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Background Information. Data Entry. People are trying to make it happen. Defense Department officials worry an AI-based system cannot work as well as in-person investigations, said one source involved in the transition. It may be months, or even years, before the Pentagon has a data system capable of handling all the relevant security clearance information, said the same source.

But it will not be easy or fast. Discover Thomson Reuters. Directory of sites. United States. However, background investigations as currently designed and conducted are fundamentally flawed. They are more effective at providing bureaucratic cover than they are at catching spies or preventing moles from penetrating the system.

As a bit of disclosure, I have had several U. I was first subject to full-field background investigations as an Army Intelligence Officer and then later as a Diplomatic Security Service special agent. I have also conducted background investigations, first as a Diplomatic Security Service special agent domestically and while assigned to a U. I have also been interviewed by scores of investigators conducting background investigations on my friends, colleagues and former interns and employees.

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All this to say that my experience as a subject and source in various investigations, and as an investigator who has conducted hundreds of background investigations myself, has given me some insight into the problems of the current process. National security background investigations in the United States date back to efforts to prevent potential Nazi and communist spies from infiltrating the government. Today, every federal government employee is subjected to a basic criminal and credit history check as part of the hiring process.

Those employees who require access to classified information as part of their duties will also be subjected to a national security background check. These can vary from a perfunctory national agency records check for confidential or secret clearances to full-field background checks for access to top-secret material and sensitive compartmented information.

Some agencies, such as the CIA and FBI, also mandate full lifestyle polygraph examinations as part of the clearance process. People holding a security clearance are also subjected to a periodic reinvestigations. One of the biggest problems with personnel security investigations is the sheer number of them that are conducted.

The State Department, which has fewer than 19, U. When one considers the , employees at the Department of Homeland Security and the 3. Going back to the State Department example, with only about 2, Diplomatic Security Service special agents worldwide, and the vast majority of them assigned to duties other than background investigations, the bulk of the investigations are conducted by contractors. But beyond sheer manpower considerations, most special agents simply do not view background investigations as important.

Speaking from personal experience, I was far more motivated to investigate a bombing attack against an embassy or arresting a drug smuggler, terrorist or pedophile for passport fraud than I was to interview a potential employee's neighbors or former bosses. Because background investigations are not exciting and sexy, conducting them is also not considered particularly career enhancing compared to other assignments.

I know from talking with friends from other agencies that agents there had similar views. Even many investigators working for investigation companies view their jobs more as stepping stones to other occupations, such as being a federal agent.

Personnel Security Background Investigations

This disdain for background investigations by the people conducting them is compounded by the people who manage personnel security investigations. Because of the massive volume of cases involved, program managers tend to be focused on speed, efficiency and cost far more than on thoroughness.


They encourage investigators to do the absolute minimum to meet the requirements as outlined in Executive Order , which sets the standards for access to classified information, rather than to focus on really investigating and understanding the background of the subject of the investigation. In the case of a for-profit company like USIS, the bottom line is also a factor. Streamlining the efficiency of the process means doing the very least amount of work required to complete the specific task, thus maximizing profit and satisfying the board of directors. Agents and investigators who sense something is not right and want to dig deeper and interview additional developed sources are frequently criticized for missing deadlines or conducting unnecessary interviews.