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Thread: Are Intelligence Agencies' Hiring Procedures Too Strict?

  1. #1
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    Default Foreign-Born Americans and Security Clearances

    I'm not sure whether this should start another thread--it does relate to the issue of being able to translate (and hence exploit) documents, but it has broader implications...

    I'm increasingly struck by the relatively low numbers of Middle East-born US nationals who able to get the clearances to do analytical work for CIA, DIA, etc. I've come across this both in meetings with US analysts (where it seems a much, much higher number of our analysts originate from the region), as well as from ex-students with US citizenship but ME origins (even second generation) who have been dropped from agency recruitment processes because of potential clearance issues. (And I do mean potential problems.. not that background checks have turned up anything, but an unwillingness to even start one.)

    I fully understand and accept the point that Tom and Ted are making about locally-employed staff. However, is the US intelligence community too restrictive regarding high-level clearances for US citizens with overseas birth or ties?

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    Of possible related interest, this post on Afghanistanica about foreign area students (not necessarily born in foreign countries, but rather grad student specialists in foreign areas) and the various reasons they failed the security clearance process.

    ...



    The students applied to the CIA, NSA, State Department and the US military. The rejections came for a variety of reasons:
    1. Participation in a study abroad program in Turkey.

    2. Dated a Chinese girl for a few months.

    3. Friends with a non-Persian Iranian who has been an American for quite some time.

    4. Currently dating a girl from an extremely moderate “Muslim” country.

    5. Taught English in Turkey.


    6. Studied in Kazakhstan.

    7. Dual citizenship with NATO country.

    8. Married to a foreigner.

    9. Polygraph examiners rejected guy who was too calm.

    10. Dated someone from Latin America.

    11. Traveled in the Middle East.

    12. Etc….
    I know these people and I can assure you that if Al Qaeda approached them with a bag full of coke and a roll of cash, they would not be persuaded to betray their country. If you say that “too bad, the requirements are rightfully strict.” I would point out that the US government is in no position to have such standards. This is not like applying to be a Navy flier along with many other extremely qualified candidates. I have met people in our intelligence community and they are good people, but they do not compare to someone who speaks Farsi-Dari and Uzbek and has studied the region in-depth for the last five years ...
    Last edited by tequila; 09-27-2007 at 02:18 PM.

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    I fully understand and accept the point that Tom and Ted are making about locally-employed staff. However, is the US intelligence community too restrictive regarding high-level clearances for US citizens with overseas birth or ties?
    My short answer, Rex, is "absolutely." I can tell you from experience in the FAO field that we have as a matter of course not used regional specialists of foreign extraction to include 1st and 2nd generation in their region of origin. Or if they are married to persons who originate from that region. The reasons are long and complicated and with validity but do limit us in ways that I believe cost us more in terms of effectiveness that it saves us in terms of security. Of course I am speaking as an intel operator and not a counter-intel type. They have a very different view.

    State on the other hand is completely different.

    best

    Tom

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    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    My short answer, Rex, is "absolutely." I can tell you from experience in the FAO field that we have as a matter of course not used regional specialists of foreign extraction to include 1st and 2nd generation in their region of origin. Or if they are married to persons who originate from that region. The reasons are long and complicated and with validity but do limit us in ways that I believe cost us more in terms of effectiveness that it saves us in terms of security. Of course I am speaking as an intel operator and not a counter-intel type. They have a very different view.

    State on the other hand is completely different.

    best

    Tom
    This may be changing. I have an analyst with many of the characteristics you describe that was just granted a clearance.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    We recently had a person cleared for a TS who had some of the "triggers" as well, so I think you may be right, Steve.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    We recently had a person cleared for a TS who had some of the "triggers" as well, so I think you may be right, Steve.
    That is news most excellent, mes amis.


    Tom

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    Default Profile of traitors vs. profile in use by IC to hire

    There appears to be an embedded (cultural?) tendency in the IC hiring process to suspect those with any kinds of "connections" to critical regions.
    Yet profile examination of IC members convicted of espionage/treason since 1980 reveals the following variables: white males, christian (majority), jewish (one), anglo saxon, insecure, greedy, alcoholic, financial problems, large egos, disgruntled and could repeatedly pass a poly with flying colors (read: Walkers, Hanssen, Ames etc) The only two that stand out who had familial connections to the state they sold out to were Pollard (Israel) and Montes (Cuba). I think there were also a couple of Chinese descent as well.

    Yet, to date, the IC continues to "suspect" those with critical skills. While the hiring process of the IC must be rigorous, potential hires need to meet some sort of "loyalty" criteria rather than trying to shed their ethnic baggage. The IC needs that baggage (language, time spent in region, cultural comprehension) to win the type of long war we indefinitely face.

    Wana 88

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    That is news most excellent, mes amis.


    Tom
    Foggy Bottom you say, Tom

    We could then begin gathering intel form the Ambo's cook, every Tuesday

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    Didn't the news report that MI5 claimed that Scotland Yard and ISI were mobbed-up by jihadists? I believe that this was also one of Al Quiadas goals as well - to ask sympathizers to emigrate to western civilizations and enter positions of power and influence. So, being in spooky-world spooky things can happen... carefulness is advised - although aquiring people who know the middle-east is certainly imperative.

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    Default AQ infiltration

    Without doing a search my recollection is that the British Security Service (called MI5 by some) issued a press release that attempts had been made to join MI5 by AQ members and they had been eliminated at the start of the recruitment phase.

    Several years ago, at a meeting in Whitehall, Bruce Hoffman commented similar to 'You'd be naive if you thought AQ - whih takes the long view - had not directed sympathisers to join the police and intelligence services here'.

    Yes, it is a possibility and something we should remember. Leaving aside history for the moment, isn't the problem insiders change their loyalties rather than infiltration? Counter-espionage is not a SWJ speciality, anyone care to comment?

    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by oakfox View Post
    Didn't the news report that MI5 claimed that Scotland Yard and ISI were mobbed-up by jihadists? ...
    I think you may have this somewhat backwards. The MET (SO13/15 Counter Terrorist Command) not only claimed, but also investigated and concluded the existence of Jihads in/and from ISI, MI5 and 6. The enormous amount of intel and forensic evidence that was initially ignored, is downright scary.

    I will once again ask you to go here and introduce yourself.

    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Leaving aside history for the moment, isn't the problem insiders change their loyalties rather than infiltration?...
    David, I agree, an inside job. On track with this thread, the factors that disqualify candidates for high-level clearances are validated by well-documented track records both in the US and UK. On the other hand, even when we do discover an internal problem, someone decides the potential benefits outweigh the inevitable disaster. I recall several 1999 and 2001 MET case studies that fell upon deaf ears.
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    I have personally known many native Arabs and other foreign born US citizens in the Army who possessed TS clearances. From a purely personal point of view, from my years working Army HUMINT in the Middle East, it wasn't the threat of insider compromise or any other threat to national security that was a potential problem with any of these people - it was plain ol' individual integrity.

    A grossly disproportionate number of them exploited their positions once they were deployed into theater and engaged in blackmarketing, extortion of local hires and other similar illegal activities. Although the majority that I personally knew of were Arab, there was also a Turk (black marketeering during Northern Watch) and a Croat (same thing during ops in Bosnia).

    I say "disproportionate" - although I knew of a couple of fair haired American boys that engaged in the same thing, it was exceedingly rare. I have to say that it was the majority of non-natives that I knew in the field who crossed that line. The few that did not and executed the mission without giving in to temptation were definitely the exception.

    If you're wondering, punishments in these cases were also skewed across the spectrum - from the CoC doing absolutely nothing, a unit transfer "to start over", to being PNG'ed but nothing else, or the action simply being reflected via a bad OER, to being court-martialed.

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Ted, I completely agree. Indeed an issue of integrity over where one originates. Although I doubt polygraphs and interviews could ever factor a typical history of personal integrity into each and every case with any reasonable outcome. Too many examples of otherwise normal folks going astray in military and civilian intelligence roles during the last 40 years to have any statistical value for DIS to even remotely consider.

    Inside Job: My version of an insider is one with a clearance and position, and otherwise prepared to do whatever to obtain personal gain.

    I’ve only known a few US-born Africans and one Muslim with security clearances, so I can’t in good faith comment. I can however relate well to people of a particular race or religion exploiting their positions…Very typical in Africa.

    On the other side of the coin are military attachés working in their otherwise place of origin that, out of fear, literally would not openly communicate with host country personnel. Distant relatives approached one, which nixed any future contact, and the other refused to communicate in the local lingo (although quite fluent).
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

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    My cultural advisor in Iraq is going through the entire process of getting BACK his clearance. He used to work for Homeland, but when he disagreed with Bremmer during the CPA times, he burned a few bridges.

    He is an Iraqi born American citizen, but now he was accused of being a spy for the Bathe Party. Totally BS!!

    There are very few people I would trust with my life when I was in Iraq, and he was at the top of the list.

    When you ask him what he is, he says Iraqi... that's it. His mom was a Sunni Kurd and Father a Shia Arab.

    He has advised the highest levels of USG and now being thrown to the curb. Amazing.

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    Default Are Intelligence Agencies' Hiring Procedures Too Strict?

    Dear Small Wars Journal Community,


    Firstly, I do not work in intelligence, so you will have to excuse what may be an ignorant question.

    Do you guys think (U.S.) intelligence agencies tend to be too strict about who they hire?

    I have read about US-born linguists getting turned away for having foreign girlfriends, brief drug use, or for having travelled abroad -- in short, circumstances which do not seem like great reasons to reject an applicant, especially one with a needed skill.

    Additionally, what can done to remedy the situation -- if it needs to be remedied?




    Thank you,
    Magnusmaximus

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    Overall, I think that they're fairly balanced. I once ran a fairly large organization, and watched my HQ and that Other Government Agency hire great folks with minor blemishes in their past.

    Hell, we hired Stan!!!!

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Agree with that.

    A lot of the fluff stories about refusal to hire contain only one side of the story. If, for example, the 'girl friend' has some strange ties the potential hiree is not aware of -- or discounts, said hiree is going to object. He may or may not be right but the hiring agency, correctly, is not going to publicly justify their decision.

    Some of the complaints are legitimate, any bureaucracy will make errors of excessive caution but mostly there's a pretty good degree of validity in their refusal to hire. Congress has a part in this. No matter how well people are checked, the occasional bad apple will slip through and even really good guys can turn for one reason or another. Every time that occurs, Congress, in its need to be seen to be doing something will insert a hooker to prevent such an error in an appropriation bill and then the Agencies are bound by it, right or wrong.

    They need people and they know it. Generally the system works.

    Speaking of Stan, haven't heard much from him lately. Wonder what he's up to, could be work, could be again lolling on the beach on some Island...

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    Council Member 120mm's Avatar
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    I would say that a minor ding that is unrevealed by the applicant is automatically a major disqualifier, while there are some people with the same "ding" that are able to get in, because of a combination of forthrightness and agency need for their qualifications.

    Having said that, I know of at least two people who are working in sensitive positions that shouldn't be there. They are, in my estimation, both unacceptable security risks, and I've done my level best to get them dismissed, but to no avail.

    "Fairness" is not a consideration for hiring for Intelligence Agencies.

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    Council Member Adam L's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 120mm View Post
    "Fairness" is not a consideration for hiring for Intelligence Agencies.
    Amen!

    Perhaps this should be more of the idea in the hiring/appointment in certain upper level positions. LOL!

    Adam L

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    WP, 29 Oct 08: Change Expands Eligibility for Intelligence Hires
    Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has taken steps to make it easier for U.S. intelligence agencies to recruit first-generation Americans with foreign relatives.

    In an Oct. 1 directive, McConnell removed a requirement restricting access to "sensitive compartmented information," the highest level of classified information, to employees whose family members or close associates were U.S. citizens. In the past, there had to be a formal waiver of the citizenship requirement and a "compelling need" to hire people who did not meet the condition.....

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