[ExI] Security clearances

spike spike66 at att.net
Sat May 14 21:06:04 UTC 2016



From: extropy-chat [mailto:extropy-chat-bounces at lists.extropy.org] On Behalf
Of Anders Sandberg
Sent: Saturday, May 14, 2016 1:45 AM
To: extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org
Subject: Re: [ExI] Security clearances


>.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.


Anders, this might be the only time this ever happens: I disagree with much
or most of what you posted (I left it in, below.)

I need to run soon, but let me explain in few words.

4-something million security clearances: there are different levels of
clearances.  The high-up ones where the person handles really damaging
materials, are rare, usually temporary, and super specialized.  4-something
million security clearances, most of those are probably to military
ossifers, others who never see a secret document and don't know what a SAR
looks like.

Little evidence they work: very much on the contrary sir.  I might not say
anything more on that topic other than I disagree.

The Clinton email scandal and why it is important: we realize we have a
special case where otherwise unclearable people can be elected to the
highest and second highest office in the land, and we recognize they need to
be cleared anyway, regardless of who are their friends, their past, any of
that.  But we had a weird novel oddball case here where a person who was not
elected was assigned to a post where a clearance was required, and she was
not clearable, by ordinary standards.  So. what then?  Always before, the
pool of those eligible for Secretary of State had to be clearable, and were
in every known case.  But Mrs. Clinton was not, for she had that Whitewater
business behind her (note that security clearances can be and routinely are
denied if people have been tried and acquitted (OJ Simpson would be
unclearable, even after 3 October 1995 (and none of the attorneys, defense
or prosecution, plus at least one witness would have been clearable after
the trial.))  The Clinton family has unresolved connections, mysterious
family "charities" all that stuff.  Anything that even looks suspicious can
be grounds for denial, and the security people are not required to tell why
the clearance was denied.  Her investigation would have taken minutes, then
stamped with a big red NO, and then over-stamped with a bigger, redder HELL.
Way too many untraceable transactions, too much secrecy, etc.  The level she
was shooting for requires openness, a verifiable everything since forever.
Mrs. Clinton isn't even close to that standard.  Donald Trump is nowhere
close to that standard, so is not clearable to be SecState.

OK suppose we recognize and accept that a president and VP must have top
level clearances, and that being elected is a voter-level acceptance of the
person, warts and all.  That standard does not apply to a SecState, for the
voters do not give that dispensation or defacto pardon.  We now have a case
where the president takes responsibility for a post he filled with an
otherwise unclearable person.

Gotta scoot,





















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  <mailto:extropy-chat at lists.extropy.org>
<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.




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Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Oxford University
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