[ExI] Security clearances

John Tracy Cunningham johntc at gmail.com
Sat May 14 20:35:29 UTC 2016

The information is what's important, and all the procedures are there to
protect the information.  If all works correctly, the information doesn't
get into the wrong hands.  Occasionally, one questions why something is
classified, and there are procedures for that, too.

An example of info that perhaps shouldn't have been classified: Suppose the
NATO-Warsaw Pact war happened.  In the plan, there was one line something
like, Infantry Company A of 180 men is scheduled to arrive at airport B in
Germany on D+17, go to a nearby warehouse to draw their stored equipment,
then proceed by surface to their position on the front line, arriving and
reporting combat ready by C+21.  Should that have been classified?
Perhaps; the guys in Company A might think so if they were attacked
enroute.  It was part of a database of hundreds of thousands of lines
describing the deployment of the US Armed Forces to Europe, and that
database was classified, period.

Most clearances are held by people in and around the military, the CIA, and
State, and there are certainly well-documented selection effects going on
in those organizations.  One cannot be a commissioned officer unless one
can obtain a Secret clearance.  Many positions, military and civilian,
depend on being able to obtain and to hold a clearance.  But people can't
simply collect clearances on their own initiative.  The initiative lies
with the government.  All of my clearances went poof two years after I
retired; if I wanted to go back into the business, I'd have to be
re-investigated from scratch, not just a simple five-year bring-up.

There is certainly a security culture.  Security is supposed to be part of
everyone's mindset.  One is reminded of it daily, hourly even.  On a daily
basis, clearances only come up if someone new needs to see something.  Far
more important are the procedures for protection - marking documents; use
of safes, alarms, SCIFs (Faraday cages), proper use of the SIPRNet
(intranet classified up to Secret) and the High Side, which goes higher.
Seldom does a problem arise because somebody shouldn't really have a
clearance; it's alway about protection.

What do you mean by "works well"?  No breaches?  Certainly the people who
run the system think that way.  But we are all fallible, and breaches are
going to occur, intentionally or unintentionally.  When they occur, they
might not always be made public, but internally there is increased
emphasis, a damage assessment perhaps with necessary consequent changes to
things, more training, new procedures, and so on.  Careers can be broken.
I point out the case of General David Petraeus, very very highly respected,
who retired to avoid being cashiered after giving his biographer classified
information.  (That he was having an affair with her didn't help.)  He has
however continued to do very well post-retirement.

You have the Clinton situation exactly right, I think.  Those on the inside
are horrified.  But the FBI is not done yet.

In what way are cleared people "deeply annoyed"?

You have a point about soft protection.  When I worked on The Joint Staff
at the Pentagon, I could have walked out one evening with the entire NATO
war plan in my briefcase, copied it overnight, and replaced it the
following morning, and no one would have been the wiser.  There was no
daily inventory, and no one checked briefcases.  But I didn't.  I
understand the KGB was quite a bit more serious in their procedures.
Ultimately we rely on one human being trusting another.



On Sat, May 14, 2016 at 12:44 PM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:

> 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.
> https://news.clearancejobs.com/2011/09/26/how-many-people-have-security-clearances/
> 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
> <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>
> <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
> _______________________________________________
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> --
> Anders Sandberg
> Future of Humanity Institute
> Oxford Martin School
> Oxford University
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