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U.S. quietly tightens access to classified information

John Byrne and Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Monday March 13, 2006

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National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley quietly revised the guidelines for determining access to classified government information last year, increasing emphasis on allegiance to the United States and allowing the government broader latitude in rejecting candidates without a clearly articulated cause, RAW STORY has found.

In a December 2005 revision of the “Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information,” Hadley made semantic but substantial changes which seem to mirror a broader shift in Bush Administration policy. The document, found online, shows numerous variations from a previous copy of the guidelines published in 1997. Both are linked at the bottom of this article.

Many of the changes were minor or involved updates to catch up with technological advances. For example, the guidelines expand on certain areas with regard to storing or transferring classified information in electronic form.

But taken in sum, the changes seem to indicate an increased emphasis on eliminating leaks of classified information, and a stronger emphasis on loyalty to the United States and its agents. The changes also allow those determining whether an individual is granted a security clearance to rely on a conflation of various “suspect” factors rather than a clear violation of a single rule.

Moreover, the new guidelines are posed as recommendations for other agencies that are not privy to high-level classified information, suggesting a blanket emphasis on secrecy across all theaters of government.

Loyalty to the United States

Security clearance guidelines have always required strict allegiance to the United States. Both the 1997 and 2005 guidelines require that individuals seeking clearances not “act in such a way as to indicate preference for a foreign country over the United States.”

But Hadley’s 2005 guidelines go further. In addition to requiring that individuals not engage in material breaches of U.S. allegiance – including voting in a foreign election or expressing a desire to renounce citizenship – the 2005 guidelines assert that simply the vocalization of allegiance to another country is grounds for denial.

Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying now include “any statement or action that shows allegiance to a country other than the United States.”

Broadening cause for denying clearances

The 2005 revision also allows those reviewing security clearances broader latitude in rejecting candidates without citing a specific violation of the guidelines.

Under the section “Personal Conduct,” Hadley added the following.

“Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include: credible adverse information that is not explicitly covered under any other guideline and may not be sufficient by itself for an adverse determination, but which, when combined with all available information supports a whole-person assessment of questionable judgment, untrustworthiness, unreliability, lack of candor, unwillingness to comply with rules and regulations, or other characteristics indicating that the person may not properly safeguard protected information.”

The section also adds “deliberately providing false or misleading information” to an employer “or other characteristics indicating that the person may not properly safeguard protected information” as grounds for denial.

Further changes to a second section of the document suggest that the decision to broaden the ability of the government to restrict access to classified information was deliberate. The section “Psychological Conditions” suggests individuals could be rejected for undefined adverse “behavior.”

“Behavior that casts doubt on an individual’s judgment… that is not covered under any other guideline” is now a condition that could render an individual unfit for approval.

Hadley’s revision does, however, remove a vague line in the 1997 document which suggests that “reliable, unfavorable information” from neighbors or coworkers could torpedo an individual’s chance for clearances.

Leaks and the media

Not surprisingly, Hadley’s revision places far greater emphasis on protecting classified information than its predecessor. The 2005 version significantly expands on the ability for the government to disqualify or revoke clearances based on the improper handling of secrets.

Where the 1995 version had one item under “conditions that could raise a security concern” surrounding security violations, the 2005 version has nine. Many of these items deal with recent advances in computer technology.

Some, however, may raise flags among those already concerned about the ability of the government to keep information from the media. Individuals can now be denied clearances for “deliberate or negligent disclosure of classified or other protected information to unauthorized persons, including but not limited to personal or business contacts, to the media, or to persons present at seminars, meetings, or conferences.”

Individuals can also be denied access to classified information for prying.

Hadley adds “inappropriate efforts to obtain or view classified or other protected information outside one’s need to know” to a list of potentially disqualifying factors. Also added: “Viewing or downloading information from a secure information when the information is beyond the individual’s need to know.”

Sexual 'behavior'

The 2005 guidelines also allow the government greater ability to use sexual orientation against applicants.

Whereas the 1997 revision declared that sexual orientation “may not be used” as a basis for disqualifying applicants, Hadley’s revisions declare that clearances cannot be denied “solely on the basis of the sexual orientation of the individual.”

The 2005 guidelines also add a curious revision under the “Sexual Behavior” section. While the 1995 version said adverse sexual behavior could be eliminated from consideration if it were “not recent,” the 2005 version expands this, saying “the sexual behavior happened so long ago, so infrequently, and under such unusual circumstances, that it is unlikely to recur.”

Criminal conduct revisions

Another striking change in Hadley’s revision is the removal of the word “acquittal” from a list of mitigating factors in considering whether clearances should be granted. The 2005 document removes the word “acquittal” without explanation or replacement.

The Hadley revision also adds discharge from the military under “dishonorable conditions” to a list of conditions that could warrant denial. While the intent cannot be divined, it’s worth noting that engaging in homosexual conduct is grounds for a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military.

Also of note: The abuse of prescription drugs after a “prolonged illness,” once ended, can now be used a mitigating factor in determining whether an individual is granted clearances.

2005 Hadley version

1997 version

Muriel Kane provided research for this article.