Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 25, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DIRECTIVE NUMBER 12....In the Bill Sammon piece I linked to earlier, he notes that George Bush is busily "institutionalizing controversial anti-terror programs so they can be used by the next president." Guantanamo was the example Sammon used to illustrate this point, but a friend emailed last night to raise my consciousness about another example: Homeland Security Presidential Directive Number 12. A blogger whose wife is a grad student doing climate modeling for NASA explains:

This Presidential Directive is all about choice....My wife's choice is she can either sign over to the Federal Government the right to investigate every aspect of her life (including fingerprinting, credit check, medical records, character references, etc.) or she can "voluntarily" choose to not be allowed entry into the building wherein she works. The choice is hers.

....NASA, of course, has many top secret projects, projects which require high security. No one questions the need for high security and detailed background checks for specific, highly sensitive projects. This is perfectly reasonable.

But the Federal Government under Bush is now insisting that ALL employees, contractors, students, etc. associated with NASA agree to allow an investigation into their lives should the Federal Government deem it necessary for any reason.

Basically, if you want to work for NASA in any capacity, you're now required to sign away your privacy rights in advance. Ditto for just about any other government agency that decides to implement this directive. It's just another lovely little policy being "institutionalized" for George Bush's successor.

Kevin Drum 1:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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This isn't new. Intrusive security investigations in order to get building or network access have been common even at non-national security agencies post 9/11. I saw a case where offenses in a (supposedly) sealed juvenile record cost an IT person their job.

Posted by: just sayin on September 25, 2007 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

This is what perhaps bothers me the most about the Bush administration's attacks on privacy and civil liberties. I'm sure most of us would like to believe that all we have to do is weather the next 16 months and a new president, hopefully a Democrat, will come in and turn the clock back to where it was in January, 2001. I doubt it. The fact of the matter is that once a governmental entity has a power, they are very unlikely to relinquish it voluntarily. The FBI, for example, has been able to use National Security Letters to obtain, without a warrant, all sorts of information that they have been able to use in ordinary (as opposed to terrorist) criminal investigations. Can you see them on their knees pleading with President Democrat that he/she insist that they be able to continue to use those letters? It doesn't require much imagination on my part at all.

Posted by: wihntr on September 25, 2007 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Another reason if you are a talented graduate in science or engineering to leave the US and contribute your skills to a more advanced nation with civil liberties, guaranteed health-care, plentiful stem-cell and global warming reducing technology research; where intelligent design isn't classified as a scientific theory, and where your kids (assumming they don't inherit all their wealth) won't have to pay back trillions in taxes out of their earned income to pay for the Occupation of Iraq for the next 30+ years.

Last one out - turn out the lights...

Posted by: Brian on September 25, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

What kind of top-secret work does NASA do? I thought all the classified stuff was done by DOD and its contractors. I'm just curious.

A quote on this issue from the Nation follows:

"The new security clearance requirement, which involves interviews of neighbors and checks into the distant background activities of scientists, many of whom have worked at JPL and Goddard for as long as thirty years, is puzzling because both locations have little or no involvement in secret or national security research. Indeed, by law, NASA's activities and the research its scientists engage in are required to be publicly available.

'Almost nobody at NASA does classified work,' says Robert Nelson, a veteran scientist at JPL who heads up the photo analysis unit on the Cassini-Huygens space probe project exploring Saturn and its moons. 'I think this is really all about NASA director [Michael] Griffin putting a security wrap around us.'"

Posted by: matt wilbert on September 25, 2007 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

How in the name of Ned do you hypersensitive liberals expect to combat terrorism if you deny the government the tools it needs to do the job? While you're kvetching and bitching and writing unpublished policy papers on your Macintosh computers in your laminate paneled dens with a peeling copy of the Desiderata tacked to the wall, the enemy is plotting to bring down the life we know. When they do, you aren't going to be worrying about whether Uncle Sam knows you've got chlamydia or that you were late paying your credit card bill for your headshop purchases. No.

I am going to once again give you the gift of a clue. George W. Bush is a human being. A human being who is trying very hard to protect the ungrateful underachievers of this country from being incinerated in the New York subway. If you people put half as much effort into kicking your drug habits as you do into kicking a good man when he's down, the terrorists might be less emboldened to do things like pick fights with Blackwater, which weakens Iraq security and the revenue stream of some of my oldest friends.

But party on, liberals! Party on while this once-great nation burns with the flick of Madam Speaker's noticeably masculine Bic!

Posted by: Norman Rogers on September 25, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Norman: I started reading thinking you were being sarcastic...unfortunately not. Apparently you really believe that load of horseshit.

Why don't you go live in a totalitarian state somewhere, since that seems your preference, rather than turning America into one?

Posted by: marty on September 25, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

I shudder at what Empress Hillary will do with these powers. The horror. The horror.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 25, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

And I'm sure Rush, BillO, and Al will love it when Hillary uses this...

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on September 25, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Another reason if you are a talented graduate in science or engineering to leave the US and contribute your skills to a more advanced nation with civil liberties, guaranteed health-care, plentiful stem-cell and global warming reducing technology research; where intelligent design isn't classified as a scientific theory, and where your kids (assumming they don't inherit all their wealth) won't have to pay back trillions in taxes out of their earned income to pay for the Occupation of Iraq for the next 30+ years.

Last one out - turn out the lights...

Posted by: Brian on September 25, 2007 at 2:01 PM

Leave the lights on, please, there will still be plenty of us left after your exodus happens. Talented engineers and scientists are net imports here in the US. Precious few of us native schmoes could find employment overseas, and if there is a global recession, the jobs for scientists and engineers will dry up too.

But don't worry, there will be plenty of economic pain to go around. Those deficits we are running have been financed to a good degree by foreign investors and banks, and I doubt many of them have been denominated in currencies other than the US dollar. With the Fed's new low interest strategy we can expect significant inflation. And our creditors can expect defaults and repayment in dollars worth considerably less than today's value.


Posted by: jussumbody on September 25, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well, how about people who read NASA publications? Shouldn't they be subject to the same oversight? And how about people who use the word 'NASA'? That ought to involve some kind of oversight too, I should think.

Piss in their pants over government intrusion when one party's in charge; wet their pants in joy over the same intrusion when another party's in charge. IOKIYAR.

Posted by: DCBob on September 25, 2007 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

My wife did tech writing for the Navy's DDX development program at Bath Iron Works and jumped through fewer hoops.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on September 25, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

They need to be able to easily get into your party identification, your donation history (so they can see if your party affiliation conflicts with your donation history), whether or not you have had an abortion (if a woman), attend church, accept the "reality" of creationism, and other shit.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on September 25, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

. . . never mind that in mid-2006, all NAC background investigations were HALTED for 6 months, while the DoD wrangled over budget issues. Nobody could get a security clearance during that time period. And that was for people who were working SECRET projects. It costs something like $10,000 a pop.

I can't imagine they'd actually spring for this kind of funding for someone doing unclassified work. Contracting labor is expensive enough as it is. . .

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 25, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

I work for a NASA facility that is really a federal city....lots of different federal, state, university and private contractors onsite....and everyone here has had to have a background check per HSPD-12, including the folks who mow the grass, empty the trash cans, and flip the burgers in the cafeteria.

Posted by: Plexix on September 25, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

**

Posted by: mhr on September 25, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Is anyone aware of any of the candidates even looking in the direction of making a "power correction?" When elected.

Posted by: bauer on September 25, 2007 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I don't believe there is much of anything that NASA does that deserves, or needs, secrecy. The ONLY thing they are trying to keep secret are personal errors of judgement that have cost millions or billions and/or killed people.

They are seeking to hide from personal embarrassment and/or criminal negligence. Other than that, there is no conceivable reason to keep secret anything having to do with science. Science belongs to EVERYONE, it is NOT a secret squirrel operation.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on September 25, 2007 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

One of the big problems here is that the Bush administrations obsession with secrecy is causing a major backlog in working out these clearances.

Consequences of this? It takes longer to get people working on what they need to be working on. Also, it makes it more likely that people are going to end up getting passed through the system that shouldn't be, as investigators feel the pressure to reduce the backlog.

We have to be smarter in how, why, and what we keep our secrets about, because the more useless secrecy we engage in, the tougher it is to concentrate on what we really need to be secret about.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty on September 25, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

I had to go through background check and fingerprinting to intern at the Smithsonian this summer. It was my impression that was SOP for all federal employees. I don't believe they did a credit check, which is what you usually have to go through to get security clearance. (Among other things.) I would have failed miserably in that. All Federal agencies are going to be having major personnel issues coming up -- the amount of Federal employees retiring is staggering, and so all agencies will have to balance their needs to hire against the need to not making the hiring process itself turn off to many people.

Posted by: DC1974 on September 25, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I don't believe there is much of anything that NASA does that deserves, or needs, secrecy. The ONLY thing they are trying to keep secret are personal errors of judgement that have cost millions or billions and/or killed people.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on September 25, 2007 at 2:38 PM

I think you mean there *shouldn't* be anything they are doing that is secret. What they *are* doing you don't know, because, well, it's a secret. Maybe it UFOs. More likely it's military.

Posted by: jussumbody on September 25, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

mhr goes delusional. I'm not advocating the purloining of secrets, but by his own statement, the Gold/Rosenberg treachery accelerated Stalin's bomb program by two years. Not a good thing, but it didn't make the difference between him getting it and not getting it. And I also thought he was going somewhere else when he talked about how much security we had in the 40s when those leaks happened. One could equally well conclude from his example that perfect security is impossible, background checks can never guarantee reliability of a person with access to secret information, so you need to make a reasonable balance between security and other concerns.

But I said "reasonable," and from long-term lurking here I've learned that this is a word mhr does not embody.

He also makes no attempt to explain why people working with non-secret information need such extensive security clearance. It's just "More security, Please! I'm wettin' my pants over here!"

And of course his last baseless assertion about people willing to sell out America always being on the left. Has he never heard of Robert Hanssen? Opus Dei member (not all that left-wing an organization) and FBI agent selling US secrets to the Soviet Union.

mhr: no facts need apply.

Posted by: karl on September 25, 2007 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

My security clearance cost $10,000 dollars in 1975, I hate to think what it costs now.
This is obviously another attempt to politicize a Federal agency. Once all that info is gathered it won't be long before some of it is used against an employee. Or a candidate the employee supports.
It is going to take 20 years to de-politicise the federal bureaucracy, since in many cases we'll have to wait until the wingnut appointees retire. Some managers are going to have a very interesting time.
Thank you Karl Rove for ruining the reputation of an entire government.

Posted by: Doug on September 25, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

To quote the definitely un-leftist (but sensible and humane) C.S. Lewis: "The greatest of all public dangers is the Committee of Public Safety." There was a time when Lewis was beloved among conservatives...

Posted by: BruceMoomaw on September 25, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Hell, they gave a security clearance to Karl Rove and then didn't even rescind it when he traitorously outed a covert CIA operative working in the area of WMDs for cheap, political advantage.

Posted by: ckelly on September 25, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

it never ceases to amaze that old school conservatives haven't had an insurrection over this crap. what happened to "don't tread on me?" this kind of incursion into our private lives is what helped spark the American Revolution. It would be lovely to see these scumbags stampeded by the rank and file at the next Republican convention.
But alas, there are only scumbags left.

Posted by: Trypticon on September 25, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

it never ceases to amaze that old school conservatives haven't had an insurrection over this crap.

If the Bush Years have shown us anything, it's that many conservatives don't really believe in the principles they profess to believe in.

(To be fair, many old school conservatives have been outraged -- some of Bush's judicial setbacks have come from conservative judges, for example, -- but there's no place for them in the authoritarian cult that is the modern Republican Party.)

Posted by: Gregory on September 25, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

It's not the background check or the security check that's the problem.

Anyone dealing with secure materials (basically rocket flight data is considered sensitive material), or allowed access to controlled rooms or systems (servers that house rocket data, places like the LCC and such) have had to pass them.

The problem is NASA is now requiring them for EVERYONE. Regardless of what you do. Regardless of where you work. Regardless of whether you need it.

And it's a far more in-depth background check than was previously required, even for sensitive materials or systems access.

One employee told me that it was close to, but not quite as bad, as the one she'd undergone for DoD security clearance in the 80s.

(At one point, NASA did launch DoD payloads. Every department that had anything to do with the launch needed someone with clearance to know about the launch details, in case something went wrong. So generally there was one person in every flight-related group that had clearance in case they needed to do ordinary troubleshooting on a DoD flight).

They're making the janitors do this, the guys doing materials science, biological science, meteorology, the cooks, the IT guys who do nothing more than load basic desktop systems, the guys that fix the AC or the elevators.

The expense had to be considerable, and the process takes quite a bit of time.

For no real reason.

Posted by: Morat20 on September 25, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Brian:

When you move to one of those "advanced" nations (ha, ha) like Holland, let me know how sharia law is treatin ya. Talk about last one out turn off the light. Can you grow a beard?

Posted by: Blue Moon on September 25, 2007 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

This info has been required for years by in many non goverment jobs. I work in nuclear power(decidely non secret job) and they redo the background every few years. All required by NRC

Posted by: Gran on September 25, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Same in the private sector with Choicepoint and other data aggregators, except they don't tell you.

There should be some laws, but Washington wants the info too.

Posted by: Luther on September 25, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Yep , investigate everyone ...

And with the new spying techniques they can find out if your Dem , Republican or Independent , who you gave money , who you phoned , who you emailed etc etc etc ...

It is called the spoils system for the 21st century .

And because most of this data gathering is outsourced to private companies expect private employers to do their own 'screning'

.

Posted by: Michael McKinlay on September 25, 2007 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, the ITAR rules put in under the Bush Administration left many NASA projects staring at it stupidly.

On the last project my spouse was on, that meant that the Russian born scientists who designed and built the project could not then touch or see the project they were on! They could produce, but couldn't be involved materially, merely because they had been born outside of the US.

What kind of rules are these to make a scientist unable to see his invention?

Posted by: Crissa on September 25, 2007 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

This info has been required for years by in many non goverment jobs. I work in nuclear power(decidely non secret job) and they redo the background every few years. All required by NRC

The 85p process we just underwent was FAR more in-depth than normal background checks -- even for sensitive data and sensitive systems.

I don't think you're really grasping how [i]thorough[/i] this process was. We're talking detailing every job you've had, every place you've lived, every place you went to school, every foreign country you've visted, and so forth for the past decade.

Each one requires independent verification (I had to round up almost a dozen seperate people to verify mine, because they want seperate people for EVERYTHING, and they can't be family). Complete with addresses, contact information, etc for all of them.

The usual list of felonies, crimes, misdeameanours, drug possesions, whether you've ever had, applied for, got, were rejected for any form of classification, government job, etc. Whether you've ever been fired, been let go, etc....

It was a two+ month long process just to get all the information together, and it took an hour to enter it.

For nothing. The most "sensitive" thing I'm ever around is export controlled stuff, which is more than 90% of what NASA folks are around.

I don't know why, exactly, they decided EVERY NASA employee -- from the lowliest temp to the janitors to the scientists had to undergo it, and I shudder to think about how much it cost.

Posted by: Morat20 on September 25, 2007 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

When you move to one of those "advanced" nations (ha, ha) like Holland, let me know how sharia law is treatin ya... Can you grow a beard?

Blue Moon, let me guess, you belonged to the black helicopter crowd as well. Do you guys spike your water supply with LSD or what? This is plain loony-tunes with a capital L.

Let me try and help you back from the lunatic fringe. When you're ready here's a shortcut if you find the thinking thing a little difficult. Just apply the cross-borders rule - which is if your idea has no traction anywhere outside your own cultural mileue, then it is almost certainly an artifact of your culture and not reflective of anything real.

Posted by: snicker-snack on September 25, 2007 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

So, who are they contracting these background checks to? How much are Choicepint, et al, charging the government, and whose campaigns are they contributing to?

Follow the money, folks.

Posted by: idlemind on September 25, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

We are experiencing the same thing at DHHS.

Posted by: Mazurka on September 25, 2007 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but this isn't remotely new; basically, it dates back to the Clinton administration and is more of a response to Oklahoma City.

I am a University employee working in a NOAA lab (what's called a "joint institute", a mix of University and Feds). When we worked on University property there were no background checks, but as soon as we moved to a Federal building the security became much more onerous, and we all (University and Fed) had to do a full background check complete with fingerprints. The idea was that a large concentration of people in a Federal building made it a potential target and this warranted more security. (The fact that we were more dispersed before and were thus not a "target" did not seem to occur to anyone.)

Needless to say, when I and another University researcher tried to fight this, we got zero support from the University. So when I read about this at NASA (or at JPL) I can't get too worked up about it now.

Posted by: Matt newman on September 25, 2007 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

Why is the next president required to keep any of the Bush Presidential Directives?

Is this requirement in the Constitution?

Future presidents, for many reasons, over time, will cancel most, if not all, Bush directives.

I would. With a smile.

Posted by: James on September 26, 2007 at 2:09 AM | PERMALINK

This has been happening at the corporate level for several years now. The Feds are just adopting the same and ramping it up to the next level.

The 'inalienable right' to be left alone turns out to be thoroughly alienable after all.

Posted by: Becca Morn on September 26, 2007 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

Don't they realize that this means a lower-quality workforce? Top people will move to universities or private-sector companies.

What a bunch of morons the Bush Admin. are.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on September 26, 2007 at 3:50 AM | PERMALINK

Another justification used to expand the requirement for security clearances is that hardware and software which 'interface' with classified payloads are themselves classified.

Kind of like 'cooties'.

Posted by: melior on September 27, 2007 at 1:30 AM | PERMALINK

"Future presidents, for many reasons, over time, will cancel most, if not all, Bush directives."

I think the next President should use his/her powers under the Patriot Act to imprison the entire US Congress for 24 hours, and then tell them, "OK, now you see what powers you have put into my hands. Now, get back to work and revoke, terminate, delete, get rid of this odious Act. And take the other GWOT trash out with it, too."

The only problem would be the strong temptation to keep a few of them under lock and key for a few more days... weeks... months..."

Ed

Posted by: Ed Drone on September 27, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK
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