Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Snowden failed to disclose his overseas trip. So what?

For those familiar with the security clearance process, you know that you have to disclose overseas trips and foreign contacts that are not part of your official duties.  In another article about Snowden that may or may not be classified as "news" we discover that he failed to disclose an overseas trip to India.

He was apparently in India for tech training and may have been working at or with the embassy while there.  The article implies that this trip was not considered to be "official duties" and as such should have been reported in his background investigation.  But having been interviewed for other people's background investigations, it's amazing what these things don't catch. 

A recent investigator that interviewed me hadn't checked the target's Facebook page where he regularly posts drunk.  I discovered this by laughing out loud when he asked if the person in question ever drinks.  The investigator seemed surprised to learn that he even had a Facebook account.  I gently explained to him that it was 2013 and the gumshoe investigations he used to do where a thing of the past.  This is unfortunately not an isolated incident.

Officials labeled Snowden's background check as "flawed and incomplete" because they didn't question him further about trips overseas or contacts with foreign nationals.  But this is Grade-A Bullshit.  These investigators are contractors who merely gather information for a board to review.  The government, who last I checked can verify who comes and goes from the country, had the ability to detect omissions in his reporting of facts.  The contract investigators did not have access to this same data.  And honestly, if an IT person said that he flew to India (possibly on the job, possibly paid for by Dell) to attend weeks of tech training, that wouldn't have mattered in his clearance anyway.  Whoever characterized his background investigation as "flawed and incomplete" is desperately trying to pass the buck.

The more dangerous thing here is, I think, that people read the article and then avoid overseas travel because they may want to hold a security clearance someday.  Hopefully, the government can clarify their position on this so we can all be smart about what we might be giving up by taking (or conducting) training overseas.  Obviously Snowden got away with not disclosing his overseas trip (if indeed it was unofficial in nature) but if I want to do the right thing?  What then?

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