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Got a call about a security clearance
Old 10-26-2007, 03:52 PM   #1
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Got a call about a security clearance

Can any of you veterans tell me if I'm required to be involved in a security investigation? Should I get involved if I have only uncomplimentary things to say about a guy? Anyone been in this situation?

When I was on active duty I was subject to a number of background investigations (SBIs, SSBIs, whatever we were calling them back then) for submarine security clearances. Hawaii's submariners are a pretty small group so we all ended up being named as references for each other's investigations.

At my final duty station I was pretty easy to interview so word got around among the DoD investigators that us training command guys were the ones to call first. There was a huge investigation backlog around the turn of the century and no one wanted their clearances to be held up by delays in checking references, so it wasn't unusual for an agent to drop by with questions about five or six guys at once. I saw it as doing my part to help get these guys what they needed.

But I retired over five years ago and no one wants to talk to the retired guys-- or so I thought. I don't know how the investigator got my name but presumably the guy who's being investigated used me as a reference. He retired from active duty in 2003 but he's a contractor (or civil servant?) at a major military command. He's probably involved in exercise planning, wargames, and tactical development requiring a TS clearance or higher. If he gave my name to the investigators then it's because he's run out of people who are willing to talk about him or because everyone else told the investigator that she should talk to me.

He was, bar none, the worst boss I've ever had. I served under him from 1992-3 and again 2001-2, different commands and different jobs, and he was equally horrible both times. He had a miserable personality, was a terrible hypocrite, played power games, and didn't train or trust his subordinates. He spread hate, fear, & discontent wherever he went.

He was also one of those guys who felt the U.S. Navy would screech to a halt without his presence. He had no life and he was afraid to miss anything so for my first tour with him it was normal for us to work 12-hour days six days a week turning molehills into mountains. During my second tour with him he literally and significantly jeopardized his health to show up for work, despite surgeon's orders.

When the investigator told me the name of her subject I started laughing by reflex and she said "Why does everybody do that when I say his name?!?" I told her "I have nothing to say to you" and she said "I hear you loud and clear". I confirmed the dates that we'd served together and said "I'm not willing to discuss him without a subpoena or unless he's involved in an Article 32 hearing." She said that wasn't the case so we parted on polite terms.

Now that I've had a chance to calm down I'm wondering if I should get involved. He has some serious health problems that, in my inexpert opinion, impair his judgment even when he's not on his prescription medications. He's earning a govt COLA pension of over $80K/year plus free healthcare for life yet he's still working with highly classified material. Why? Is it because he can't turn it off (most likely) or is it because he's supplementing his income like John Walker did? Is it appropriate for my inaction to allow him to inflict himself on other human beings as he inflicted himself on me?

But another part of me reminds me to "no talk stink", to not pile on, and most importantly to not get involved in anything that could result in my being compelled to testify at considerable inconvenience. The guy was a jerk but I'm over that and the second time around I learned to feel sorry for him. My interview might not be kept anonymous. My stories might cause his clearance to be revoked and him to lose his job, not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. What if my stories-- all of them true but not all witnessed-- cause him to take offense or even try to exact retribution? It ain't libel/slander if it's true, but I don't care to be subject to the burden of proof.

The investigator knows where to find me, and I still have her name/phone number. What would you guys do?
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Old 10-26-2007, 04:06 PM   #2
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I think that you said more than enough. And I am sure that other people have talked about your old boss to one degree or another and you just confirmed their assessments. If you are feeling worried and have a specific incident, you could call her back. Otherwise, you wouldn't be adding much. Personally, I would mention the prescription drug stuff if I had witnessed it (since you said you witnessed some but not all).

In my dad's office, one guy was nailed when someone told the investigators (back in the 80s), "I don't understand how a GS-12 can afford a 300K house" They then investigated and found he had been writing himself checks from State funds.

When I was renting my parents house when they were overseas, I would get calls from the State Department Security people looking for my dad to give references for his buddies. When I told them he was out of the country, they ask me if I knew the person. Since I was an adult, I ended up giving several references for my dad's cronies. Fortunately, they were all trustworthy. I would have told them about the guy who smoked pot with his son in a country where it was illegal but they didn't ask me about him. The exact phrase would have been, "his son said he smoked pot with him."
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Old 10-26-2007, 04:12 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords View Post
What would you guys do?
I think I'd let it rest right where it is and go surfing. Your initial reaction said everything that needs to be said to the investigator. Let her earn her pension like you did.
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Old 10-26-2007, 04:17 PM   #4
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Years ago the FBI approached me regarding a background investigation of an applicant who had been a neighbor and had worked in the same office (DoD).

The applicant had multiple situations where he demonstrated honesty was not his fortitude. I felt it my duty to give the facts to the investigator and let them make judgment whether or not to hire the applicant. (The FBI did not hire him.)
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Old 10-26-2007, 04:29 PM   #5
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I don't think there's a significant down side to going through with the interview (I've never heard of an interviewee being asked to testify later unless he/she reports criminal activity, which doesn't sound like it's the case here). If the guy loses his clearance because of the combined input from all who know/knew him, then it's probably a good thing.

Since they are only looking for info relating to trustworthiness/reliability (and not performance/leadership/a**holenitude ), then you'd probably want to help them weed the guy out if there's a problem. And, if he's turned over a new leaf and is now more balanced, that should come out in interviews with his current associates.

I'm more concerned when I get calls from prospective employers--I'm always uncomfortable talking to those people, don't trust them to keep the info confidential, and don't want to nix somebody's chances for a job (unless there's a REAL problem that is more than just a gut feeling). I generally don't have much to tell them.

P.S. It would be best to stick to what you personally witnessed, and maybe give the name and any contact info available for folks who might have additional stories to tell the investigator.
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Old 10-26-2007, 04:36 PM   #6
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You don't HAVE to talk to any investigator running BI checks. And yes, a person can find out what has been presented to investigators even though source ID will remain confidential...But as you can guess it's pretty easy to guess who said what by inference.

Bottom Line is that personal opinion (whether a lot of friction or the guy was your best bud) isn't the issue - is the person responsible enough to handle classified material and are there any traits you might reveal to investigators worthy of follow-up. Usually there aren't unless drinking, debt problems, and a big-mouth are among the subject's common shortcomings.

Most folks are declined clearances due to irresponsible management of their finances which puts them at risk of making a bad decision at a vulnerable moment...You can walk away from this w/out a care in the world. I would only suggest that if you do talk to the Investigator again (and don't have any security related beef w/ex-boss) that you're upfront about him being an A$$h0le to your best recollection but can't think of any security concerns either AND you don't feel like revisiting any of your time spent with him to check a block...

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Old 10-26-2007, 04:37 PM   #7
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Tough call. But I'd hope that any matter involving nuclear weapons and national defense, that you'd err on the side of being a bit paranoid.
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Old 10-26-2007, 04:54 PM   #8
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I'm with bssc on this. I think his references, to a man, sank his boat.

I don't know if it was right or not, but my impulse was exactly the same as yours.
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Old 10-26-2007, 05:23 PM   #9
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If had arrived earlier I'd have written the same thing One-Zero wrote.
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Old 10-26-2007, 05:28 PM   #10
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I would leave it where it is now, unless they (the Investigator(s)) come back at you. I would "guess" you were a secondary or developed reference (i.e., developed by or from a primary reference) which is what is done by ivestigators do (as you probably are aware). You assume it is in reference to a security clearance update or investigation but it may be something else altogether (speculation). In any event, personally, I would let lie.
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Old 10-26-2007, 06:46 PM   #11
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I was in a similar situation with a boss of mine at IBM. They quizzed each one of us separately in a room. Me, of all people, did not want to say anything bad about the boss. Then, during the 2nd go around of interviews, I still said nothing. Third round, finally, the interviewer (same person) said, "What do you think of X?" No response from me except hemming and hawing. Finally, the interviewer says, "Don't you think X is sort of a...." (time goes by) "kiss?" (more time goes by and hand gestures prodding for me to finish her sentence) Finally, she says "kiss ASS?" Which, of course, was this guy's forte. Someone had already spilled the beans and they were looking for so much confirmation on this guy as they could.
I have a feeling, Nords, that others have already said their piece about this guy. Otherwise, why would the interviewer indicate they already had the message?
Don't worry about it. If they are really digging, you know they will come back to you again. This next time, feel free to talk away. Just my opinion.
(In my case, they weren't really after the Asst. Mgr., but the crooked, paranoid Manager...and they did get rid of her. I think they were trying to confirm why a Manager would hire such a weakling for an Assistant--unless she was insecure and he was controllable by her--which was the way it was. They weren't so stupid as we all thought, I guess.)
As for now, I would just let it sliiiiiiiiide and not worry about it.
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Old 10-26-2007, 07:53 PM   #12
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Nords,

I agree with 1-0 and R. Wood about not contacting the BI investigator unless you strongly feel that your former boss is or could be a security risk. From your comments it sounds like he is not.

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Old 10-26-2007, 08:00 PM   #13
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I do a darn good job of damning bozos with faint praise. Seems like you did fine.
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Old 10-26-2007, 08:49 PM   #14
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Nords, I think you nailed it already the investigator quickly conceded when you said that you had nothing to say about him (sounds like she has plenty of info already) and she asked why everybody has the same reaction at his name (laughter). Makes me believe she already has a clear enough picture, doesn't sound like a shortage of information that will require a second round of questioning. Unless you really believe he's a security risk call it a day.
I've participated in a few of these on a personal level for friends and neighbors with FBI & DoD and answered the questions asked on stellar people, but in the private sector we don't say a thing except start date and stop date to avoid liability issues.
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Old 10-26-2007, 09:27 PM   #15
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If it is a suitability investigation, I don't think being an a**hole denies someone their clearance. She probably just tried to find someone else who would answer the basic questions: Is he involved in a conspiracy against the govt, does he live beyond his means, the usual BS.
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Old 10-26-2007, 09:43 PM   #16
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I live near a national lab and most of my neighbors work there. Every few years their clearances have to be renewed and as a matter of course they dispense investigators to talk to neighbors. The questions are almost always the same and have nothing to do with how rotten the person is to work with, how good they are at their job or whether or not they're nice.

Questions are about substance abuse including alcohol, financial mismanagement, "subversive" activities and domestic violence. They are looking for personal vulnerabilities that might cause an employee to make bad choices e.g. accepting bribes, or be susceptible to blackmail.

Ignore it.
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Old 10-26-2007, 09:54 PM   #17
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I hear they want to find out if theres been any funny business in the motel rooms.

Funny thing is, I used to hold Top Secret and a Q clearance. I'll bet some of that background checking was a lot of fun.
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Old 10-26-2007, 10:29 PM   #18
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Thanks, everyone, you're all telling me what I want to hear and reinforcing my confirmation bias. I don't really want to get wrapped up in reliving those years, and I think the security people will understand what's not said when we all laugh and only confirm dates.

He's a jerk, an idiot, and even more cluelessly insensitive than The Great Santini. But I suppose those aren't considered disqualifying in matters of handling classified material. And anonymous or not, any stories I tell about him would be easy to trace to source.

I'll have to set a Google Alert on him to see if anything hits the press.

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Funny thing is, I used to hold Top Secret and a Q clearance. I'll bet some of that background checking was a lot of fun.
See, that would explain the backlog from the 1990s through the early 2000s...
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Old 10-27-2007, 09:49 AM   #19
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Eh, it was in the early to mid 80's when I was doing some work at martin marietta in oakridge. So that stuff in the 90's wasnt my fault!

By the way, the very best thing I've come up with for faint praise damning is to state firmly that I do not remember the person at all. "But he says you worked for him for 4 years!". "Sorry...no recollection at all."
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Old 10-27-2007, 12:30 PM   #20
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Nords, I have to do this quite frequently. The investigator gets your name either because the individual getting a clearance gave it to him directly, or second hand from one of the individuals he provided.

In short, it doesn't matter at all what you think of the person as a boss, his lack of people skills, etc. That's a problem for those doing the hiring. All an investigator cares about is whether this person is a security risk. So they ask if you have any knowledge of their being loose with security matters, having foreign contacts, having problems with booze, debt, etc. That's all. Anything else you offer is not counted, nor should it be, in a security investigation.

As to whether you have to talk to the investigator, you don't, but there again it doesn't matter. They need x number of individuals, as long as they get them, they're done. If you don't talk to them, they will get someone else. If they don't get enough directly, they have to get names from those who do talk to them. I've never refused to be interviewed, since I don't see it as anything personal, but as almost a duty to provide whatever knowledge I have for national security. And yes, I've been interviewed on some real losers as workers/bosses, but have never had anything negative to say about their being a security risk.
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