[ExI] Security clearances

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sat May 14 08:44:30 UTC 2016

I think this touches on something interesting. Initially I was dismayed 
to get Clinton into this thread, since I was thinking of it as a place 
to discuss security epistemology, but these posts have actually shown 
something nontrivial. Let me see if I got this right:

Security clearances are important to people in many careers: not just 
for getting a good job, but in terms of self-identification and  
culture. They have to be regarded as important to work well, and 
cognitive dissonance (if it was tough to get, it must be a good thing) 
and cultural practices boosts the feeling of importance.

[ Note that so far I have not seen any evidence that they actually work 
well! It might be hard to test, but my suspicion is that they are a 
rather soft protection and a lot of practices actually are 
signalling/security theatre rather than actual security. I even 
meta-suspect that the few studies that have been done on the topic are 
classified, shunned and ignored because they likely undermine the 
narrative that clearances are important. A bit like how the federal 
government defends the polygraph narrative tooth and nails, despite 
overwhelming evidence that it is broken. Note that I am not saying we 
could do without clearances either: that soft protection can be pretty 
powerful if it is security-in-depth. ]

The Clinton email scandal is minor if you are outside the world of 
clearances: a politician was sloppy with important stuff again. But from 
the inside perspective this is a horrific break of trust: (1) she was 
ignoring the important rules, (2) she is getting away with it. From the 
inside perspective (1) is glaring since clearances are important, should 
be viewed as important, and the breach was not anything minor like 
bubblegum in the secure room. (2) is even more glaring, since it exposes 
not just an injustice (lesser people, who you would identify with, would 
be fired or prosecuted), but that the whole narrative may be broken: if 
you think clearance practices actually work well, then letting 
unsuitable people through on the high level undermines security anyway, 
and if you start to doubt the actual efficacy and narrative of the 
system, then you get a kick to your sense of identity and culture.

Note that this is all psychology and sociology rather than any real 
security or legal assessment. But it is worth recognizing that 4.2 
million people hold security clearances in the US.
That is a lot of people to deeply annoy. There is also an intriguing 
sociological question what effects there is on a society when 1.3% are 
incorporating a culture of secrecy - I wouldn't be surprised if there 
was fascinating selection effects, overrepresentation of people with 
high conscientiousness scores, etc.

On 2016-05-12 21:24, spike wrote:
> *From:*extropy-chat [mailto:extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org] 
> *On Behalf Of *William Flynn Wallace
> *Sent:* Thursday, May 12, 2016 11:35 AM
> *To:* ExI chat list <extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
> *Subject:* Re: [ExI] Security clearances
> Bill said he smoked weed a couple of times, didn’t inhale. spike
> >…  The country is moving towards legalizing pot (while it is increasing 
> the penalties for opioids).  It is legal in Colorado and I hope the 
> domino effect holds for these laws which have cost billions to enforce 
> to little avail except to put minor offenders in jail for lengthy 
> terms…bill w
> BillW, this is another case of the incident itself is irrelevant, but 
> lying about it is critical.  In a security clearance investigation, 
> they come out and tell you they won’t disqualify you for having an 
> affair, for smoking weed, for minor stuff, but they need to know what 
> they need to know about it in order to do their jobs, because their 
> asses are on the line too.  They make clear: if you did something, 
> tell it.  Who was with you?  When did you do it?  Where did you do 
> it?  How many times did you do it?  etc.
> Then what happens is the security people take your list, go try to 
> find those people.  They ask them what happened. If the stories match, 
> they don’t disqualify the candidate.
> Case in point: we had guy in the icebox, which is where you work 
> before a clearance investigation is complete. Those usually take about 
> a year, less if you have had a really squeaky clean life, lived in one 
> place the whole time and they can find everybody on your list, and 
> everybody’s story matches.  Longer if they find discrepancies.  We had 
> this guy in the icebox for less than a year but almost; so he had 
> already made a career sacrifice to even be there, and we had been 
> paying him mostly on overhead this whole time and trying to keep him 
> busy on stuff that we knew didn’t matter.
> On his application was the question: have you ever been arrested.  Now 
> that is an easy one.  It doesn’t include being pulled over for 
> speeding, it means have you had directed at you the words “…right to 
> remain silent…” and he wrote no.  The investigators learned of a fight 
> that had occurred after a football game at San Jose State and the 
> campus cops arrested these two, but being an internal affair hadn’t 
> given them Miranda rights (these kinds of incidents are settled by 
> student council usually.)  The two brawlers hadn’t done any serious 
> damage to each other, no broken noses, no blood on the ground, just 
> your usual shit that happens kind of incident, so…  They took them 
> over to the guard station, both guys were sorry it happened, won’t 
> happen again, and please please don’t let this go on our academic 
> record etc.  The campus chief decided it was a no-harm no-foul, the 
> two were about the same size, so it wasn’t one guy bullying the other, 
> and our guy was second in his class, so… they let them go an hour 
> later, but gave him a written reprimand.
> The security officers talked to people, learned of the incident, found 
> the letter in his file, decided this constituted an arrest, and 
> technically it was (because they had both guys in those plastic 
> zip-tie cuffs) even though they kept it as an on-campus matter with no 
> local constables involved.  The investigators looked at the way the 
> arrest question was posed and that “no” answer. After he sat in the 
> icebox for almost a year, they said no tickets for you.  He left the 
> company a week later.
> This whole thing takes on a new meaning in our times.  We know the 
> security clearance investigations must make special accommodations for 
> at least two elected positions, president and VP.  But the Secretary 
> of State is an appointed position (as is the CEO of a defense company 
> is appointed by the board of directors.)  The security team does not 
> answer to the company, to the directors, to the outgoing CEO, to 
> anyone other than their boss in Washington, so they do what they do, 
> regardless of rank.
> What we are seeing now is a Secretary of State claiming or trying to 
> claim a right that the position does not have.  She wants to tell the 
> government what information she will give them and what she will not.  
> I dropped my jaw when she said of a private server under subpoena that 
> it would stay private.  This astonishment was compounded when we 
> learned that she was erasing evidence on that server.  Secretaries of 
> State, current or former, do not have the authority to tell the FBI 
> what evidence they may have.  If you or I am under subpoena, we are 
> not allowed to tell the FBI this potential evidence is private 
> property or that their investigation is improper or that the whole 
> thing is a conspiracy. Mrs. Clinton and I do not have the legal 
> authority to do that.  Yet she did it, and didn’t get frog-marched to 
> San Quentin in chains.  You or I would.
> Clearly there is a double standard.
> OK then, I propose we admit it and define it, just as we do in law.  
> Let us continue to claim that all animals on the farm are equal, but 
> some animals are more equal than others.  Let us define which laws the 
> more-equal animals no longer need to follow, but that the Jeffery 
> Sterlings of the world still do.  Who are these more-equal people?  
> Does it include just those three, president, VP and SecState?  What 
> about the SecState’s staff?  Which ones are immune from law?  Which 
> laws?  All of them?  Or just those which shouldn’t have been asked?  
> Those having to do with lifestyle?  Such as… hmmm… sex, drugs and say… 
> murder?  And while we are asking, what precisely is the limit to the 
> notion of a presidential pardon?  Where does the constitution say a 
> sitting president may not self-pardon?  If we admit that this is 
> theoretically possible and that Nixon could have just pardoned himself 
> and held his office, I see no limitations on grabbing arbitrary power 
> and self-pardoning all the way up.
> I can’t trust either major party nominee to not see this logical 
> fallacy in the whole notion of executive pardon.  I don’t trust either 
> of them to not abuse it. We have one of those candidates who is 
> already almost doing that, and she isn’t even entitled to legal 
> immunity.  Yet.
> Without strict definition, the presidential pardon is a ticket to 
> totalitarianism far worse than Germany’s bitter experience.
> spike
> _______________________________________________
> extropy-chat mailing list
> extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org
> http://lists.extropy.org/mailman/listinfo.cgi/extropy-chat

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/attachments/20160514/f566b660/attachment.html>

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list