Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's the Big Deal

Speaking of the Supreme Court, a group of workers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is suing the government for forcing them to go through an intense background check, including looking at subjects such as their physical and mental health, their financial situation, and even their sexual orientation.  They object to having these aspects of their personal lives pried into by their employer.

I had a clearance when I was in the military.  The initial paperwork weighed in at almost 30 pages, and included questions about my sex life, health, financial situation, and even my political affiliations.

When the government  investigated my background, they spoke to people who never even occurred to me when I started the paperwork. These included my pediatrician, my first grade teacher, and my first priest.

Yes, that's intrusive and a bit paranoid.  The idea was to check my character and background as far back and as thoroughly as possible in order to accurately assess the risk of giving me access to classified information.

These checks are used more to weed out those who might be tempted or forced to divulge what they know.  The obvious threats of people who want to be hostile spies are easy to find.
If I was a closeted homosexual, then my fear of being exposed could be used as blackmail material.

If I was chronically bad with money, and was deep in debt, it would be easy to tempt me with money to betray the country.

If I was a member of the Communist party, my loyalty to the international struggle against capitalism might trump my loyalty to the country.

These federal employees are being asked to submit to a similar process.  Why?  Because they want to work on projects that can have dual uses.  If you can design a rocket that will deliver a communications sattelite to orbit, you can design a missile that will deliver a nuclear warhead to another continent.  If you work on the design of a surveillance satellite, you know its capabilities and can sell them to the highest bidder.  Even the receptionists and janitors at these facilities need clearances.  Understanding of technology is not necessary if you decide to steal it.

These scientists have no right to work for the government at the JPL or anywhere else.  If they don't want to go through the process of proving their reliability and stability, they can work somewhere else.  Of course, if you want to work in aerospace research without at least working indirectly for the government, your choice of employers is pretty limited.  But I've heard that Richard Branson is hiring.

Hat Tip to Slashdot, the keeper of all news geeky.

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