[ExI] Security clearances

John Tracy Cunningham johntc at gmail.com
Thu May 12 08:37:25 UTC 2016

Couple of books:

Stansfield Turner was Director of the CIA.  Burn Before Reading:
Presidents, CIA Directors, and Secret Intelligence

Christopher Andrew, historian.  For the President's Eyes Only: Secret
Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush

Given the nature of the system, studies on it are often classified
themselves.  I know someone and will ask.



On Thu, May 12, 2016 at 12:23 PM, John Tracy Cunningham <johntc at gmail.com>

> Anders
> I was a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force, later a
> defense contractor, and spent about 35 years with security clearances.  I
> offer the following as background information, from a US perspective.
> The first question is, is there information (or objects) that need to be
> protected from disclosure to potential enemies, because of the damage that
> an enemy might be able to do in peace or war?  For example, I worked for
> years on the plans that NATO would have used had the Warsaw Pact ever come
> across the inter-German border.  There were many aspects of these plans
> that were classified, as people thought that the Pact knowing would be bad
> for NATO.
> There are Security Classification Guides that describe what is or is not
> to be classified, and at what level - Confidential, Secret, Top Secret.
>  (There is also For Official Use Only, which means don't release to the
> public, but don't protect in other ways.)  There is also Sensitive
> Compartmented Information for the stuff that needs the strongest
> protection; one doesn't even know that a compartment exists until one is
> invited into it.
> There is a list of generally high-ranking people who can classify
> something from scratch; this is Original Classification Authority.  All
> else is derivative classification.
> Once classified information exists, the question becomes, who can see it?
> There will be people who need to see it to make plans, perform day-to-day
> operations, or execute military operations; to do their jobs.  They have
> Need To Know.  A person so identified is background checked via a Single
> Scope Background Investigation.  The investigators gather information from
> many sources.  The investigatee identifies three or five long-time friends,
> and the investigators talk to them.  The investigators then ask them for
> contacts, and they talk to them too.  Eventually they make a recommendation
> to the person who can grant clearances.
> The investigatee receives security training and signs nondisclosure
> agreements, perhaps the Espionage Act, receives the clearances, and goes to
> work.  There is regular recurring training and constant reminders in the
> form of newsletters, posters, etc.  There are procedures for storing and
> mailing information; with the advent of IT, everything has become more
> complicated.  All of this is prescribed by law and supplemented with
> various regulations.
> Ultimately, we trust people to classify information properly; to
> investigate properly; to grant clearances properly; to use and protect
> information properly.  People being people, turns out not everyone is
> always careful, and some people break the rules intentionally.  We punish
> them if we can.  There is a problem with courts; often the Government is
> asked to confirm that the information disclosed was genuine, and they don't
> want to confirm that in public.
> A couple of observations on recent cases:
> Edward Snowden went through all of this and intentionally broke the rules
> in a major way.  While many may approve, he broke the law.  If the US ever
> gets hold of him, he will go to jail forever.
> Hillary Clinton was a Senator and Secretary of State.  Many Senators have
> clearances, and the Secretary certainly does.  (Although sometimes the
> holders of classified info don't trust certain elected/appointed officials,
> and don't send stuff to them.)  She put classified information on
> unclassified computers, or caused that to be done.  That is illegal.  Were
> she not Hillary Clinton, she would have been punished when the breach was
> discovered.  Were the laws equally applied, as they're supposed to be, she
> would be punished.
> This is an extremely large area, and I've only touched on basics.  Would
> be glad to go into more detail.
> Regards
> John
> Dubai
> On Thu, May 12, 2016 at 10:05 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
>> Since I will be working on information hazards this summer, I am curious
>> about the world of security clearances. How do they *actually* work?
>> Practically, it seems to be a combination of (1) getting people to
>> acknowledge that they will deal with Important Stuff and are responsible (a
>> psychological effect), (2) creating a cultural environment where
>> information flow is shaped (a social effect), (3) creating penalties for
>> doing things wrong (an incentive effect). I assume there is also an assumed
>> (4): that cleared people are less likely to leak or mishandle information
>> (a selection effect). Does anybody know if there have been any proper
>> studies of how well 1-4 actually work?
>> Bringing this into the transhuman world, we may consider what happens if
>> we get really good at these things.
>> On 2016-05-10 22:49, spike wrote:
>>  Ja.  When the security people hear a credible rumor, they can call the
>> clearance holder in for an interview, without even telling why.  If the
>> holder refuses, clearance is suspended.  If the holder accepts and
>> confesses everything, then the holder is in trouble for not coming forth
>> earlier before he was caught, but might hold on to the clearance if the
>> investigation decides national security was not compromised.  If they find
>> the holder intentionally tried to cover his tracks, or if the other
>> participant wasn’t cleared at the same level, or they want to make an
>> example of the guy, or if the ranking official is in a bad mood that day,
>> or any number of other factors, the holder gets his clearance suspended or
>> revoked.
>> Any big aerospace company is populated with straight-arrow law-abiding
>> types, which is how they qualified for those clearances to start with.  If
>> any high-up leader has a clearance suspended, word quickly gets around why
>> it happened, and that guy can no longer effectively lead that crowd: they
>> have no respect for him.  This is what happened to the LM second in command
>> a few years ago.
>> Funny aside: a long time ago, I was in a proposal group where we were
>> trying to find civilian uses for a whole bunch of surplus military stuff we
>> could buy for about a nickel on the dollar, stuff that was idled by a
>> treaty that took effect right at the tail end of Bush41’s term.  It
>> included rocket motors, guidance systems, not the nukes of course but all
>> kinds of cool rocket stuff, originally designed to carry nukes but now all
>> of it surplus and ready to haul rich people to space, that kinda thing.
>> In that building where we were generating proposals, we had a soundproof
>> meeting room.  It was seldom used for anything: it was a pain in the ass to
>> even get there, since it was a structure within a structure, kinda like a
>> massive refrigerator inside a building, and you had to code in, etc, so
>> they could archive who went in and when.  We decided to find out if it
>> really was sound proof.  We had exactly one woman in that group, mid
>> thirties, fun sense of humor type.  We said “Hey Lurleen, go in there and
>> close up, then scream like you are being murdered or something.”
>> Leave it to her to respond, “Or something, OK.”
>> {8^D
>> Took us several minutes to stop laughing.  Then, she went in there,
>> closed up, screamed.  We couldn’t hear it.  The structure worked as
>> advertised.
>> We didn’t need Lurleen to point out to us what that facility enabled.  I
>> don’t know if anyone ever used it for that purpose, but I wouldn’t be a bit
>> surprised.  If they did that and self-reported, the security people
>> probably wouldn’t tell the company (I wouldn’t think (they would have
>> nothing to gain by telling.))
>> In any case, the security people make it clear during initial training
>> and all subsequent periodic updates: they get it that people are not
>> saints.  They understand.  They are not your priest.  But they do need to
>> know what you did, so they can watch out for negative consequences.  If you
>> cross them, they can hurt you.  If you lie to them, this is a bad thing.
>> spike
>> --
>> Anders Sandberg
>> Future of Humanity Institute
>> Oxford Martin School
>> Oxford University
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