In the aftermath of the latest WikiLeaks document dump, the policy on security clearances may come under some scrutiny. And little wonder. The Wikileaker is thought to be PFC Bradley Manning, a 22 year old Army PFC who was arrested in connection with other leaks in June. Manning claims to have held a Top Secret/SCI clearance, which allowed him access to the hundreds of thousands of pages of data now being pored over by…well…anyone in the world who wishes to see it. That raises the question of how he got such a clearance in the first place, and how difficult it is for others to get them.
There's a job search angle to this too: many government jobs—particularly those related to defense—require a security clearance. And there are plenty of websites that offer to get them for would-be employees. But is it as easy as filling out a few forms online?
It would appear not. According to The Vault Guide to Military Careers, any web site that claims it "can get you a security clearance before you are even hired for a government job" is "bogus."
The reason: "Whatever agency is hiring you will request the background check from the Defense Security Service."
So the Wikileaker didn't just waltz in with some certificate he printed offline. But before you exhale too deeply, consider this: that means the Defense Security Service (DSS) looked into his background and considered him a good risk to be awarded a level of clearance "necessary for those persons who work with information that would cause 'exceptionally grave damage' to America’s national security if it was released without authorization."
While we're only at the beginning of the process of finding out how grave that damage is likely to be, we do know some of the things that the DSS would have been looking for: in addition to drug tests and urinalysis, "past behavior, medical history or the fact that they have close relatives living in a foreign country might preclude an individual from qualifying for a security clearance. " Additionally, "the government also looks for information on potential job candidates that might make them more susceptible to bribery or blackmail. Therefore, a background check involves a review of a candidate’s credit rating, the number of speeding tickets he may have, mental health, substance abuse and whether or not they have been arrested incident to a crime."
Whether PFC Manning turns out to be the Wikileaker or not, it's clear that someone with high-level security access greatly breached the trust that had been placed in them. And that's likely to have a knock-on effect for anyone applying for clearance from now on. Whether it simply slows down the process or makes it more intensive (and therefore harder to negotiate) remains to be seen. Given that it already takes around a year to get a typical clearance, any setback to the system can only hurt job seekers--and the organizations that require their skills.
Extra Insight: How to Get Security Clearance
--Phil Stott, Vault.com