Over 54,000 More Americans Added to Security Clearance Rolls in Last Year

I’ve long argued that our security clearance employment system is “an arbitrary system of control that does more to foster cowed national security employees than to foster actual national security.”

So I’m none too happy to know more than 50,000 Americans have been added to this arbitrary system in the last year, making up something like 1.6% of all Americans.

The number of people who are cleared for access to classified information continued to rise in 2012 to more than 4.9 million, according to a new annual reportfrom the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.  This is only the third official tally of government-wide security clearance activity ever prepared, and it is the largest reported to date.

The total number of cleared personnel as of October 1, 2012 was 4,917,751.  Although the number of contractors who held a clearance declined in 2012, the number of eligible government employees grew at a faster rate, yielding a net increase of 54,199 clearances, or 1.1 percent, from the year before.

I suspect adding 50,000 people to the rolls of clearance holders — whose lives are open to surveillance and from whom minor lies can be an excuse for termination — will simply increase the numbers of elite national security types who avoid pissing off the powerful.

Meanwhile, Josh Gerstein has an excellent report on what’s at stake in the Conyers v. Department of Defense lawsuit, in which two relatively low level DOD employees are fighting to retain their Merit Systems Protect Board protections in spite of the government deeming their jobs “sensitive.”

The Justice Department and Defense Department are arguing that federal employees like commissary managers and accountants, who don’t have access to classified information, can be demoted or effectively fired without recourse to the usual avenues of appeal if their jobs are designated as “sensitive.” The ripple effect of that — critics say it would effectively strip huge numbers of federal workers of civil service protections by treating them like those who have access to the nation’s most vital secrets — could hollow out legal protections that have allowed whistleblowers to speak out with less fear of being fired.

As I’ve noted, DOD argues that even those who sell Gatorade on military bases should receive no protections in case they’re deemed a security threat. Which means people like Rhonda Conyers and Devon Northover, the plaintiffs in this case, can be fired for holding unpopular views, because that might make them untrustworthy to sell service members Gatorade.

This is a creeping system by which more and more lucrative (and semi-lucrative, in the case of “sensitive”) jobs are subjected to arbitrary political whims.

And it’s growing.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

5 replies
  1. H. Candace gorman says:

    On the brighter side is that there are people like me who receive a security clearance and who do everything possible to piss off the powerful.

  2. Mike Micklow says:

    Yet another example of the expansion of the surveillance state, and it’s happening right under our noses. According to Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuznick, there are also 1 million Americans that enjoy top-secret access (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIzISfohBmA). So combining that with this report here, we’ve about 2 percent of the population which “oversee” us. Out of every 100 people you see, 2 have access to sensitive information. Hmmm…

    I don’t think “top secret” means what the government thinks it means. If one million peeps have access to top-secret info, then it’s not so top secret anymore fellas.

    So, that said, it would seem there is perhaps another motive behind this sprawling, trawling apparatus of insider secrecy. I think it’s safe to say crowd control and suppression of political dissidents is, as the author has stated, the real reason behind expanding security clearances.

    This is Stasi 101: all are presumed guilty until otherwise proved innocent. Such presumption dissuades the public from fulfilling the cornerstone of being a real patriot, which is the freedom to petition your government with freedom of speech, holding them accountable for their actions.

    It would appear we are officially through the looking glass when it comes to our national security bureaucracy.

    —- Off with their speech!

  3. Brian Silver says:

    A Hobson’s Choice. Take a crappy low-level job and give up your civil liberties, or remain free but unemployed.

Comments are closed.