A friend of mine is now in the process of passing a security clearance procedure for some company he is applying for a job at. As part of the process they require details of some friends, and he called me, which reminded me of the security clearance I had to go through myself before joining my army unit in the past.
So one quick comment about my friend’s forms, and then I’ll go on to my own story. As part of the friends’ details, they also ask the name of the father, and of the grandfather on the father’s side. That’s it. They don’t care about the mother, they don’t care about grandmothers, and they don’t care about the grandfather on the mother’s side. Don’t ask me why.
OK, back to my story. First, no, telling a few minor things about the procedure is not a security breach, and does not include revealing classified info. Everything there, after all, is shown to people who don’t yet have any clearance. So as long as I talk about impressions, and thought I had at the actual time, there isn’t possibly any problem. I will of course not mention any further things that may, or may not, have been done during the service.
Now, like any good bureaucratic and public (i.e. government managed) organization does, the forms that I was given to fill out needed to be submitted in multiple copies. Except that the usual method of putting copy paper between the pages was not allowed. I had to fill all copies by hand. And my memory is a bit vague on this, but I think it wasn’t in triplicates, but seven copies. By hand, with a pen, repeating the same info.
Worse, every field without an answer (Like the long table for family members, of which I have far less than the table had rows) had to be filled in, not left empty. And just striking it out wasn’t good enough, I had to write something. Don’t remember what it was by now, but it was the equivalent of "N/A", or "Nothing".
Multiply the several copies by the many many different fields. For example, on each of these rows on the family members table, the first name, surname, date of birth, and so on and so forth, were all different fields and needed separate N/A. That took a lot of time, and that’s just on the parts where I didn’t have anything to write.
One of the parts was educational history. There was room for university, but I didn’t have that at this point. But they also wanted a listing of all of my schools, all the way from kindergarten. And they wanted the names of the teachers. The way lower schools work, beside the "professional" teachers for specific aspects, each class had an "educator" doing general stuff and trying to instil some general values. So they wanted the names of them all.
No, I did not remember the names of the teachers from my first, or second, or third (…) grades. This will come up later.
Another very important aspect is recommendations. People who are not direct friends, and who can recommend you and say what a wonderful and reliable person you really are. Anyone want to guess how they are picked? Simple enough, you just go over all the people your parents know, that have seen you a little bit, and call the ones who held the highest ranks in the military among the lot, or who have a solid position in the public sector. Can’t see what this gives anyone, but that’s the requirement, and that’s what everyone does with it.
And they wanted a list of friends, with all this personal info about them as well. Felt silly asking my friends for their date of birth, or the exact dates their parents may or may not have immigrated to the country. Plus, are they really going to get any info from that? This only helps them if I name a well known communist activist, or an Arab person, or something which is on the short list of disqualifies. But what sane person wanting to get a clearance would do that? Unless they’re so unpopular that they can’t even find the required 3-5 friends…
After all the forms has been filled, I had to come to an interview. The interviewer spent some time going through the forms, and started with the hard questions.
For starters, he scolded me that I didn’t mention the name of my first grade teacher. To which I of course replied that I don’t remember it. He was surprised as to how can I possibly not remember it. The facts that I was 5-6 years old at the time didn’t seem like good enough a reason, and neither did the fact that I haven’t see her in over 10 years. I should have remembered. He made me sit there for several minutes trying to dredge up the name. As if.
More interesting was the questions about drug usage. When asked if I was using drugs, I answered (totally truthfully) that I wasn’t. So he started to explain that he doesn’t mean just hard drugs, but also things like marijuana, and do I want to change my answer in light of that? I didn’t. He then proceeded to try and make it clear to me that in this particular case they’re also not only asking if I’m a general user, but want to know of any single use. Did I take drugs only once? Maybe at a party? Driven for a one time experiment by peer pressure, and never tried it again? I didn’t and that’s what I told him.
He went on to assure me (An assurance that could only have worked if I was on drugs at the time, and maybe even then not) that I can admit it. Because it doesn’t matter. They won’t disqualify me for it. They don’t really care. They just want to know. If I’m a light user, or used in the past, or even using now but it’s nothing critical, then it’s no problem with them… Riiiight. In any case, I stuck to my denial.
After the interview came the long part, where they have their own people doing background checks. This could take months.
During that time they also interview some of the people listed on those forms, like our friends, and tell them not to tell us about it. Which works great, since 18 years old kids are just terrific at being grilled about a friend by big guys with sunglasses, and then not telling about it to anyone.
In any case, they didn’t mess up too badly in this case, since I passed. Even though one of the friends got confused, and gave them a different answer than I did, about how long have we known each other and when did we first meet (Yes, that was on the form as well. Those things are thorough).