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NASA Employees Fight Invasive Background Check

Posted by CowboyNeal on Thursday August 30, @08:04PM
from the watching-the-watchmen dept.
Electron Barrage writes "Longtime JPL scientists, many of whom do not work on classified materials, including rover drivers and Apollo veterans, sued NASA, Caltech, and the Department of Commerce today to fight highly invasive background checks, which include financial information, any and all retail business transactions, and even sexual orientation."

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  • Pointless

    (Score:4, Funny)
    by GWLlosa (800011) on Thursday August 30, @08:07PM (#20418789)
    Because the rover drivers might use the rover to suicide-bomb.... something. That crater over there, maybe?
    • Re:Pointless

      (Score:5, Insightful)
      by ookabooka (731013) on Thursday August 30, @08:12PM (#20418835)
      We must not underestimate the bounds and abilities of the terrorists, they may have infiltrated any and all parts of our government, and it our responsibility. . nay, our duty, as freedom-loving Americans to find them and bring them to justice. These background checks are only a preventative measure, to ensure that government employees have the utmost integrity and loyalty. So long as nothing suspicious shows up on these reports government employees have nothing to fear, we must all sacrifice something in the battle against terrorism.

      (I pray that I never hear anything like this. . .)
      • Re:Pointless by Urusai (Score:3) Thursday August 30, @08:18PM
        • Re:Pointless by ookabooka (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @08:23PM
          • Re:Pointless by osu-neko (Score:2) Friday August 31, @04:23AM
            • Re:Pointless

              (Score:5, Insightful)
              by plague3106 (71849) on Friday August 31, @08:30AM (#20423169)
              Your right, because when an additional fine was proprosed for not wearing a seatbelt, it was accepted as that, and it never went from an additional fine to something that you could be pulled over for all by itself. Also like the DUI laws, no one ever would continue to lower the limit to the point where you can be jailed for not even being drunk. And the PATRIOT 2 act will rollback some of the absurd police powers.

              You may call it a logical fallacy all you like, but then you're ignoring history. Give a little power, and more WILL be taken.
              • Re:Pointless by shani (Score:2) Friday August 31, @09:17AM
              • Re:Pointless

                (Score:4, Insightful)
                by plague3106 (71849) on Friday August 31, @09:29AM (#20423655)
                Or like when Carter lowered the speed limit to 55 miles per hour, and now it's 40 miles per hour!

                Its much, much rarer for goverment to relinquish power on their own. There are many more examples where this doesn't happen. Local governments more and more are "cracking down" on speed enforcement and lowering limits, even when studies show this will increase the number of accidents.

                Or like when Linux started using Bitkeeper, and now almost all open-source products use it!

                There's no government power involved here. Try to stay on topic.

                Or like how in the Netherlands they tolerate marijuana, and now the entire country is addicted to crack cocaine...

                Again, stay on topic. We're talking about increasing government power, where the argument DOES apply many times. If you want an example, take the War on Drugs. We're now at the point where if you sniff glue, you're breaking federal antidrug laws.

                To sum it it, the slippery slope applies to government power grabs. The very real historical trend is that government will TAKE more and more power, not give it back.
              • Re:Pointless (speed limit) by belunar (Score:1) Friday August 31, @03:20PM
            • Re:Pointless

              (Score:4, Insightful)
              by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Friday August 31, @08:40AM (#20423257)
              The slippery slope is only a logical fallacy if you apply it to outcomes which are not influenced by external forces. What happens when one group is not satisfied?

              Traditionally, the slippery slope arguement is used to describe restrictions to liberty as having a snowballing effect. One restriction will lead to others. On its own, this is not necessarily true. Yet simply dismissing the argument as a slippery slope fallacy without understanding the motivations of all players is foolish.

              Basically, an arguement suggesting that a slippery slope exists isn't false simply because of the assertation. Of course, evidence must be presented to suggest that a slippery slope does exist.

              Precedent is the principle in law of using the past in order to assist in current interpretation and decision-making. Precedent can be of two types. Binding or mandatory precedent is a precedent under the doctrine of stare decisis that a court must consider when deciding a case. Advisory precedent are cases which a court may use but is not required to use to decide its cases. In general, binding precedent involves decisions made by a higher court in a common law jurisdiction.


              One could use precedent from previous examples where 'A' led to 'B' in one situation, where in all other situations 'B' never spontaneously occured. This would suggest that 'A' makes 'B' possible, maybe not inevitable, but possible and potentially probable.
            • Re:Pointless by temcat (Score:2) Friday August 31, @09:13AM
            • Re:Pointless by darth_zeth (Score:2) Friday August 31, @03:58PM
              • Re:Pointless by timster (Score:2) Friday August 31, @04:09PM
              • Re:Pointless by darth_zeth (Score:2) Saturday September 01, @01:57PM
            • 3 replies beneath your current threshold.
          • Re:Pointless by turbidostato (Score:2) Friday August 31, @03:27PM
            • Re:Pointless by JazzLad (Score:3) Friday August 31, @06:00PM
      • you missed one...

        (Score:4, Insightful)
        by schwaang (667808) on Thursday August 30, @09:06PM (#20419269)

        [NASA Administrator Michael Griffin] said that it was a "privilege to work within the federal system, not a right"

        • Re:you missed one...

          (Score:4, Interesting)
          by kimvette (919543) on Thursday August 30, @09:25PM (#20419433)
          Actually, since it is a government job, and there are equal opportunity laws, if someone is the most qualified and wants the job, it IS a right.
          • Re:you missed one... by schwaang (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @09:43PM
          • Re:you missed one...

            (Score:5, Interesting)
            by Iron Condor (964856) on Thursday August 30, @10:51PM (#20420105)

            Actually, since it is a government job, ...

            It isn't.

            JPL is a division of Caltech. JPL employees have a contract with Caltech and receive a paycheck that says Caltech. Much of the funding comes from NASA (but by no means all of it and the proportion has been shrinking), but the employees at JPL are not civil servants and they are not NASA employees.

            Add to this that the people at JPL never signed a contract that said that there will be background checks (but now there are, suddenly, and they're a requirement for continued employment) and you might see where the uproar is coming from...

            • Re:you missed one...

              (Score:5, Informative)
              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, @11:36PM (#20420427)
              I might add that any contractor at any NASA center is subject to this equivalent of a personal cavity check. We recieve no official clearance for turning over our secrets, only the "privilege" of working for a company that contracts to NASA. (Or subcontracts, for that matter)

              Contractors are being screened first, actually. Civil Servants have already had a background check, so to resolve the glut of overdue checks, the government is hiring one of Bush's friend's companies to do all the screening. And once they do their screening - unlike any background check in the private sector - the information is available to any government agency complying with HSPD-12.

              Which, I believe, despite Griffin's protestations, is only NASA at this point.

              Posting anonymously for obvious reasons. I work at Ames.
              • Re:you missed one...

                (Score:5, Insightful)
                by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday August 31, @06:42AM (#20422561)
                Wait a minute. It was OK for a Bush appointee with an associate's degree in political science to get a job editing the work of an esteemed NASA climate scientist, but the FBI has to talk to the neighbors of the guy who works for a contractor, who works for a contractor, who works part time for a company that does contract work for NASA?

                OK. Just wanted to be sure.
              • Re:you missed one... by joeljkp (Score:2) Friday August 31, @03:11PM
              • Re:you missed one... by That's Unpossible! (Score:2) Friday August 31, @12:37PM
              • Re:you missed one... by PopeRatzo (Score:2) Sunday September 02, @06:57PM
              • 2 replies beneath your current threshold.
            • Re:you missed one... by cHiphead (Score:2) Friday August 31, @12:26AM
            • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
          • Re:you missed one... by bware (Score:3) Thursday August 30, @11:26PM
          • Re:you missed one... by Score Whore (Score:2) Friday August 31, @12:11AM
          • Re:you missed one... by Ash Vince (Score:1) Friday August 31, @02:44AM
          • Re:you missed one... by Keybounce (Score:1) Friday August 31, @08:47PM
          • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
        • Oh, really? by HangingChad (Score:2) Friday August 31, @06:53AM
        • How costly a priviledge?

          (Score:5, Insightful)
          by FuzzyDaddy (584528) on Friday August 31, @09:20AM (#20423575)
          (Last Journal: Monday August 20, @06:50PM)
          I recently turned down a senior level engineering position at a company because of what I felt were onerous and ridiculous "intellectual property" clauses - the gist of which were that the company owns anything I create during my employment, whether related to my work or not, even if done on my own time with my own resources.

          I recently was on a plane coming from a trade show and I got into a long conversation with the guy next to me, who worked for this company at about the same level as I was applying for, and also in engineering. I told him I had turned down a job offer and that the IP clauses in the employment were one of my main concerns. His response was "But isn't that the industry standard?"

          This is a phrase I hear from most people when I tell them this story. Yes, it may be the industry standard. But it's an industry standard because no one complains about it, or protests it, or turns down jobs because of it. The thing is, it mostly affects the most talented, energetic, and entrepreneurial engineers - who might actually create something of value outside of normal business hours.

          I applaud these people for pushing back. Sure, working in the federal system is a "privilege". But the employers have an obligation to run the federal system in a way that produces the best results for the country. If you treat your employees like mechanical cogs, to be inspected and tuned and replaced, your not going to get those kinds of results.

        • 2 replies beneath your current threshold.
      • Re:Pointless by unlametheweak (Score:3) Thursday August 30, @10:25PM
        • Re:Pointless by sumdumass (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @10:52PM
          • Re:Pointless by unlametheweak (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @11:14PM
          • Re:Pointless by iminplaya (Score:1) Friday August 31, @12:15AM
            • Re:Pointless by sumdumass (Score:2) Friday August 31, @12:49AM
            • Re:Pointless by heinousjay (Score:1) Friday August 31, @01:48AM
              • Re:Pointless

                (Score:4, Informative)
                by iminplaya (723125) on Friday August 31, @02:45AM (#20421537)
                (Last Journal: Monday September 03, @01:49PM)
                We are entitled to freedom of speech. We are entitled to privacy. We are entitled to freedom of movement. We are entitled to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We are entitled to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, or something like that. Rights come from power, not weakness or acquiescing to authority. Nobody will give us any rights unless we are willing to take them. The rights you enjoy came from force. Not necessarily the force of arms, but they can be acquired through the force of unity. We are losing our rights due to our own divisions, nothing more. Too many of us are giving them up to false pretenses and promises. So if a company does not want to support the community, then the community has no reason to support the company. We can unite to put that company out of business. If they want our patronage, then they must provide something in return. It's a two way street. No violence required, but history has shown who usually draws first blood. It is generally well understood who steals the land and a person's livelihood. So, yes we are ENTITLED to something from them...if we are to allow them to maintain possession of stolen property. Otherwise we have every right to run them off.
        • Re:Pointless by ArsenneLupin (Score:2) Friday August 31, @01:52AM
        • Re:Pointless by Adult film producer (Score:1) Friday August 31, @04:53AM
        • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
      • Re:Pointless by Alsee (Score:1) Thursday August 30, @10:57PM
      • Re:Pointless by waveguide (Score:1) Friday August 31, @12:41AM
      • Re:Pointless by Ulric (Score:2) Friday August 31, @12:53AM
      • Re:Pointless by Walt Dismal (Score:2) Friday August 31, @02:51AM
      • Re:Pointless by hswerdfe (Score:2) Friday August 31, @07:08AM
      • Re:Pointless by darkmeridian (Score:2) Friday August 31, @09:48AM
        • Re:Pointless by MillionthMonkey (Score:2) Friday August 31, @12:53PM
        • Re:Pointless by brian642 (Score:1) Saturday September 01, @12:27AM
      • Re:Pointless by IhuntCIA (Score:1) Friday August 31, @10:01AM
      • Re:Pointless by brian642 (Score:1) Saturday September 01, @12:53AM
      • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
    • Re:Pointless by larry bagina (Score:3) Thursday August 30, @08:13PM
    • Re:Pointless by Marxist Hacker 42 (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @08:28PM
    • Re:Pointless by the_other_one (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @09:41PM
    • Re:Pointless by Trogre (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @10:02PM
    • Re:Pointless by westlake (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @11:34PM
      • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
    • Re:Pointless

      (Score:4, Informative)
      by sn00ker (172521) on Thursday August 30, @11:41PM (#20420465)
      I think you missed the point. These people do not have security clearances. That's most of the reason for their ire, since invasive background investigations are meant to be about ensuring people who work on matters of national security aren't open to improper influence.

      If you don't work on matters of national security, where is the concern with improper influence or motives? If someone's job puts them in a position where they might pose a threat to the safety of the country, they ought to be vetted and cleared appropriately. If not, filling out a questionnaire ought to be sufficient - though some of those questions are pretty fucking nosey, IMO, given that this is simply for getting an access card to allow you into places you've been going in the past anyway.

    • Re:Pointless by Karthikkito (Score:2) Thursday August 30, @11:44PM
    • Re:Pointless by Knuckles (Score:2) Friday August 31, @01:35AM
    • 2 replies beneath your current threshold.
  • In Soviet USSA...

    (Score:1, Funny)
    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, @08:09PM (#20418819)
    Space Agency spies on YOU!
  • ... they want to make sure you're not buying a box of Depends ...

  • by nbarriga (877070) on Thursday August 30, @08:14PM (#20418851)
    How the hell asking those kind of things helps prevent terrorism?(which is the stated goal according to the article) And anyway, even if it did help I wouldn't agree.
  • For additional information...

    (Score:5, Informative)
    by oringo (848629) on Thursday August 30, @08:18PM (#20418891)
  • Levers

    (Score:5, Informative)
    by pete-classic (75983) <> on Thursday August 30, @08:23PM (#20418939)
    ( | Last Journal: Monday March 12, @10:15PM)
    If you peruse my website and/or posting history you'll see that I'm against almost everything the government does. That said . . .

    I held a TS with SBI once upon a time. The main reason for background checks, as I understand it, is to ferret out any levers that could be used against you by hostile agent. Too much debt? We'll get you out of trouble if you give us info. Cheating on your wife? With a man?! It would be a shame if we had to call her. Think of your kids.

    It's not that they're morally judging you, its that they're making sure that you're not unduly susceptible to influence.

    It's not fair, but it's not about fairness.

  • The issue of access

    (Score:3, Insightful)
    by iamacat (583406) on Thursday August 30, @08:24PM (#20418945)
    If you work on the same floor as someone handling classified information, you obviously have more chance to steal it than an outsider. And if you have a large gambling debt or are having a clandestine gay (or straight) affair unknown to your spouse, you are more likely to be motivated to sell some of your knowledge or reveal it to avoid damaging exposure. Basically to work on - or around - government secrets you better not have too many secrets of your own.
  • by Rhaposo (2572) on Thursday August 30, @08:26PM (#20418957)
    Just tell the snoops "You show me yours and I'll show you mine". Make it mandatory that everyone touching an individuals information has to disclose to that individual the same and just see how fast they'll back off.

    Works for me when the stupids ask for a name and address (eg returning stuff).
  • Sexual Orientation

    by s0abas (792033) * <shadowphoenix@CO ... m minus caffeine> on Thursday August 30, @08:27PM (#20418965)
    is a question asked on the Lifestyle polygraph test for a top secret clearance.
  • I'm sick of it as well

    (Score:1, Insightful)
    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, @08:29PM (#20418979)
    It's a shame that eventually anyone who doesn't want to allow the FBI to open a dossier on them and start monitoring all their past and present communications will only be allowed to flip burgars or clean toilets for money to live in this society. This is exactly the kind of treatment by society that breeds radical islamists. If you treat someone like a radical islamist, then that's what they will become.
  • it's a great idea!

    (Score:1, Insightful)
    by phread (167197) on Thursday August 30, @08:31PM (#20418993)
    everyone who wants to be a government employee should have a background check done. but first every political figure, all their staff, families, pets(why not) go first. and all made public. a sound policy. i like it.
  • The real issue

    (Score:5, Insightful)
    by edwardpickman (965122) on Thursday August 30, @08:53PM (#20419169)
    The biggest problem with our current administration is they have never been after the "terorists" as the call them their real agenda is findling the "enemy". For them the enemy is anyone who doesn't agree with them. That does include terrorists but it also includes many of their own people, Republicans that disagree on specific issues. NASA has been a thorn in their side lately because a few have complained about supressing facts and have spoken out in support of global warming. I think this is far more about towing the party line than about terrorists. They want dirt on everyone. There's an underlying paranoia in everything they do. Freedom isn't about free to think like they do but that's the interpretation. It's not whether potential terrorist can influence them but can the government yank their chain when they need to. We live in very scary times and it's not the country I grew up in. In some ways it was actually far more conservative but ironically there was far more freedom in the 60s. We're increasingly under a microscope and knowledge is power and it's always about power. The factions in Iraq claim it's about religion but even the factions are dividing into smallwer and smaller sub groups fighting among themselves but at it's heart it's about power and control.
  • Corporates do that too

    (Score:5, Insightful)
    by 2Bits (167227) on Thursday August 30, @09:00PM (#20419225)
    It's not just government agencies, and not after 9/11 either. This kind of practice happened even before 9/11 in corporate world.

    In early 2001 (pre-9/11), the investors pulled out of our company and we went belly up. Two weeks later, I got an offer from a new startup, developing high-end IDS. I would be the second software engineer there. The offer was really good, with a good amount of stock options, and 3 weeks vacation. Except one thing: the background check.

    The wording of that agreement was amazingly terrible. It is more than invasive. I kept that page until two years ago, finally threw it away with other junks. Basically, it stated that the company could do any background check, any time, on any thing, including but not just my previous and future phone logs (including personal phone), email log (including personal email), bank accounts, trading accounts, 401K, IRA, credit card expenses, credit check, newsgroup, web postings, .... yada yada. Whatever you can name it, it's on that piece of paper. The whole piece of paper is filled with these items. And the funny part was, for some checking, I had to foot up the expenses too, although it didn't say which ones.

    I didn't sign, and went to the president, had a nice and polite discussion with him. I told him that I understood their concern about security, but this agreement obviously went overboard. I don't mind "normal" background check, but not those mentioned there. He also agreed that it went a little too far. So he asked me to re-word it so that I could accept. I rewrote the agreement, using standard background check format and wordings from other companies which I could accept. The president thought it was fine with him.

    But the corporate attorney, with the support of the investors, didn't want to hear about it. He said that engineers and technical people had too easy an access to implement backdoors in the system. It is this way, or the highway.

    I chose the highway. The company recruiter (external hired recruiter, actually) kept calling me for two months, but I already started working at other place for almost two months by then.

  • letter from NASA

    (Score:1, Funny)
    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, @09:00PM (#20419233)
    Dear Astronauts and all other staff,

    The NASA administration and the department of Homeland Security is deeply committed to the security and well being of all NASA property. This includes our bases, buildings, general infrastructure and experimental vehicles, as well as the people necessary* to operate them. (we will address the term necessary* later)

    Regarding the strict security measures put in place recently, we would like to make a strong statement regarding the discomfort that these measures may have created within some members of our community.

    These measures have been enforced to address three things mainly:

    -no more suicide rovers on mars
    -no more (potentially deadly) love triangles
    -and as an IQ test to see whether all NASA staff can properly id the location of uranus

    These procedures are now a part of company policy...


    thank you for your understanding and cooperation,

    (I agree)
    sign here


    P.D. The "taking your pants off for rectal examination" is not an official NASA policy (anymore) so please report any incident or abuse of this kind to your immediate supervisor.
    • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
  • by bl8n8r (649187) on Thursday August 30, @09:03PM (#20419251)
    They want to make sure they know what kind of people, past and present, the space program attracts. If you get a big enough sample, you can profile wanted vs. unwanted by the numbers. Corner cases are risky, so you don't have to be exact. Profiling makes sure you get the type of population that you want.
  • First they came

    (Score:3, Funny)
    First they came for the security clearance jobholders.

    Then they came for the government employees.

    Then they came for employees of government contractors and vendors.

    And now that the only jobs I can have or transactions I can conduct are with the 1% of the population and market that refuses business with the government, I'm too broke to pay my property tax on my supposedly private property. So now they're coming for me.

  • Enough with the FUD

    (Score:1, Interesting)
    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, @09:36PM (#20419493)
    I have a masters in public administration, so I'd say I have some insight into these checks. The main problem with them is that both the Government Accountability Office and the Office of Management and Budget have failed to define clear standards and/or monitor these programs.

    Below is my analysis of the issue, but my recommendations are simple:
    1) A list of excluding conditions should be posted/linked in any and all federal hiring postings in the same section they state full mental/health record release is required. A link to an exceptions and appeals process should also be included. There is no security risk in posting this information since if you're requiring the records be disclosed, then you're probably doing a full background check and maybe even a lie detector -- "but i dont have any records" isn't going to work.

    2) Credit check usage should be linked and explained with CLEAR EXEMPTIONS for disabilities, workforce transition, college students...wait...this list goes on and on. How about they just state what the fuck disqualifies someone and provide an appeals process? After all, if you have poor credit due to external circumstance and a perfect criminal record, doesn't that make you less of a risk?

    3) Lie detector requirement should be stated (they usually aren't) and general areas of inquiry should be explained up front. Currently they provide you no you could get hired and could be fired 6 months later for doing pot 4 years ago. Making the general questions public is important to guarantee oversite and avoid racial/class bias in questioning. I would LOVE to see how quick the process changed if someone changed the questioning on theft to include "digital property or works."

    Security check effectiveness is difficult to measure, but that does not excuse the lack of clear guidelines and the near universal requirement for investigations. As a result of the lack of guidance, many of these "security" checks may, amusingly, provide cover for discrimination against the disabled and racial minorities. There is a reason why people are advised against doing credit checks on non-financial positions -- they may lead to a pattern of discrimination that is in violation of federal law. For the uninformed, federal law prohibits any system that _tends_ to discriminate against people based on race.

    The problem with these checks is thus that they discourage qualified people from applying and also allow hiring managers significant wiggle room on who to hire/fire. They provide three areas of problems--credit checks, lie detectors, and mental health disclosures.

    1) In terms of hiring, most agencies state that they require a credit check--even those that don't do an FBI background. And amusingly, it's usually placed right under the non-discrimination clause. I have never seen any information on how the credit information is used -- How do you deal with persons with disabilities? Persons with no insurance? Poor people that were victims of predatory lending? Anyone with a sudden family calamity? Most importantly, is a credit check relevant at all for someone that has been under or unemployed and is trying to get a job??!

    Simply put, the agency provides no information on why the check is necessary, what the appeals process is, or how it will be used. In addition, the agency puts the rating decision in the hands of private companies that have a history of discriminating based on location (redlining, oooo check cashing stores, predatory credit "deals" targeted at the lower class). In addition, a credit check is problematic because lower income people are less likely to watch or contest incorrect information.

    2) Lie detector tests. NOTHING is disclosed about what these cover, how far they go back, or what the appeals process is. Grow up in the ghetto? Try crack when you were 15? Are you really going to apply that secret clearance job at 26? Guidelines should be clearly stated to make certain that everyone is on the same level and not just the folks that are the same race/class/sexuality at the person doing the screening or the hiring manager. For example, I know a white guy that smoked a lot of pot in college that failed a portion of his lie detector test, he lied and he was caught...however, the interviewer (also white) took the time to go back over the issue and ask him to clarify "what he really meant to say." This was for a police dispatcher position, fyi.

    For security AND for equity reasons, general drug use questions/guidelines and crime question/guidelines should clearly be stated. There is no danger in making the areas of inquiry public, because if a terrorist/fraudster wants to infiltrate he's either going to a) plan years in advance or b) learn to fake the lie detector test. You're not gonna check federal hiring procedures when you're 18 before you light your first joint.

    3) Full release of medical information. This one is less frequent, but it's out there and not always for secret positions--in fact many hiring positions and agreements are ambiguous enough that when you authorize them to investigate you you may also give them full access to your medical records. The problem with it is that it is never disclosed as to what is mentally disqualifying. Did you have anger/personal issues because you grew up as a racial or sexual minority and seek counseling? Were you diagnosed with depression as a result? Would this exclude you from hiring? And how does this correlate with the over-prescribing of medications to poor people (this happens due to the lack of time to deal with patients, and tax-write offs at full price for medication)? A simple LIST OF EXCLUDING CONDITIONS would resolve this.

    There will always be an excuse for an administrative action to help protect security, the key is to balance that system with feedback. The key to feedback is visibility and oversight -- and since the GAO and OMB arent doing their damn jobs, agencies need to make the investigation process much more transparent.
  • by Mr. Roadkill (731328) on Thursday August 30, @09:37PM (#20419511)
    Dear NASA Scientists,

    I know you like the collegial atmosphere out at JPL. I know you like being able to have your work peer-reviewed. In short, I know that you like the lives that some of you have lead for the last several decades. Unfortunately, you and I both know that things are changing, largely at the request of your own government.

    I know you don't like the new security checks. No matter how squeaky-clean your lives are, or how much you love your country, there are always some skeletons in the closet that can come back to haunt you. Also, the rules are always changing - what was unacceptable twenty years ago but acceptable ten years ago is now unacceptable again. Nobody should have to live like that.

    My organisation already knows all your secrets. They weren't that hard to find - as you've probably already realised, money talks. And you know what? We don't care. That's right, we don't give a shit that you cross-dress, have sex with livestock, eat your own boogers or have a gambling problem. (Actually, on that last point, we do - and treat it as a medical problem with treatment covered entirely under our health plan, and our financial planners can help you get your life back together too. Same deal with drugs.)

    From our secret base of operations somewhere south-east of Florida we plan World Domination. Our Weather Machine and Death Ray divisions are approaching the deployment phase, but there's still a pressing need for talent in the Heavy Launch, Orbital Habitat and Orbital Weapons Platform divisions.

    Our employees receive world-class free health care, six weeks paid vacation each year and a pension plan that makes the GDP of many small countries look pitiful - and there's lots of room for advancement, so your pension payout could actually *be* Lichtenstein or Peru. We also pay all re-location expenses, and have great schools a short submarine ride away. We have a wide range of recreational and sporting facilities. We are family-friendly, with common-sense and generous carers leave provisions. On the subject of family-friendly, we have a petting zoo. We also have a less family-oriented heavy-petting zoo, but we don't usually like to talk about it.

    If you think it's time for a change and that you can make a difference, reply here - don't worry, although your government will find you we've paid their operatives enough to make sure we get to you first. No pressure - we won't tell your dirty little secrets, but then, we don't have to. The choice is entirely yours.


    Xavier F. Megalomaniac

    We have administrative, support and security
    roles available too - and leather and spandex
    are only required on formal occasions.
    • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
  • time to close NASA

    by dltaylor (7510) on Thursday August 30, @10:04PM (#20419765)
    Once the good sheeple are the only ones left, there won't be anything intelligent coming out of the organization anyway. Learning new things often involves thinking outside the current bounds, and people that can do that don't always restrict it their professional lives. Think about how few of the team at Los Alamos would have qualified to work for the new regime (for example, Dr. Feynman's admitted reaching beyond his "compartment" for information).

    On top of which, many of the "pressure points" only exist because the thugs in the security services are perturbed about them. Homosexuality is one of the prime examples. It is only a "problem" because the asshats who invent the rules have made it one. If you weren't in danger of losing your job because you've "been there, done that", then it wouldn't be something that the "other guys" could threaten to expose.
    • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
  • This is an application of all the government collected and cross-referenced data (including Echelon [], Carnivore [], Poindexter's MATRIX [] and TIA [], Gonzales' TSP [], and all the rest we never heard about) plus all the "accidentally" leaked personal info, data mined to determine by association whether someone is a reliable Republican voter droid. They get your "background check" info, and then you stop getting promoted and eventually leave if you're not a "loyal Republican".

    Hello, Karl! Go Cheney yourself!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, @11:08PM (#20420213)
    My friend went through this kind of invasive background check when she was a plaintiff in a drug-company malpractice lawsuit. The drug company went all the way back to her childhood, interviewing old next-door neighbors and her elementary school teachers, looking for any dirt they could find on her. Her twenty-year military records were also subpoenaed.

    The only reason it didn't bother her was that she's one person in this world who has absolutely no dark secrets, and the drug company eventually settled out of court, because they couldn't find anything to use against her.
  • It seems that NASA is implementing PIV-II. Those smart cards mentioned in TFA look like those mentioned in the FIPS-201 standard [].

    Basically, everyone getting a PIV card has to pass a background check. However, it seems that asking those scientists and engineers about all that data mentioned in TFA is a bit excessive. The standard has an informational appendix (appendix C) that specifies what sort of checks should be done. It even specifies two levels of checks for different security levels. Looks like someone got a little bit too anal when deciding what checks to do. The checks mentioned in FIPS-201 seem reasonable, though. Can anyone that knows about background checks explain what they are exactly?

    The cards themselves seem pretty good. It is pretty clear that the designers of FIPS-201 cards do not trust the wireless interface, making all biometric/sensitive information available only on the wired interface, unlike those e-passports every government is promoting. Pretty interesting reading material.
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  • Ever hired?

    by fishbowl (7759) <jmcgill@ema[ ] ['il.' in gap]> on Thursday August 30, @11:17PM (#20420295)
    Seriously, have you ever been on the hiring side of the table? Posted a really desirable, salary- and benefits-heavy, mid-career type of job? There's this phenomenon where you get 4000 applicants for two positions. In that situation, anything that can be legally done to narrow that field, can conceivably be approved by the board. Doesn't make it right, but it's really no mystery.
  • I lucked out by not having to do it this time. Yeah it's invasive, but unlike them I work at the Johnson Space Center, I myself don't have access to classified data, but I'm just the other side of a wall from it. To me getting the background check and the low security clearance I have is sort of a mark of prestige and reliability. Honestly I wouldn't mind having a few more background checks if it means promotions, better pay, and more prestige. I'm at NASA for crying out loud, I'm glad they don't let just any schmuck off the street work here without some kind of clearance.

    On another note, I don't recall my 85P [] form asking me if I was a homo or not, and I also don't recall retail transaction request. They did ask how much of what kind of debt I was in, I'm guessing to see if I was desperate for money or not. Yes they did ask about illegal drug use, but there was a time limit on it. I don't recall, but it wasn't to many years, four or so. All in all, I don't think much of the form was unreasonable, sure it was a pain in the ass to fill out, but it wasn't unreasonable.

    If you want to see the form for yourself, here it is [].

    As for being at the JPL instead of the Cape or Johnson? Suck it up. This is for every federal position. Expect your postal carrier to be grouching about the form to.
  • Just Dump NASA...

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday August 30, @11:29PM (#20420371)
    ... and put Burt Rutan in charge! :o)
  • I see this as a simple issue of psychology.... human psychology.

    As I see it - various jobs attract people of certain character.

    Science for instance will attract people who are naturally curious.

    Computer programming should be expected to attract people who like games and puzzles and are good at dealing with detail.

    Administration should be expected to attract people who like to tell other people what to do. One would expect to see a lot of control freaks in managment and administration.

    If so, then how would one gain and excersize control? How would one keep control. Would it be expected that a great deal of paranoia might build up in people of this nature? I think so.

    When one combines paranoia with a desire to control other people it is perfectly natural to expect that they might like to dig up any dirt they can on others.

    Police states are known for this.

    One could extrapolate and suggest the USA is turning itself into a police state. If so then it isn't the worst known in human history - far from it. But all forms of police states are bad and I think we are seeing evidence of these bad traits as people strive to gain power over others by using totally unnecessary, possibly dirty, and definitely abhorant tactics. These overzealous background checks certainly fall into this characterization.

    Its an abuse of power. But then this is what police states do. They abuse their power and when they get challenged they abuse people's rights in order to retain power.

    One way to look at this is when a group of babies are born - what law of nature or God says that one or more has a god given right to control the other babies? How would one measure and determine at the outset who should be that alpha baby? What of when they grow up? At what point in time did it become ok for the alpha baby to step forth and declare that everyone has to listen to what he says - that he has the right to order others around? Did it occur when he became a cop? Did it occur when he became a lawyer or a judge?

    Should it happen by birth? ...because one parent happened to be born KING? ...and because the previous king was able to bribe a lot of civil servants to support him? ...and because the civil servants want the next king to carry on the cushy lifestyle they have managed to attain by supporting the system?

    IMHO people are NOT born with the right to control other's lives. Sometimes they gain this power during life. If so then usually its because they covent power and those who gain the most power are the ones willing to spend all their days and nights politicing to get it. IE. They are control freaks.

    Next we have the political and administrative systems which have been designed first to accomodate the control of the majority by sometimes a fanatical minority. What we see by these ruthless and totally unnecessary background checks is merely an extension of this.

    Its an ugly situation and I see it as a symptom of the USA becoming more of a police state which flogs threats of terrorism as a justification for what they do. If so then the terrorists are winning because this is exactly what they want to happen. Would it be true to observe that if the terrorists create a situation where the average Joe and Josephene in middle class America loses his and her freedoms, that the terrorist has succeeded ...regardless of the fact that it is the government that became an agent of the terrorist and starts to terrorize sectors of the population through things like background checks and personal attacks? Do we have McCarthyism all over again?

    Combine this with the apparent fact that government jobs at all levels are filled with people who seek security first and are willing to kiss ass like it never gets kissed in private industry. When you have a large number of administrative people who love to follow rules just for the sake of rules and are too concerned about job s
  • by mbone (558574) on Friday August 31, @12:15AM (#20420671)
    They work for Caltech, or are contractors. When I worked at JPL my paycheck (back when we had such) said "California Institute of Technology."
  • by wardk (3037) on Friday August 31, @02:16AM (#20421355)
    (Last Journal: Thursday July 22, @12:14PM)
    and here they told us we won the cold war
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 31, @03:06AM (#20421643)
    At least where jobs in the government are concerned, if you were going to be discriminated against, you wouldn't be filling out the clearance questionnaire-- you would have been stopped loooong before that point, especially considering that the lowest clearance, the NAC (National Agency Check), costs about $10,000 to complete. Colleges, contractors, and vendors foot the bill to clear their employees; direct government employee clearances are on the taxpayer.

    Every government position that has access to dangerous materials, sensitive/proprietary information, or responsibility of human life requires such checks, and rightly so to protect the public and the Union. Anyone who has worked in the government is quite used to the clearance process. To make matters "worse" for you privacy doom and gloomers, it occurs at regular intervals-- every 10 years for Secret, 7 years for Top Secret, and 5 years for clearances beyond that.

    Sure, its uncomfortable to have a stranger rummage through your life as everyone has skeletons they'd prefer to hide, but its not worth sweating bullets about. Considering that the goal is to exclude obvious risks to the public, I'm more or less okay with the occasional privacy reinvasion to maintain my clearance knowing that the same process is going to hopefully keep John Q. Smackhead from becoming a reactor safety manager at the nuke plant in the next county.

    Maybe if people understood the process...

    After completing the encyclopedic questionnaire, a team of investigators is sent to verify your answers-- very often these will be local people that have retired from law enforcement who are contracted by DSS. If its your first clearance, an upgrade, or if clarifications are needed after the precursory review, you'll also sit down with an investigator for an interview where the two of you go over the questionnaire. They'll proceed scour PUBLIC record and talk to your references, neighbors, and acquaintances (heck, during my first TS clearance, the investigator spoke to my 2nd grade teacher!) Once all of the information is assembled, you are assessed as a whole person by DSS. Adjudicators (employed directly by DSS) look at the following in order of importance:

    -Honesty in answers versus the investigative findings (you didn't report that you had declared Chapter 13 Bankruptcy in 1997? Whoops!)
    -Accuracy of your answers versus the investigative findings (correct addresses, date ranges, employment history, account numbers, etc. mostly to determine if there's a deliberate attempt to misdirect or hide aspects of your history)
    -Immediate red flags (habitual substance abuse, uncontrollable debt, felony convictions, etc)
    -Travel/residence for the scope of the investigation (frequent visits to a 'non-friendly' foreign country not of your origin or without familial association)

    Its the adjudicator's job to generate a mean risk assignment to your case based on these criteria. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have a spotless history to obtain a clearance. As long as you are HONEST and UPFRONT about your history, there's little that will stop you from obtaining it. 75% of clearance requests that are rejected are due to that alone. Many of those rejections get a second chance to come clean, as it were, and ultimately receive a clearance assignment.

    Regardless of rejection, you are entitled to appeal the final decision. ALWAYS. In that event, I believe a team of 3 adjudicators (not including the original) independently assess the package with the majority ruling.

    Its a rough approximation of how trustworthy a person you are. That's all.

    Now, that's all fine and dandy for the government sector, but what about the corporate world?

    I don't necessarily agree with some of the extensive garbage that is foisted upon corporate folk, especially for positions that don't justify such extensive checking, but it comes down a point that I mentioned earlier.

    Investigations are EXPENSIVE. A potential employer isn't going to invest more than a $50 skipjack internet package for somebody that they haven't even hired yet, if they even do that. If a potential employer is investing in a thorough background check, they're either really interested in you or they heat the building by burning $100 bills.

    Still, the advice holds true. Be honest and upfront about your history if you want a position that requires this process. Its not exactly the history that they're worried about, its how honestly you disclose it to them.
  • This happened once before

    (Score:5, Interesting)
    by whiteyonthemoon (774423) on Friday August 31, @03:26AM (#20421717)
    When everyone was paranoid about communism, JPL ran background checks on all of the members of the "suicide squad", the scientists who started the rocketry program at Cal Tech, basically the first people in America to get anywhere with rocketry. They didn't like what they found (some members were actually communists (Weinbaum, Summerfield), others just too into the occult(Jack Parsons, friend of Alister Crowley)), so they took away their clearances(revoking clearances:rocket scientist::excommunication:Catholic), and lost their experts.

    One of the people who had their clearances revoked was the first "Robbert Goddard Professor of Jet Propulsion" at Cal Tech, Dr Tsien. I'm sure I don't have to explicitly mention that he was a total genius. They arrested him and then wouldn't let him leave the country for five years so that his scientific knowledge would be obsolete. As soon as he was allowed to, he moved back to China.

    In China Tsien was very well respected (respecting intelligence is an archaic custom of some Asian cultures), he became Chairman Mao's tutor in science, and went on to supervise the development of China's ICBM program. So when the US gets nuked by the China, we'll have American paranoia to thank.

    That's one thing that the US can make better than the Chinese ever will. We are great at making enemies out of friends.
  • Wow

    by phulegart (997083) on Friday August 31, @04:26AM (#20421981)
    This challenge and response session going on in this /. posting frenzy is a veritable "How-To" manual for blackmailing people.

    There are ideas on how to actually beat background checks and blackmail an honest person into doing what you want, then people pointing out the holes in THOSE ideas, and then more refining and paring down, etc...

    I'm sure that there would be claims of "Oh, everyone already knows all this stuff"... except, if everyone already knows all this stuff, why go through the trouble of repeating what you know to be common knowledge? If everyone already knows it, why is it being refined down? How can one person be wrong, if everyone already knows what he is saying is true? If you are correcting him, and everyone alrady knows your correction, why wasn't he included in that "everyone" part of "everyone already knows what I'm saying"... doesn't that prove that everyone doesn't already know these things?

    Does everyone here already know how to make a landmine with household materials? Should I describe in detail that procedure so we can hash out the particulars of exactly what kind of shrapnel would do the most damage, and what thickness of plastic would be mot likely to stand up over time? Anyone want to argue about Freedom of Information, and how I should Indeed be posting these instructions so we can discuss them at length?

    I noticed the sig in there, that ACs are not worth reading, because they are hiding their identities. I also noticed an AC post by an employee of a company involved in these background checks. He said he was posting AC because of these checks. Because posting here cou ld have a detrimental affect on his employment. Especially if I post about how to make a landmine. Especially because of posts on exactly how to successfully blackmail an innocent person.

    Ignorance is universal. Especially among those of us who think we know it all. It is ignorant to think that there is responsible, intelligent discussion going on in this thread, when it is an instruction manual being built post by post that would screw over the people that are the target of the initial article that started the discussion. You might try to argue that in this case that being warned is being armed. I say that is ignorance. Noone can protect themselves against everything, even and especially if, what they are attempting to protect themselves against cannot be defended against.

    Face it. If it could be proven that someone took place in this thread or even spent time reading it, and then something happened to them where they were being blackmailed with false information, it could and WOULD look like they were guilty, due to the same forewarning that we might now be claiming was a good thing.
    • Re:Wow by Thomas Shaddack (Score:2) Saturday September 01, @02:29AM
  • "Good evening. We are going to make Plutonium from household materials"

    - Crazy Professor introducing that night's cooking show on Weird Al's TV station (professor is actually an alien), from an Al Yankovich movie.

    Maybe they are digging nasa personnel to find out if there are any aliens among them ?
  • NASA Administrator Michael Griffin [...] said that it was a "privilege to work within the federal system, not a right" - International Herald Tribute; The Associated Press []

    Hello Mr Griffin. It is a privilege to employ these exceptional engineers, not a right. If you make their lives difficult, they will leave.

    Employees are not sheep to be slaughtered. They are stakeholders of your organisation and you have to take their views into account when you draw new policies.

  • Lets have these sort of investigated rules for ANY job, because you 'never know'.

    That way we can have even more people out of work for the government to support ( with our tax dollars ) as few people can pass a deep enough probe into their personal life. Hell, why not even toss in DNA 'predispositions' too.


  • by e-scetic (1003976) * on Friday August 31, @10:47AM (#20424673)

    How long before you need these background checks simply to work. After all, EVERY job out there has the potential to be used by "terrorists" for something or other.

    Cleaning toilets? Toilet bomb! Poisoning the water system! Removing posters from telephone poles? Telephone pole bomb! Possibility of destroying communications infrastructure! Oh my god, the twin telephone poles! Mailman? Anthrax risk! Cleaning gum off public sidewalks? Sidewalk slime bomb! Call hazmat and close off a 5 mile radius! Oh no! What's that, a light-bright thingy on the sidewalk! Increase the radius to 10 miles and call in the national guard.

    Personally, I give it maybe 10-20 years, then the control will be complete.

  • Bored?

    by JCSoRocks (1142053) on Friday August 31, @10:48AM (#20424709)
    The astronauts are only complaining because they've either A) given up on the invasive advances of their peers (read love affair) or B) gotten bored of hooking up with other people from space camp.
  • by laurabramm (1150353) on Friday August 31, @02:11PM (#20427285)
    The bad part of this is not that they are giving them background checks, and as for the level of invasiveness, well, if you don't like it, don't apply. There isn't anything you can do about it, and just because it's wrong won't stop the government, especially not this administration (as if he was smart enough to understand the problem, anyway). First of all, they have no right whatsoever to look into their sexual orientation. I don't know how that helps things, anyway. Are we saying that if they are gay they aren't welcome, or that we have no evidence of gay terrorists, so welcome aboard? More to the point, exactly who cares? Even more to the point, why does the government care? Second of all, is there any reason to do checks on those that have already been part of the program for decades, or on those that have been retired for decades? Now, the article didn't say that definatively, however, if the employees being checked out worked on the Apollo program, which was in the 1960s, then they would have already blown the place to hell if that was what they were inclined to do. This is not for security purposes, okay? Normal background checks are. This is the government (or agents thereof) using it's clout to dig up dirt on people that they don't have any right to know. It goes along with the ability to illegally wiretap, take phone records without subpeona, detain you indefinately on suspicion of subversion while they gather (or plant) evidence to support their theory. We are losing our freedoms, and this should illustrate the point nicely. There is no security gained in doing a background check on the dude in the corner office that has been working for the company for 50 years, okay? Anyone who believes that there is is either totally deluded or has way too much faith in the government and those they associate with.
  • that they keep having to arrest/un-cuff/whatever that's always in a compromising position and saying not to judge him because they don't know him and as a US American it is his right to do whatever he wants in private with other US Americans if they so choose to and such. Thank you.
  • What a coincidence

    by stuntpope (19736) on Friday August 31, @08:08PM (#20430217)
    How timely. I'm on contract to the government and have a clearance, though not high enough to require a polygraph. My questionnaire asked about past drug use, but I was not required to submit to drug screening. My corporate employer also did not require drug testing. I've been with them several years.

    Now my employer is under a subcontract with a much larger, very well-known IT company, and they say all their employees and contractors (and subcontractors) must be proven drug-free. So suddenly it's "take the drug test or you can't work for us".

    I'm curious as to which IT companies require drug screening. I'm not really sure why the requirement rankles me so - I never was much of a drug user, and what I did do was over 15 years ago. It's just that it seems demeaning and invasive. I was a trusted employee for years, suddenly I have to remove myself from some cloud of suspicion?

    And what does it benefit the IT company to be able to say they drug-screen their contractors, if the government who uses them in classified situations doesn't care enough to require it?

    If all the biggies in IT doing government/military work require this, I may as well resign myself to it, but it sucks.
  • Re:Hmm...

    (Score:1, Flamebait)
    by moderatorrater (1095745) on Thursday August 30, @08:36PM (#20419023)
    Wouldn't "crazy" be redundant in that phrase?

  • by _merlin (160982) on Thursday August 30, @08:52PM (#20419165)
    ( | Last Journal: Monday May 02, @02:30AM)
    Well, if you say you've never used illegal drugs, and then later they find out you used to smoke the occasional jazz cigarette with your highschool buddies, they can nail you for signing a false statement when they decide they want you in jail. Perfect! Just like that green form I fill in when I go to the USofA on business that asks if I'm a spy for a foreign government, or if I'm entering the US with the intention of committing a crime - like anyone would ever answer "yes". It's just so you have one more thing to nail you for (i.e. you didn't just enter the US with the intention of committing a crime, you also signed a false declaration) if they need to.
  • by Dunbal (464142) on Thursday August 30, @09:07PM (#20419277)
    The American government has gone full out crazy. They have no idea what they're even fighting for any more.

          They are fighting the American people, stupid. /sarcasm
    • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, @09:40PM (#20419545)
    Filling out a security clearance comes with a nice disclaimer that if you lie at all on the 50 pages that follow, they can prosecute you and send you to PMITA prison. And yeah you have to sign the sheet acknowledging that. And you have to acknowledge it to the investigator who gives you the nice face to face interview as well.

    Checking "yes, I have" does not automatically remove you from the clearance pool. Answering "Yes, I currently do" likely will though. I know several people with TS that answered yes. Not as huge of a deal as you might think.
    • by Iron Condor (964856) on Thursday August 30, @11:05PM (#20420195)

      Checking "yes, I have" does not automatically remove you from the clearance pool. Answering "Yes, I currently do" likely will though. I know several people with TS that answered yes. Not as huge of a deal as you might think.

      The current background check (on everybody who works at a federal facility - not just JPL) are pretty lenient: uitability_Matrix_mods.pdf

      You have nothing to worry even if you are a regular pot-smoker, or were convicted of not paying your taxes, or committing any car-related offense short of vehicular manslaughter. I mean - Assault, Harassment, Forgery -- none get you into column "C"....

  • 11 replies beneath your current threshold.