Monday, July 29, 2013

Invitation to Participate in a Study

CFSO was recently contacted with the following request, which we would like to share with our readers. It concerns a study being done approaching the security clearance process from a socio-cultural and anthropological perspective. The issues include: "who does the government trust in an ethnically diverse society," and how does the process affect the lives, identities and outlook of those deemed temporarily or permanently "untrustworthy**" by the government of the nation they wish to serve.

Primary subjects include those who have had a clearance suspended or revoked, those who have had a clearance suspended but retained, and those with active clearances who might know others in such situations. It involves subjects from the entire cleared community, not just State.

We think it may produce results useful to understanding the current role of the process, and of value to reforming the process.

(** Yes, we know that the security clearance process is not supposed to be a determinant of trustworthyness. But that is how everyone sees it nonetheless.)

Text follows:

Letter of Introduction to visitors of the CSFO Website

Concerned Foreign Service Officers has been asked to make you aware of an academic study currently underway by the Department of Cultural Studies in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University (GMU), on the topic of the National Security Personnel System. A Ph.D. candidate at GMU is conducting research for a dissertation on the topic of the National Security Clearance System and how individuals experience the process. Specifically, the research will illuminate how the process reflects or influences individual sense of self, community and patriotism.

The study critically examines the Personnel Security Clearance System, the process by which the federal government incorporates individuals into secret national security work. It will investigate the phenomenology of the U.S. secrecy system, paying particular attention to the ways in which clearance practices discipline and transform individuals who are subject to them.

The aim of the study is to elucidate the relationship between individual bodies and state power as articulated in the personnel security clearance process - through listening to the voices of the system's participants.

The study will contribute to a robust understanding of the role of individuals in the security clearance process and may lead toward a discussion of improved personnel security clearance processes.
The research is conducted as an interview format. Interview subjects are anonymous.

If you are interested in being interviewed as part of the research, or if you would like to learn more about the study, please contact Martha Deutscher:

Martha Deutscher
Ph.D. Candidate, George Mason University
1045 North Utah Street
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 807-0621

More about the Study:

The study critically examines the Personnel Security Clearance System, the process by which the federal government incorporates individuals into secret national security work. It will investigate the phenomenology of the U.S. secrecy system, paying particular attention to the ways in which clearance practices discipline and transform individuals who are subject to them. These practices arguably produce privilege, conformism, self-surveillance, and a particular kind of nationalism.


The study will investigate through interviews and documentary sources how the security clearance process was shaped and also how it shapes identity. This ethnographic project, though underpinned by archival research and literary analyses, will focus on interviews and participant observation.

Interviews will be conducted among the following groups (a) lawmakers and other policy writers (b) workers who hold clearances; (c) those who have been denied a clearance, or have held and lost a clearance; (d) those who serve as counsel to those denied or losing a clearance.

All interviews will be conducted in confidence. Interview subjects are anonymous and will not be subject to attribution.


The aim of the study is to elucidate the relationship between individual bodies and state power as articulated in the personnel security clearance process - through listening to the voices of the system's participants. Tracing the circuit of culture of the security clearance process from the moment of its production, through revision and re-articulation, allows insight into the multiple layers of meanings that are embedded in and extracted from the way we think about the personnel security clearance process, national security and patriotism. Through interviews and combined ethnographic analysis and archival research, the study will make visible the myriad ways the personnel security clearance process maintains current state power structures.

In addition, the research will look pragmatically, beyond the theoretical realm, at how the contemporary physical bio-medical intrusions like urinalyses and polygraph testing and other intrusive techniques - for example uses of investigation and surveillance - impact the individual and collective sense of self in relationship to patriotism and the state. The study will contribute to a robust understanding of the role of individuals in the security clearance process and may lead toward a discussion of improved personnel security clearance processes.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Foreign Service Code of Ethics?

This week AFSA sent a survey to members asking for their input into an AFSA project, led by AFSA's President and her Professionalism and Ethics Committee, to create a Foreign Service Code of Ethics.

We think that Foreign Service members should think long and hard about their answers to the survey.

On the one hand, a Foreign Service code of Ethics could help define the Foreign Service as a profession. The Military Code of Conduct, and the codes of ethics of the American Bar Association, American Medical Association, and others, help define those professions and promote professionalism among their ranks. To a certain degree, a shared code of ethics promotes esprit de corps, morale, and could, conceivably, elevate the Foreign Service profession in the public eye.

On the other hand, there already exists a Code of Ethics for federal employees, which is included by reference in the Foreign Affairs Manual and already applies to the Foreign Service. Several additional regulations already supplement this code for employees overseas. Some Foreign Service members, such as medical professionals, law enforcement professionals, IT professionals, management officers and and consular officers are bound by still more rules and codes of conduct. Is there a need, or a clamor, for additional guidelines? Is there really a shortage of rules governing how Foreign Service members should behave?

The Federal Code of Ethics is enshrined in Public Law.  AFSA's code would not replace it, but would exist in addition to it. It would add new interpretations, and possibly new standards, to those which already exist. The following questions, among many others, arise:

Would these additional standards truly reflect the shared opinions of the entire Foreign Service, or only of some small portion thereof?

Would they apply only to those most directly involved in the practice of bilateral or multilateral diplomacy, or to all Foreign Service members equally?

Would they be "timeless" or reflect the views prevalent among AFSA members only at one specific time?

To what degree would they reflect the views of long-ago-retired retirees, as opposed to the views held by current active-duty Foreign Service members?

Would they be enforced, and if so, who would enforce them?

Would AFSA lobby to have them enshrined in law?

As noted recently by David Jones in the April 2013 Foreign Service Journal, AFSA has no authority to control membership in the Foreign Service, to certify its members, or to enforce any code of standards on the Foreign Service. That authority lies with the leadership of the Foreign Affairs Agencies, and particularly with the Secretary of State. Would the organs of those agencies add the proposed AFSA code to their procedures for hiring, firing, and disciplining employees?

Given that both OIG and DS routinely investigate alleged breaches of the official code of ethics, and given that the track record of both with regard to fairness and objectivity is not unblemished, what is the wisdom of adding additional rules to the many which are already imposed upon Foreign Service members? Would not the creation of a Foreign Service Code of Ethics merely add to the list of real or imagined offenses for which FS members might be investigated and/or fired?

Could the proposed AFSA Code of Foreign Service Ethics be used against employees under review by an Accountability Review Board or by Congress? Even if it existed only on AFSA's web page, one would imagine that a code of conduct developed not merely by one's employers, but by one's peers, would carry a lot of weight!

CFSO believes that the current effort is misguided and has considerable potential to rebound to the detriment of Foreign Service members. We assume absolutely that an AFSA code of conduct would be taken seriously, and used against employees by all of the above. We also wonder whether creating potential problems for FS members is really the best use of AFSA's resources, or of our collective AFSA dues.

We urge all Foreign Service and CFSO members receiving this survey to ask these questions, at least of themselves, before contributing to this effort, and to make their opinions known.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Guidelines protect sex assault victims seeking security clearance

From U.S. News By Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released guidelines Friday that protect victims of sexual assault who fear that coming forward for help or counseling may jeopardize their security clearance.

Clapper's new guidance now mandates that someone seeking mental health counseling cannot be the sole reason that individual is denied security clearance.

So-called "Question 21" on the standard security clearance questionnaire has been criticized in recent months as discouraging victims of sexual assault from seeking help, spurring a long review of its use by the intelligence community.

Victims may now answer “No” to the question, which asks if the respondent has consulted a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition or if he or she was similarly hos

This language will be added to the question:

"Please respond to this question with the following additional instruction: Victims of sexual assault who have consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition during this period strictly in relation to the sexual assault are instructed to answer No."

“The U.S. Government recognizes the critical importance of mental health and supports proactive management of mental health conditions, wellness and recovery,” Clapper said in a release.

“The guidance which was issued on an interim basis pending formal revision of the policy, applies to all executive branch departments and agencies,” the release said.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issues guidance for all 17 of the agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

*  *  *  *

DS generally follows the guidelines imposed by the DNI for security clearances. Hopefully, that means that clearances adjudicated by DS will soon follow suit.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Newsflash! OIG Does an Honest Report on DS Investigative Process!

Seven years ago, CFSO and AFSA both told State's OIG that DS investigations into allegations of mis-or-malfeasance by Foreign Service members were subject to outside influence and were occasionally unprofessional. OIG's Response, under the now long-discredited Cookie Krongard, was to perform an inspection, the results of which were coordinated in advance with then DS Director Richard Griffin, that completely whitewashed the process.

This week, the OIG released a report entitled: Inspection of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence, Divisions of Special Investigations, Criminal Investigations, and Computer Investigations and Forensics.

Among the findings:

"The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) Special Investigations Division (SID), which investigates allegations of criminal and administrative misconduct, lacks a firewall to preclude the DS and Department of State (Department) hierarchies from exercising undue influence in particular cases."

"DS does not have a comprehensive, up-to-date manual with approved policies and guidelines on how to conduct investigations."

"DS’s quality assurance measures are not sufficient to ensure that investigations comport with law enforcement standards and powers. DS should use peer reviews to help correct flaws and identify best practices." 

"Frequent agent turnover in DS investigative offices reduces long-term, specialized expertise and hampers complex criminal investigations."

"The current SID structure does not foster independence from career pressures and creates significant potential for undue influence, favoritism, and potential retribution. "

"DS lacks clearly stated professional investigative standards for investigative functions, with the result that DS agents who circulate through the ICI divisions make decisions about procedures and cases in ad hoc and sometimes inconsistent ways. Without such standards, it is difficult to ascertain whether adequate internal safeguards and standard management procedures exist." 

"The absence of a comprehensive, up-to-date manual increases the potential for errors, particularly for new agents who are forced to rely on on-the-job training. Inspectors discovered uncertainty among SID agents about which warnings to provide subjects prior to their interviews in investigations, though the wrong choice of warning can ruin a potential criminal prosecution. Inspectors were told that SID supervisors have sometimes pursued investigations excessively against other DS agents and that some supervisors have chosen to open cases on every allegation, including for those types of workplace issues that Department managers should ordinarily attempt to handle via other means."


Don't worry folks! Things have not gotten worse! OIG has, for the first time, simply reported accurately on those functions.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Fallout Begins

As Diplopundit and the media have noted, four senior State Department employees have lost their jobs over the attacks in Benghazi. We have been silent, for reasons having nothing to do with those events, but feel the need to say the following:

Benghazi was a terrible tragedy. Four good men, patriots, colleagues, family members, lost their lives in service to the American people.  They were killed, in part, because they were not adequately protected. That is hugely sad and unfortunate.

Of the four people punished for that event by being let go, the highest-ranking should have left long ago. Another, the lowest in the DS chain, had made some difficult decisions badly. The other two were, like our colleagues in Benghazi, in the wrong place at the wrong time. One will be sorely missed by DS, which would have benefited greatly from his continued service.

A very large part of the problem has not been addressed. Yes, bad decisions were made. And yes, the results were tragic.

Congress is currently saying, every day, that when there is not enough money, difficult choices have to be made. State, which received less than adequate security funding from that same Congress, made difficult choices.

Security funding is insurance. And like all insurance, you pray you will never need it. It is expensive. And if the security works well, it looks like a lot of money has been spent for nothing. In this climate, government officials who look like they are spending a lot of money for nothing get hammered. Particularly if you have to get waivers for other rules in order to spend that money. So people send their limited resources to the places that look like they need it most, and hope for the best.

The problem is that the enemy looks for weak spots. And the enemy has eyes now all over the world. So they find the spots where the money has not been spent for insurance. Very quickly, a place that looks "safer" in comparison, can become, in retrospect, the place that needed it the most.  Monitoring that takes resources as well. And again, when all goes well, the money spent monitoring that looks wasted.

Bad choices were made, and heads should roll. But if bad choices were made, they were made because the funding to make the best choices was not there. That does not excuse what happened. But there is blame to go around, and a lot of it lies with those high up on a Hill, who, while talking a strong game now, considered the amount State asked for, for insurance, too expensive to fund.

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Important Step to Enhance National Security

From the Washington post, by Joe Davidson:

President Obama has done what Congress has not — extend whistleblower protections to national security and intelligence employees.

A Presidential Policy Directive issued Wednesday says employees “who are eligible for access to classified information can effectively report waste, fraud, and abuse while protecting classified national security information. It prohibits retaliation against employees for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse.”

With this directive, Obama hands national security and intelligence community whistleblowers and their advocates an important victory in their frequently frustrating efforts to expand protection against retaliation for federal employees who expose agency misconduct.

Protection for intelligence and national security workers was not included, as advocates had hoped, in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that passed the House last month and now awaits action in the Senate. Retaliation can come in different forms, including dismissals, assignments or revocation of security clearances.

Obama instructed agencies, including the CIA, to establish a review process, within 270 days, that allows employees to appeal actions in conflict with the directive that affect their access to classified information.

Angela Canterbury, director of public policy for the Project on Government Oversight , an advocacy group, said in an e-mail that “this unprecedented Presidential Policy Directive is leveled at the endemic culture of secrecy in the intelligence community (IC) and the dearth of accountability it fosters. The directive prohibits retaliation for protected disclosures by IC employees; prohibits retaliatory actions related to security clearances and eligibility for access to classified information and directs agencies to create a review process for related reprisal claims; mandates that each intelligence agency create a review process for claims of retaliation consistent with the policies and procedures in the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA); provides significant remedies where retaliation is substantiated, including reinstatement and compensatory damages; and creates a review board of Inspectors General (IGs) where IC whistleblowers can appeal agency decisions.”

Advocates say these measures not only protect free-speech rights but also make unauthorized leaks of sensitive information less likely by creating a proper avenue for whistleblowers.

But for all it does, the directive “only is a landmark breakthrough in principle,” according to another organization, the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

“Until agencies adopt implementing regulations, no one whose new rights are violated will have any due process to enforce them,” said Tom Devine, GAP’s legal director. “Further, there are only false due process teeth on the horizon.” Regulations to enforce whistleblower rights will be written by the same agencies that routinely are the defendants in whistleblower retaliation lawsuits, according to GAP.

Both Canterbury and Devine praised Obama’s action, while calling on Congress to make his order the law.

“President Obama has kept his promise to national security whistleblowers ... ,” Devine said in an e-mail. “This law is no substitute for congressional action to make the rights permanent, comprehensive and enforceable through due process teeth.”

Obama’s promise was in the administration’s September 2011 “National Action Plan” for transparency and open government. It said “if Congress remains deadlocked, the Administration will explore options for utilizing executive branch authority to strengthen and expand whistleblower protections.”

National security whistleblower protections are not in the legislation now before Congress because the Republican leadership of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) opposed them.

Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) “dragged his feet, never held a hearing, and never fully explained his concerns,” Canterbury said. “This put the House co-sponsors in a tough spot. They ultimately removed all of the intelligence-related provisions so that Rogers would relinquish his hold and they could move the bill.”

Under Rogers, according to Devine, “for two years HPSCI has refused to engage in serious discussions on national security whistleblower rights, either with the public or even Republican offices seeking a consensus.”

Rogers’s committee staff did not respond to requests for comment.

Though happy about Obama’s directive, whistleblower advocates are not totally pleased with the way the administration has, in some cases, treated whistleblowers. Canterbury said she is “truly gratified and grateful” for the directive, but noted “we also have been critical of this Administration’s prosecutions of so-called leakers under the Espionage Act. We have raised concerns about the possible infringement of rights and the chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers of the aggressive prosecutions and certain post-WikiLeaks policies.”

Obama’s directive does a lot to balance those concerns. At the same time, Canterbury, Devine and other advocates will continue to push Congress to follow the president’s lead by approving legislation with national security whistleblower protections.

“The President has done his share with this landmark breakthrough,” Devine said. “Congress needs to finish what he started.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Teachable Moment

The State Department is taking a well-deserved beating in the court of public opinion for its free-wheeling incompetence in handling a security clearance/discipline case with free-speech implications. Another case, currently under adjudication, promises similar, or greater, fireworks. 

We predict an imminent legal battle to force State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security to do what every other agency performing security clearance adjudications already does: monitor the quality of security clearance cases and ensure that they comply with laws and regulations. 

Simply put, State is the worst abuser of the security-clearance process in the US Government. It has taken a  process that should be used solely for assessing whether or not a person has sufficient integrity and loyalty to protect classified information, and turned it into a routine method for harassing dissenters, skirting EEO laws, and ridding the Department of anyone that anyone at any level in the hierarchy wants to fire, when no basis exists for doing so legally. 

To be fair, other agencies do this too. Once in a while, in very rare instances. But only State does so as a routine matter of course.  

The differences between State and every other agency are simple. Other agencies have oversight and quality-control mechanisms in place, and State does not. Despite years of complaints, State has steadfastly refused to implement even the most basic quality-control mechanisms mandated by law, much less the mechanisms suggested by AFSA and CFSO. This failure to implement basic management controls has been abetted by what is at least tacit complicity by State's highest-level managers and its Inspector General, which have studiously ignored pressure to address the issue.   

CFSO does not believe that FS members have an absolute right to free speech. We believe that every person who has a security clearance has an absolute responsibility to protect classified information, and we believe that those involved in national defense and international relations must be mindful of the fact that even unclassified statements could have negative consequences to individual or national security.

But we also believe that the Government must follow its own rules, and that employment by an agency's security apparatus should not convey immunity either from law or regulation, or from competence.

We hope that, instead of ignoring, as usual, the current outcry, State will learn from it. It's never too late to start following the rules, whether you are a rank and file employee or the head of State's security arm.