Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Facebook Businesses Security Twitter United States Politics

Tech Firms Seek Washington's Prized Asset: Top-Secret Clearances (bloomberg.com) 147

Major tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter are interested in hiring workers with top-secret security clearances as they deal with foreign meddling on their platforms and come under increased risk of hacks, reports Bloomberg. From the article: In doing so, companies such as Facebook are competing with defense contractors, financial firms and the U.S. government itself. Security clearances are a rare and valued commodity, whether at a bank trying to prevent hackers from stealing credit-card data and emptying accounts or at a manufacturer building parts for a stealth fighter or missile-defense radar system. Bringing former government cyber warriors on board at companies can facilitate interactions with U.S. agencies like the NSA or CIA as well as help the firms understand how to build stronger systems on their own. "They have the tradecraft," said Ronald Sanders, a former associate director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and now director of the school of public affairs at the University of South Florida. "And the trade craft is some of the best in the world."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Tech Firms Seek Washington's Prized Asset: Top-Secret Clearances

Comments Filter:
  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @07:38AM (#55422941)

    As with anything the government does, there is a considerable tooth-to-tail ratio. For every person with a security clearance doing actual intelligence work (including cyber), there are least 10 others who have a clearance without doing that sort of work. For instance, the secretaries and administrative assistants, the HR personnel, the maintenance personnel, the groundskeepers, the managers who sit in meetings all day, the budget analysts, the financial personnel, the IT support staff, the janitorial staff, etc.

    I point it out so that people understand that the pool from which the tech and defense firms are trying to hire is not of size N, but probably of size 0.2 * N. They might benefit from having some support staff with clearances, though they can certainly get by without it where the government cannot (support staff in classified facilities have to be cleared). The real challenge is that they are all competing for a small number of experienced intelligence professionals with active clearances.

    BTW, you will not see them outsourcing these jobs to H1B workers.

    In fact, that is an interesting thing about being a contractor for the government. If you are a worker bee, then you are practically immune from outsourcing. If another company gets awarded the contract you are working on, you can bet that with nearly 100% certainty the new winner of the contract will attempt to hire away all the workers that were on the old contract. Not only are you effectively immune from outsourcing, but you have a high likelihood of being able to continue working in the same geographic area (and maybe the same office/project) through any of a number of changes of employer. Try that in the civilian world. The tech companies will have to pony up, because the defense contractors already do.

    • This is insightful... the 'tradecraft' and the clearance as completely different things. The whole idea when you get into this sort of thing is that you only know the minimum possible to be effective. I have heard there is even demand in people with inactive clearances since it is easier to reactivate than start from scratch.
      • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )
        There's already a file on you and the gov never ever throws anything away.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          "the gov never ever throws anything away"

          Except their embarrassing emails.

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      This whole thing sucks for people who haven't been cleared (Because it's not possible unless you're hired for a job where the government actually requires it) and reeks of favoritism for past governmental employees.

      I'd like to see federal legislation passed that either prohibits employment/job discrimination based on the possession at the time of hiring of a government security clearance, OR security clearances are automatically revoked or cancelled when leaving or changing employers and have to be re-v

      • If you really want one, go get a federal job or join the military into a specialty that requires a TS just for being in that job field

      • They are automatically suspended if you change positions, even within the same company. The new employers want you to have one beforehand because it is cheaper to transfer it than have one done up from scratch.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          They are automatically suspended if you change positions, even within the same company. The new employers want you to have one beforehand because it is cheaper to transfer it than have one done up from scratch.

          Not just cheaper... it means the person has already been vetted which means less time in getting them up to speed and no risk of a delay getting a new clearance. That could mean months of people not doing the job you hired them for and a risk you need to let them go if they don't get the clearance the job requires.

        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          The new employers want you to have one beforehand because it is cheaper to transfer it than have one done up from scratch.

          Then they need to either reduce the cost of obtaining or increasing the cost of transfer to make the costs identical for transferring, like they ought to be....

      • The government already does that to an extent for people that it is hiring. If you look at job advertisements they'll say the candidate must be able to qualify for some level of clearance as opposed to already having it.

        When it comes to contractors though, already having the clearance is a big deal because it is expensive and time consuming to get. That said I don't see any reason that a private enterprise couldn't provide the same kind of service for vetting people. At it's most basic level the Secret and

        • by Entrope ( 68843 )

          Until a few years ago, most of the background investigations were contracted out. The biggest contractor(s? I forget) got in serious trouble for regularly faking information, and the government decided it wasn't worth contracting the checks to outside companies.

          • What I was trying to get at is that unless a company has a requirement from the Government that employees have an official clearance awarded by the Government, they can simply contract someone like a Private Investigator to do the leg work. An Investigator should be able to gather everything HR would need in 40 hours or less for most people. Even at $100 an hour that ends up being pretty cheap by comparison instead of paying a premium salary for someone who already had a clearance.

            • by Entrope ( 68843 )

              Perhaps you should not have mentioned particular government clearance levels if you were talking about some kind of non-government background check.

              However, the same incentives that led the government's contract background checkers to cheat would apply to private sector firms, with the additional problem that it is much harder for a private employer to check the results they got.

              The reason that employers pay a premium to cleared people is not simply because it costs money to do the background check, or for

              • Government clearances are the only ones I know of and are the subject of the article so they bear on the conversation clearly. I'm just saying that it is silly of any company that is merely looking for trustworthy employees to require the applicant to have a government clearance.

                It's kind of like if I were starting a private armed guard company, but would only hire former cops and military veterans, because I knew they had firearms training. I would be foolishly limiting my prospective applicant pool which

      • by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @09:08AM (#55423399)

        This whole thing sucks for people who haven't been cleared (Because it's not possible unless you're hired for a job where the government actually requires it) and reeks of favoritism for past governmental employees.

        I'd like to see federal legislation passed that either prohibits employment/job discrimination based on the possession at the time of hiring of a government security clearance, OR security clearances are automatically revoked or cancelled when leaving or changing employers and have to be re-verified to be re-instated after hiring to a new job, OR a law prohibiting an individual holding clearances from causing any of the clearances they already hold to be disclosed to a recruiter or prospective employer, other than ability to get a clearance or already having a clearance will have to be verified after a hiring decision.

        While you're at it, why not wish for a law prohibiting discrimination based on the prospective employee's skill set? The current system reeks of favoritism for people who know how to do things.

        Here's my personal experience, having held a secret clearance for 35 out of the last 40 years while working for defense contractors. Security clearances are de-activated when a cleared employee changes employers. If the new employer requests re-activation within a short period of time, there is some paperwork and minimal vetting to go through. If the request is not made within a short period of time, the employee goes through a re-verification process that requires a re-submission of all the very detailed personal information that was submitted the first time, and waits a long time (currently about a year) to be cleared. Then periodically (every 10 years or so), the employee goes through the whole thing again. If the cleared employee shifts from a position requiring a clearance to one not requiring a clearance, the clearance is suspended. If the employee returns to a position requiring clearance within six months, the clearance can be unsuspended quickly; if not, it's de-activated. If not re-activated within a fairly short period of time (6 months, I believe), it's cancelled.

        I shouldn't have to say this, but not everyone can get a clearance. Do you have a non US person that's a close relative? Recent bankruptcy? Other financial problems? Ever been arrested for anything? Ever been charged with a crime? Ever had a restraining order issued against you? Less than honorable military discharge? Used any illelgal/controlled drugs or substances in the last 7 years? Court-ordered psychiatric treatment? Ever held a non-US passport? Ever been officially reprimanded for workplace misconduct? Ever been fired from a job for cause? Failed to pay Federal, state, or other taxes? Ever used a credit counseling service? Been delinquent on any Federal debt (hint: Federally guaranteed school loans)? Ever defaulted on a loan? Ever had anything repossessed? Been evicted for non-payment of rent? Ever been sued? Ever sued anyone? Ever been a member of an organization that advocates or practices acts of violence to discourage others from exercising their Constitutional rights (hello, antifa)? Any of these can disqualify an individual, and some of them are immediate disqualifiers.

        • by mysidia ( 191772 )

          While you're at it, why not wish for a law prohibiting discrimination based on the prospective employee's skill set? The current system reeks of favoritism for people who know how to do things.

          No.... discrimination based on having SKILLS or KNOWLEDGE required do the job well is fair and reasonable.
          For all security clearances say, the entire job description could have been unplugging toilets in a DoD bathroom or handing out fliers and other propaganda at conferences.

          Security clearances are entirely artifi

          • Tact and discretion are the skills you're overlooking.

            These things have absolutely nothing to do with your ability to perform the technical parts of the job. Of people who have clearances, very few of them will actually need to DO something related to that clearance. There are a lot of people in the government who just take up space. However, if it comes up, it is necessary to have people who can work efficiently within a hierarchical organization with seemingly arbitrary rules while having access to inco

          • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

            For all security clearances say, the entire job description could have been unplugging toilets in a DoD bathroom or handing out fliers and other propaganda at conferences.

            Security clearances are entirely artificial and say nothing about qualification to a handle a job;

            You have absolutely no clue what this type of security clearance is about. It absolutely IS a valid qualification for a job, because if I can't trust you to not run over to the competition, then I can't use you no matter what your other qualifications say about you. That you fail to understand this is evident from all your posts. I'm well aware of what goes into a clearance and what the liabilities are. And yes there are significant liabilities to some types/levels, it's not all gravy like you seem to beli

    • your wages are still lowered by it when you're left competing with people leaving the private sector and gunning for your job.
    • And, just to make a point of order. Just because a janitor is cleared doesn't mean it is okay for them to access classified information that they have no business knowing. Ideally, a janitor should not know any classified information. Their schedules should be known, and whiteboards should be erased/covered, documents stored safely, etc, when they come in. They have to have a clearance to be in the building, and to know that they are trustworthy if they ever do accidentally interrupt a meeting or overhe
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A security clearance means that you are (relatively) law-abiding, that you follow rules and procedures, and that you can be trusted not to reveal confidential info.

    Those are qualities many employers look for, but a clearance doesn't say anything as to competence.

    • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

      A security clearance means that you are (relatively) law-abiding, that you follow rules and procedures, and that you can be trusted not to reveal confidential info.

      It actually doesn't mean anything about the first two and the last one is only a part of the story.

      Those are qualities many employers look for, but a clearance doesn't say anything as to competence.

      I don't think anyone is saying a clearance has any bearing on competence for a particular job. It's obvious a cleared welder would be completely unsuitable for a programmer's job and vice versa.

    • @Anonymous Coward [slashdot.org]: "A security clearance means that you are (relatively) law-abiding, that you follow rules and procedures, and that you can be trusted not to reveal confidential info."

      You mean like Edward Snowden [edwardsnowden.com]

      “I don't want to live in a world where everything I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity and love or friendship is recorded.”
  • by AkumaKuruma ( 879423 ) <Millenia2000@@@hotmail...com> on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @07:42AM (#55422959) Journal

    just because people have clearances doesn't mean they have skillsets that would benefit this. It just means they don't have the markers that make them untrustworthy with highly sensitive information. there are plenty of people who hold a top-secret clearance that don't know where the "any" key is

    it sounds more like someone got cyber-security industry confused with security clearance. i understand their need for cyber-defensive capabilities. some banks, like USAA, actually run their own in house cyber operations desk to help protect their digital assets. cyber-security as a trade spans across all digitally connected industries (govt, banking, industrial, commercial....) and they are all being head-hunted by the same groups. this would just be another company throwing their sharks into the feeding tank.

    • And the people that do have the skillset, dont want them because then they become "That Guy" that has to work on all the stuff.

  • “Loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability,’’ are among the attributes sought in the process, according to the U.S. State Department website. [state.gov]

    Is it possible the wait would be less than 311 days if I was an Eagle Scout who contributed a large amount to a strategically selected political campaign?

  • How much is Zuck gonna pay them to get his hands on classified data. As if companies like Facebook have an incentive to make their system more secure if there is virtually no penalty for weak security (remember Equifax)
  • by 0xdeadbeef ( 28836 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @07:47AM (#55422987) Homepage Journal

    Security clearances mean fuck all. It only proves you passed a background check. Bragging about it is a negative signal.

    What bullshit is this article trying to sell? Who benefits from this? Contracting companies?

    • >Security clearances mean fuck all. It only proves you passed a background check.

      I have worked government contracts in semi-secure environments (just police checks, not full background investigations). Nobody gets past the front desk without being cleared, so if you're a vendor and want a contract, it's incredibly useful to be pre-cleared.

      I've seen a few instances where someone got checked last minute at the front door and didn't pass. It's stupid that they tried, embarrassing for the vendor, and delay

    • From first hand experience, clearance != good performer. So what are you left with? Hoping they'll divulge secrets? That's the whole point of the security clearance. They see things and work on things they CAN'T and WON'T (or at least shouldn't) share anywhere else.

      I had a friend who wanted security clearance so he could talk to other people with clearance and learn cool secrets. It doesn't work that way. You seriously do need a reason to be exposed to classified information, you can't just start sharin
    • Security clearances mean fuck all. It only proves you passed a background check.

      From personal experience, I count at least eight other things it proves I passed before I ever reached the background check, and those are just the screens I was aware of. I withdrew my name when I hit the background check because some stuff changed in the 8 months leading up to that point, but suffice to say, you're woefully misinformed if that's all you think it means, particularly to the people who run in those circles.

      You can view it however you choose, of course, but having a security clearance is a po

  • I call BS (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You don't need any security clearance to work on a company's most secret stuff, or defend them from (cyber-)attacks or anything.
    If they're recruiting people with (a need for a) clearance, it simply means they're under government contract, either directly or through another contractor.
    Thank you Bloomberg for letting us know tech firms are working for the TLAs.

    • by chill ( 34294 )

      You are incorrect.

      The FBI, DHS, and others in the intel community are looking to share information with private sector security teams.This occurs quite a bit in various critical infrastructure -- finance, utilities, etc.

      Without a clearance their briefings are usually along the lines of "watch out for phishing schemes around the hurricanes".

      With the clearance they can also provide things like "monitor for traffic to/from these specific IP addresses". Or "your IP addresses have been seen communicating with so

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        The intel community wants to be able to share actionable intelligence without giving away methods and means.

        Whose methods and means? The NSA/FBIs? Here, a security clearance is more about keeping details of surveillance from the general public and specifically those under surveillance. There isn't that much 'method and means' to be leaked. If it's the 'methods and means' being developed by private entities (Google, Facebook, Microsoft) the security clearance is an excuse for the gov't to limit your market. Suddenly, there's a whole list of people and countries that you can't do business with. Or even talk to.

  • Security clearances are one of the biggest rackets going. It has become nothing more than a system of cronyism and classism disguised as a security concern. The well-connected breeze through the process and into a world of guaranteed money while the poor are fenced out. The whole systems sucks up billions, and in the end has failed to prevent infiltration and security breaches.

    The best part for the people running the con? Zero transparency by design. There will never be an accounting because the only peo

    • I don't get it. What does being poor have to do with getting clearances? You get sponsored for clearances for a reason and your company/agency pays for them. The individual doesn't pay for them.
    • The well-connected breeze through the process and into a world of guaranteed money while the poor are fenced out.

      How are the poor fenced out?

      The employer has to pay for the clearance, so a poor employee does not face a financial burden. The employee has to be working for the employer during the application, so they can't do some sort of "unpaid internship" during the investigation.

      Many things that people think would disqualify someone don't actually disqualify someone. For example, I've known people with a felony conviction on their record who got a clearance. Also, poor credit does not automatically disqualify som

    • Disagree... Bad finances can get your clearance scuttled before it begins, but generally in those cases we are talking about people with gambling debts, multiple bankruptcies, credit card debts, and other more-or-less self-imposed problems that suggest a possible lack of impulse control. Is it possible that someone gets into financial trouble and owes a ton of money through no real fault of their own? Sure. And the process might unfairly target them. But the fact remains that, fair or not, someone who
  • ...apply to that well-known vetting agency, "Spies-R-Russ".

  • a former associate director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and now director of the school of public affairs at the University of South Florida. "And the trade craft is some of the best in the world."

    • Damn, hit "post" too fast; meant to say, I'm not sure - based on recent multiple failings - we do have "some of the best" anymore

  • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @09:30AM (#55423569)

    To have cleared employees, your company has to be working on a government contract that requires a clearance. So Facebook, Twitter and similar can't just decide to hire cleared employees. They have to go through the process to become government contractors, and then win a contract that requires a clearance.

    Also, if you have a clearance and stop working at a job that requires a clearance, your clearance goes away. So once Facebook hires someone with a Top Secret clearance, they no longer have a Top Secret clearance and lose access to the information the article claims Facebook wants.

    Even if Facebook, et al manages to go through all the steps to get a contract that requires cleared employees, they can't work on whatever Facebook wants. Those employees have to work on that contract. Those employees also can't just say "Hey, we need to do _____ to stop ______ from hacking us", because that's classified information. The employee can't just share it with everyone at the company.

    This author should really have spent a minute or two researching how clearances work before writing this shitty article.

    • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @10:05AM (#55423751)

      Also, if you have a clearance and stop working at a job that requires a clearance, your clearance goes away.

      To be accurate, it becomes inactive. All the background checks that were done on an individual are still on file. And in many cases they are still being done*. So people in these positions are of value because they can be issued a new clearance pretty quickly.

      *People leaving many classified positions have systems capability knowledge and remain targets of foreign intelligence services. Sometimes for years or even the rest of their lives. The DoD (for one) keeps an eye on ex-contractors in such positions.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Maybe they just want free, government-certified background checks.

      I'm also assuming they're looking for people with only the most senior security clearances, the kind that are only really certified by the FBI or some other government intelligence agency.

      It might be useful if you're just looking to hire someone with an extremely reliable background who exceeds private sector levels of background certification to work on critical security systems.

    • Or, if you read between the lines, maybe it implies that Facebook, Twitter and similar are ALREADY involved in classified government programs.
      • Then they wouldn't be trying to hire people with clearances, they would have already hired people with clearances.

  • Q Clearances as of 1998 cost $3,225 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • I'm sure that no one will blab anything of interest to an adversary government.

    Jesus, come on guys. How many "anonymous users" have posted an Ask Slashdot about some arcane details about US cyber security in the past 20 years? Think before you flap your lips, eh?
  • If the tech firms want cleared people so they can get more government contracts, then they have to draw from the same pool that all the defense contractors, TLAs and military do. But if they want that level of background check, why not just spend some of their resources, hire a PI and do similar levels of vetting?

    An acquaintance of mine was in the Navy on a nuclear submarine and had TS clearance. From what he's told me and what I've read about it, the difference between a clearance investigation and a simpl

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It wasn't worth it. Constant invasive background checks on you and people close to you; you have to disclose basically everything about your life to the government, such as everywhere you've lived for the last seven years, monthly bank statements for all of your back accounts for the last year, personal information about all of your in-laws, and so on; and you have to constantly take training classes that teach you how to be paranoid and never trust anybody else. I was starting to experience serious anxie

  • Under the pretext of protecting us from the hackers the NSA-CIA are going to embed spies into tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter ...

Unix: Some say the learning curve is steep, but you only have to climb it once. -- Karl Lehenbauer

Working...