[ISN] Getting cleared

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Thu Jun 23 05:08:38 EDT 2005


Meena Thiruvengadam
Express-News Business Writer 

Landing one of the 750 or so jobs the National Security Agency plans 
to fill in San Antonio in the next few years won't be easy. 

Each NSA hire will have to gain a top secret/special intelligence 
security clearance, and that means proving oneself to be trustworthy, 
honest, reliable, discreet and unquestionably loyal to the United 

That process can be long and tedious. There are forms to fill out, 
friends, family and associates that must be questioned, and a lie 
detector test to pass. 

"What they're looking for," said Richard Piske, vice president and 
general manager of Kelly FedSecure, an agency specializing in finding 
jobs for people with security clearances, "is something in your past 
someone could gain access to and use against you as a means to extract 
classified information." 

University of Texas at San Antonio graduate Thoa Vo is confident that 
government investigators won't find anything like that in her life. 
"I've always thought of myself as a clean-cut person," said the 
26-year-old information systems major. "I don't do drugs or anything, 
and I don't have anything to hide." 

Vo was among the 5,000 candidates who attended the NSA's recent job 
fair here. 

As part of its largest recruitment effort since the Cold War, the NSA 
last year began a campaign to hire 7,500 people nationwide by 2008. 
Hundreds of NSA employees will work at the old Sony manufacturing 
plant at Loop 410 and Military Drive. 

Each person who'll work there - like every NSA employee - will have to 
pass a medical screening, drug test, polygraph exam, and an in-depth 
background investigation going back 10 years. 

"They're going to talk to your neighbors, your employers, your family, 
do a very thorough evaluation of your credit history, talk to 
creditors, and do a deep background screening of law enforcement 
records," Piske said. 

Finding people willing to withstand that type of scrutiny isn't hard. 
The challenge lies in finding someone who can both carry out the job 
and gain a clearance. 

A top-secret clearance, one of several clearance levels, is required 
for anyone who would have access to information that if disclosed 
without authorization would cause grave damage to national security. 

Applicants with credit problems, a history of drug use or certain 
criminal convictions on their records won't be automatically rejected. 
Considerations will include the nature of the incidents, the 
circumstances and motivations surrounding them, the age and maturity 
level at the time of the transgression and the likelihood of 

Getting a clearance can take more than a year. 

Someone who's lived in the same place all of his or her life, had only 
a couple of jobs and whose family has been in the U.S. for at least 
two generations will get through the process most quickly. For someone 
who was born in a foreign country or has direct family living abroad, 
it will take longer. 

"At any given time there are between 400,000 and 500,000 people being 
investigated for security clearances," Piske said. 

Regardless of how long it takes, Jesus "Jesse" Sanchez is willing to 
wait it out. "This is an organization that's not going to go away," 
the IT specialist said of the NSA. "And I'm looking for a company to 
retire from." 

The Holmes High School graduate also doesn't mind having his life 
scrutinized. "Because of the way I was raised, I've made some good 
choices and I've stayed clear of trouble," he said. "I don't have 
anything I'm worried about them finding out." 

Still, the path to a security clearance and into an investigative 
government organization is stressful and at times embarrassing, said 
Lindsay Moran, a former operative with the Central Intelligence 

Moran had to undergo three interviews, two types of drug tests, a full 
physical with vision and hearing checks, aptitude exams, personality 
and psychological assessments and a polygraph exam. 

Past drug use, which she writes about in her book "Blowing My Cover: 
My Life as a CIA Spy," didn't keep her out of the agency. "When I was 
honest about my drug use, it became a nonissue," she said. 

But during her investigation, Moran was labeled a sexual deviant and 
asked intimate details about her personal life. Government 
investigators, whom Piske describes as "not particularly friendly," 
questioned her friends and associates. 

"There were a lot of demoralizing experiences," she said. "The only 
thing that enabled me to get through it was having a sense of humor." 

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