant. Or at least weren't able too prior to 'but Terrorism!' being justification for everything under the sun.

      • It is absurd that we have five *million* people in the country whom the government has forced to waive their right to be free from *unreasonable* search in order to qualify for their jobs.

        What's unreasonable is that 5 million people need a security clearance!!

    • Re:One would hope (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Monday March 10, 2014 @01:02PM (#46446647)
      No they don't polygraph you all the time. There are 'SECRET' clearances, which I have, that are basically nothing more than a background check. No other checks are done at all that involve me. Never had a polygraph ever.

      TOP SECRET might, but there is TOP SECRET w/Poly as a separate clearance so me thinks that might be the only one that gets it sometimes. This isn't '24'.
      • by Whorhay (1319089)

        I think the only standard practice for TS over S clearance is that they will very likely send people to talk to your references and vaildate work and habitation history in so far as it is possible. I've worked with a lot of TS people and never heard of any of them being subjected to a polygraph, though it is allowed for in the clearance agreement. What I do see happening on a semi regular basis is drug testing. They also pull a random sampling on a fairly constant basis for periodic review of stuff like cre

        • by blueg3 (192743)

          TS/SCI frequently requires a polygraph. It's also pretty common for it to take a couple of tries before passing.

      • by n7ytd (230708)

        Yes, and TS doesn't always get you a polygraph, either. Even SCI doesn't automatically mean a polygraph.

    • by tsqr (808554)

      I can't imagine why they wouldn't monitor people with access to secret clearances. I know they polygraph them all the time and regularly perform spot checks for law enforcement violations, etc.

      Don't want the government knowing everything about you? Don't request secret clearance from it.

      I have held a secret clearance for 36 years and have been polygraphed exactly zero times. But then, I work for a defense contractor, not the Federal government.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Don't want the government knowing everything about you? Don't request secret clearance from it.

      Those are about the only positions not at risk of being outsourced to Timbuktu because the Timbukese can't get US clearances.
       

    • by bberens (965711)
      Depends on the level of clearance. I've known plenty of defense contractors with various levels of clearance and I've never heard of any of them taking a polygraph.
    • by nurb432 (527695)

      I tend to agree that they should be watching, as in this case its a choice you made. it wasn't forced down your throat.

  • So much... (Score:5, Funny)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:38PM (#46446383) Homepage Journal
    ...for posting on Slashdot during work hours for many.
    • by Znork (31774)

      If you want to post on Slashdot just transfer to the JTRIG unit for Slashdot posting.

  • by Etherwalk (681268) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:39PM (#46446393)

    Having a three-tiered system of government employability effectively bars countless Americans from serving in government and *ensures* it is nonrepresentative. In effect, you have cleared employees, non-cleared employees, and ex-cons, in decreasing order of government employability.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Lumpy (12016)

      It's 4 tier.

      Completey corrupt criminals are the 4th tier, and they are exclusive to the Senate, House, Executive, and legislative branches.

    • Actually worse

      You have super-cleared individuals, cleared individuals, or non-cleared individuals.
      And who becomes cleared depends on how much paperwork your willing to push to do it.

    • Having a three-tiered system of government employability effectively bars countless Americans from serving in government and *ensures* it is nonrepresentative.

      Non representative how? I've known people with high clearances of all ages, sexes, creeds, physical ability, etc... etc... Never knew anyone *openly* gay with a high clearance, but that was a product of the era in which I held my clearance as anything else - being openly gay was extraordinarily rare, in government service or out.

      In effect,

  • They check all that stuff before you're cleared, and every time your clearance is renewed. I find it hard to believe that this isn't already at least partially true already.

    • They check all that stuff before you're cleared, and every time your clearance is renewed. I find it hard to believe that this isn't already at least partially true already.

      Dude - this is the same government that just had to get rid of something like half the people in the Air Force with nuclear clearance, because it turned out they cheated on the tests.

      I find it hard to believe that people find the US government's regularly scheduled ineptitude hard to believe.

    • Also remember that the contractor charged with doing the background checks for clearances is currently being investigated for fraud on their order of hundreds of thousands of clearances..
  • Whistle blowers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by frnic (98517) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:41PM (#46446419)

    The best way to prevent leaks like those that have happened lately is to have a REAL, RESPONSIVE, FUNCTIONAL whistle blower program so people do not have to take the law into their own hands.

    • "The best way to prevent leaks like those that have happened lately is to have a REAL, RESPONSIVE, FUNCTIONAL whistle blower program so people do not have to take the law into their own hands."

      It would be really great if our ostensible "leaders" would get this straight. Unfortunately, they were caught with their balls out and they have been too busy trying to hide them behind something to see straight.

    • I agree.
      Government corruption is best measured on how bad whistleblower laws are in that country.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      That mostly sees the gov whistleblower in a sealed court with political protection, cleared legal team and good lawyers having a chat with the bosses doing unconstitutional work.
      At best the gov whistleblower is moved to a new section, the unconstitutional work is stopped after all the files are backed up to another site with new staff and a new mission.
  • Yo dawg! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Subm (79417) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:45PM (#46446459)

    Yo dawg! I heard you liked monitoring people so we got some monitoring people to monitor your monitoring people so you can monitor your monitoring people while you monitor people!

    Yo dawg! I heard you like policing your state so we got you some police to police your police so you can police your police while you police your state!

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:48PM (#46446489)
    Meaingfully monitoring five million people is going to be very difficult. Perhaps we should re-evaluate what is classified and what jobs need classified status. If you have less people with secrets, it's much easier to keep them.
    • You were doing good until you started off with 'meaningful'. That really doesn't have anything to do with the current discussion.

    • by nietsch (112711)

      It already is. This clearance is just to have a stick when some employee does something public her superiors don't like.

      • EXACTLY. Such information is incredibly hazardous to the system and needs more protections than the security clearance system itself!

        In the hands of the wrong managers, politicians, appointees... this information could be used to target the honest and promote the corrupt. Somebody cheating on their wife could be let go while another selling out their country to a multinational gets ignored.

        The trick to MODERN spying is to do it for a multinational corporation who can indirectly give it to their government

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      That is no fun for the cash flows for the contractors and mercenaries now trusting "their" own staff to sell skills back to gov.
      A lot of people with skills and few details about their pasts are getting deeper into gov work and getting nice wages while working on varied projects.
      A few other countries are happy at the prospects of their people been able to get so far without been stopped.
  • Who is monitoring them? Without significant oversight of the monitors, then the whole thing is set up for a mess. Close the monitoring loop, Whoever is monitoring employees of another department should be monitored by a group from the department being monitored.

  • In private enterprise, I would not be surprised if such a system fell foul of legislation protecting whistleblowers. Should the same whistleblowing protections should apply to government agencies?

    • by Whorhay (1319089)

      I doubt it would fall afoul of the existing laws. In the Whistle Blower training we take anually there is a quiz question that has always bothered me. It seems to indicate that if someone hasn't blown the whistle yet, but you believe they might, then you are free to take action against them which is prohibited once they actually do.

  • by somepunk (720296) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:50PM (#46446533) Homepage

    Who watches the watchers watching the watchers watching the watchers?

    • That isn't a hard problem to solve because of the proportionality. If say one person can look into a different person every couple weeks. That means for every say 25 people we need a watcher. So @ 3.5million cleared people we'd need 140,000 watchers, 5,600 watchers of those watchers (or level 2 watchers), 224 level 3s, 9 level 4s, and 1 level 5.

      this logarithmically increasing overhead seems manageable.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      That depends on the generation.
      The UK tried a post ww2 military feel - low wages, poor conditions, mil feel and global locations. The Soviet Union found the staff to be happy just to talk about life, conditions and found a few agents that way.
      The UK had rushed to improve conditions, wages and advancement options.
      The US went for wages, tech, universities and quality - perfection and it worked well into the late 1980's as in keeping staff cleared happy and in good conditions.
      The last 20 years seemed to
  • by postmortem (906676) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:52PM (#46446549) Journal

    so baddies have been warned, they have plenty of time to apply corrective actions. And employees with nothing to hide will be only ones affected by this.

  • by tinkerton (199273) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:54PM (#46446569)

    - get rid of as many sysadmins as possible
    - screen sysadmins for libertarian tendencies and for caring too much about the constitution
    - make sure information is less widely accessible
    - increase monitoring of everyone who accesses information
    - prepare to make a few token concessions for public consumption .. but, but.. we sort of hoped you'd cut back on the surveillance schemes! You know, mend your ways?
    Do what? Hm no, we didn't think of that. Why would we have to do that then ?

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Monday March 10, 2014 @12:55PM (#46446591)

    Only the people who see nothing wrong with such monitoring would be doing the job.

    • And people who are secretly resentful, and people who are keeping their noses clean until they have worked their way into a position useful to their foreign handlers.

      The more you seek to eliminate the people of whom you might be suspicious, the greater becomes the proportion of the people left who are either disaffected or "not suspicious" as a result of knowing how your "suspicions" are aroused.
  • This program is probably focused on members of the bureaucracy, but I wonder if they're going to cover another very significant group of government officials with security clearances: Members of Congress and their staffs. A lot of your leaks happen over on Capitol Hill after all. Then again, I'm going to take a guess that they will very vocally and aggressively oppose this action and play the separation of powers card to shield themselves from this new effort.
  • They should monitor politicians for corruption.
  • I'd imagine if I were an employee with security access I'd get at least a random audit once one a while. I mean, it stands to reason, no? Otherwise what is the point?

  • If you asked most people with a TS clearance if they'd rather this or face a periodic lifestyle polygraph they'd probably call this a no-brainer alternative to the latter.

  • Lots of federal employees means lots of chances for leaks. Therefore we need fewer federal employees.

    (Also, the government shouldn't have too many secrets. They are suppose to be working for the people.)

  • Instead of monitoring their ranks to punish people who are actually serving the public interest, maybe our Federal government could stop doing illegal stuff that needs to be covered up and swept under the rug.

    Naw, let's just persecute the messengers instead.

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