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This is taken (with links to the full thing) from a series on Culture Kitchen and Daily Gotham describing my own family's ongoing experience with Bush's paranoid America. The original story is a three-part (to date) story which has been picked up outside the blogsphere, but not so much within the blogshere. I made some references to it on dKos and people suggested I post here as well. I know a few diaries have already been written about it...but this is personal and contains new info.

Since parts are a Culture Kitchen exclusive, I will mainly excerpt here with links the original diaries. The basic jist of the series is this: every single Federal employee is now to be treated as if they work on sensitive projects requiring extensive background checks. All Federal employees are being asked to sign blanket waivers giving up their basic rights so that the government can investigate every aspect of their personal life should they deem it necessary for any reason. Keep reading...

Have you been PERSONALLY affected by the Bush Administration’s erosion of our Constitutional Rights? Well, now my family is coming face to face with a direct assault on the Bill of Rights, an assault on my wife’s rights. This assault comes directly from Bush with no input from Congress whatsoever.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive Number 12

The truth is that this directive is not, in itself, that bad. Its intention is to, WITHIN THE LIMITS OF THE CONSTITUTION AND EXISTING LAW, create a consistent policy within the Federal government for ID badges to get into Federal facilities. But the implementation of it is a nightmare largely because Federal employees are being asked to sign a blanket waiver that gives the government permission to investigate a person by any means they want, including talking with neighbors, doing credit checks, looking at medical records, etc. Part of the process, based on the analysis my wife and I have done (and few others seem aware of this) could be interpreted as barring homosexuals from government employment. Scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion lab are among the first to speak out against this. Some are resigning in protest and others filing a lawsuit.

My wife is a graduate student at a joint program between NASA and Columbia University called the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). Her department uses satellite data and computer modeling to study the atmosphere, climate and climate change. NASA, of course, has many top secret projects, projects which require high security. No one questions the need for high security and detailed background checks for specific, highly sensitive projects. This is perfectly reasonable.

But the Federal Government under Bush is now insisting that ALL employees, contractors, students, etc. associated with NASA agree to allow an investigation into their lives should the Federal Government deem it necessary for any reason. In short, Homeland Security is demanding that all NASA employees, contractors, etc. right down to students like my wife, agree to undergo the same kind of scrutiny as if they ALL worked in a top secret program. They are treating ALL of NASA as if it was one big secret program. This strikes me as insanely inefficient in addition to highly intrusive.

My wife shared with me internal emails that went back and forth within NASA and I received permission to use this material as part of my reporting on this issue. So some of what I use amounts to a Culture Kitchen exclusive. Additionally, my wife is responsible for discovering one aspect of implementation of HSPD#12, called the "Suitability Matrix" that most people either have not noticed or have simply dismissed as "bizarre" and not looked closely at. Yet we find it possibly one of the most disturbing aspects.

My wife is not sure what she will do when she gets her email that she has 10 days to sign her rights away. Will she risk her job or will she sign away her rights? This is a decision she has to make and I really can't advise her.

Please join us over at Culture Kitchen to explore what is happening to government employees.

In Part I of this series, I describe the way that government employees are being asked, in the name of Homeland Security Presidential Directive #12, to sign away their rights in order to keep their jobs (in essence, though that is not in the original wording of the directive). I should note that not all the blame for the problems are due to Homeland Security. Some are due to the way individual agencies are implementing the procedure. I should also note that the precise wording of the directive is not necessarily objectionable. Nevertheless, the requirement to sign a blanket waiver allowing an intrusive government investigation applies across the board and is the way in which the directive is being implemented.

Part I can be summarized by the words of Dr. Robert Nelson, Senior Scientist at JPL: (taken from internal emails, posted with permission)

Apparently the forms we are being required to fill out (sf85 and sf85p) are voluntary. We are being asked to voluntarily waive our constitutional rights. We are not being required to do it. HOWEVER IF WE DECLINE TO PROVIDE THIS INFORMATION WE WILL NOT BE FIRED. BUT WE WILL NOT BE GIVEN A BADGE. Hence we will not have access to our offices or our computers...Thus we will be derelict in our duties. For further information of this novel management approach please see (Kafka, Franz, The Trial, ISBN 0805209999...)...

On 9/12, Osama bin Laden, son of one of Saudi Arabia’s most wealthy families, became a fugitive...The ensuing war on terror has cost 3500 US lives and the lives of orders of magnitude more Iraqi civilians. Despite this, bin Laden remains on the loose. There remains a question of relevance, "How do personal background intrusions and fingerprinting of 5000 JPL colleagues help apprehend bin Laden?"

In Part II I describe an aspect of the procedure by which government employees are investigated as part of the imlpementation of Homeland Security Presidential Directive #12. This part of the procedure is called the "Suitability Matrix" and is not in itself a part of the directive. From what I can tell, it is an existing procedure, used to determine if someone should be debarred from government work, that has been appropraited by the US Office of Personnel Management in order to implement the directive. The Suitability Matrix is objectionable because a.) it does not give the procedure by which it is used, b.) it seems to require an intrusive investigation into an employees personal life way beyond anything Homeland Security Presidential Directive #12 requires, and c.) it includes as "offenses" things that could easily be misused, such as a reference to "sodomy" that, in context, sounds suspiciously like it could be used to debar gays from government work.

My wife is the one who called my attention to this and she helped do the initial research on how the "Suitability Matrix" is being used by the Office of Personnel Management as part of the procedure to implement HSPD#12. I did the specific research into the legal definitions of some of the listed "offenses" like "carnal knowledge" and "sodomy." I would be interested in other people's take on this bizarre "matrix."

Part III of the series quotes verbatum a brilliantly worded, intelligent resignation letter written by a woman who worked for NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab for nearly 40 years. Yet she has chosen to resign from JPL rather than sign the blanket waiver. Let me give a brief quote: (again, from emails my wife passed on)

The process is, in my opinion, excessive for the purposes of implementing HSPD-12, which is designed to create a "Government wide standard for secure and reliable forms of identification issued by the Federal Government to its employees and contractors (including contractor employees)." I tremble to think what it is costing the American taxpayers to do these investigative checks on long-time, valued, trusted employees who do not work on classified projects and who have not given anyone any reason to suspect they would undermine the security of the United States. That money could be better spent truly enhancing our country's security at federal facilities, airports, and ports. In fact, the 9/11 Commission report addresses this very issue:

Recommendation: Hard choices must be made in allocating limited resources. The U.S. government should identify and evaluate the transportation assets that need to be protected, set risk-based priorities for defending them, select the most practical and cost-effective ways of doing so, and then develop a plan, budget and funding to the implement the effort..."

Please help. Read the full diaries at Culture Kitchen (there is lots more info to absorb) and pass it along. The Washington Monthly already picked it up, but we need as much exposure as we can. The NASA scientists have already told me that the publicity I have gotten them has raised their morale. But they also want us to help by contacting our Congressional Reps and get them looking into this. Some Congressional Reps from both parties have taken an interest. Please ask yours to help. Senators and Presidential Candidates, too.

Originally posted to mole333 on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 11:09 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  From what I've read elsewhere, this (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie Haskell, Lashe, sdgeek, jessical

    effort appears to be coming mostly from NASA, rather than "all Federal employees" (unless you have evidence of more widespread application).  I'd heard of the confrontation at JPL, and from what you write, it has spread to GISS as well.

    I understood that the people at JPL had hired legal counsel and were seeking an injunction against enforcement of this decree.

    •  Well... (10+ / 0-)

      HSPD#12 applies to all agencies. Each and every Federal government employee, contractor, student, etc. It is not just NASA. NASA happens to be an early application of the process.

      And, if you read the first diary, already BLM and Dept. of Ed are getting hit. There has already been one person at BLM who was fired for refusing to sign who filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit did not challenge the basic procedure but got her unemployment benefits.

      Unconfirmed reports tell me that the Department of Defense is also feeling this, but that strikes me as a little more expected than the other agencies.

      So this really is every Federal employee, though it seems not all on the same schedule.

      •  Really? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BachFan, Lashe

        My spouse works for Treasury and hasn't said anything about this--yet.

        I'll have to mention it to him.

        Liberal: "I still think it's a respectable word. Its root is "liber," the Latin word for "free," and isn't that what we are all about?"--Mary McGrory

        by mini mum on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 11:55:53 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wait (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          In theory it is across the board. But not all at once. In fact my wife may not have heard about it yet except for the messages from fellow NASA folk at JPL. People in her agency were putting off telling anyone until the last minute. That may be happening elsewhere as well.

          •  I don't think so (0+ / 0-)

            I asked my spouse this evening and he hasn't heard of anyone submitting to this at all. He interacts with other agencies and he hasn't heard a thing.  And we're in Washington, DC.  Usually, stuff like this doesn't stay secret for long in DC.  Somebody blabs eventually.

            It will get very interesting once the union (National Treasury Employees Union) gets involved if it gets that far.  They won't go along quietly with this, I know that much.

            You mentioned BLM and Dept. of Ed. have been affected but how much of this is hearsay and how much is fact?  Could it have anything to do with NASA's technology agreement with DHS?  If NASA is assisting DHS on R&D projects, that would provide additional context for something like this, as opposed to the government acting unilaterally to request blanket background access just for the hell of it.

            Liberal: "I still think it's a respectable word. Its root is "liber," the Latin word for "free," and isn't that what we are all about?"--Mary McGrory

            by mini mum on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 06:05:32 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I know that HSPD #12 applies to all (0+ / 0-)

        Federal agencies, but as you point out, the PD itself doesn't say anything about requiring the extensive background check that NASA is requring.  I hadn't heard about BLM or Dept of Ed.

        JPL Fight Against HSPD #12  JPL plaintiffs expect a ruling on their motion for a preliminary injunction on or before Oct. 5.

  •  Severity A (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, beagledad, lgmcp, Lashe

    Infrequent use or possession of marijuana. Abusive language (Hey...we live in NYC here!). Unlawful assembly (which some protests we have participated in might qualify as!). Attitude (in an employment context). Personality conflict in an employment context. Loitering. Traffic violation.

    This is interesting. Does this mean NASA and/or HSA views marijuana use/possession as being just as bad as loitering or the occasional F-bomber? I thought it meant we were helping the terrorists when we smoke weed.

    It appears one Right Hand doesn't know what the other Right Hand is doing.

  •  just one more way (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, BachFan, Lashe, OHdog

    these crazies are trashing science in America

    they'll just drive people elsewhere

  •  Can she not sign up... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and go and work for a private company?

    I looked through that suitability matrix. are they actually going to get the people they need--solid, independent thinkers who can look at things differently--when they stick up so many different barriers.

    The "how many months since" question/chart is fascinating. If you haven't done X in 180 months, it's not an issue.

    180 months? That's like over 12 years...


    "Computer. End holographic program...Computer? Computer?"

    by kredwyn on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 11:49:40 AM PDT

  •  Some walls are physical like the Berlin wall (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lashe, jfm

    the Israel-Palestine wall, and the US-Mexico wall. Others like this are virtual walls of ideological purity to exclude anyone that does not meet some ethnic, racial, religious or political standard. Countries with walls at their borders tend to create these internal walls against their own citizens.
    This intrusion can easily be extended to cover all the employees of any company that has government contracts. The Home Land knows best.

    I want to hear somebody asking them why They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are But theyre never the ones to fight or to die - J. Brown

    by OHdog on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 11:55:49 AM PDT

    •  The Nazis did this too. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jordman, OHdog, jfm

      Basically, you have to be a part of the cult to fit into this kind of milieu. It's a way to enforce obedience, and also to create dossiers with which to enforce obedience under threat of blackmail and career destruction. Once you're in your 'made' and cannot leave if you want to continue at the same standard, for you will be black-listed in your profession.

      As for the corporate/government dichotomy. There will be no difference in a few years' time, as all governnment agencies will be outsourced under corporate contract.

      This was done at NSA after 9/11 to get around the oath to uphold the Constitution.

      Thanks for passing this along to us here at the big orange.

  •  Snow Crash (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Halcyon, BachFan, Lashe, OHdog

    Neal Stephenson's third novel, has a description of a federal government that made itself vestigial due to insane regulations and absurd levels of spying on its employees. Often the days news reminds me of different elements from this book.

    The biggest threat to America is not communism, it's moving America toward a fascist theocracy... -- Frank Zappa

    by NCrefugee on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 11:55:53 AM PDT

  •  This "background check" is beyond wrong (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mole333, LakeSuperior

    I'm not even sure where to begin, this is so utterly eff'd up. I've started this comment several times, and had to go back and delete because it degenerates into cursing exclamations of disgust. While (likely) an accurate commentary, it's not at all helpful.

    I guess for now, I'll just point out a couple of the quotes that really summed it up for me, from those who are dealing with this situation first hand:

    Susan's resignation letter (in part 3) does a very good job of analyzing the mess, point by point.

    The comment by Dr. Robert Nelson in part 1 also points out the depressing absurdity of this method of "meeting" the "requirement" (bolding mine):

    Apparently the forms we are being required to fill out (sf85 and sf85p) are voluntary. We are being asked to voluntarily waive our constitutional rights. We are not being required to do it. HOWEVER IF WE DECLINE TO PROVIDE THIS INFORMATION WE WILL NOT BE FIRED. BUT WE WILL NOT BE GIVEN A BADGE. Hence we will not have access to our offices or our computers...Thus we will be derelict in our duties. For further information of this novel management approach please see (Kafka, Franz, The Trial, ISBN 0805209999...)...

    Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that His Justice cannot sleep for ever. - Thomas Jefferson

    by Lashe on Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 12:08:53 PM PDT

    •  Indeed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      My wife doesn't usually get this worked up about this stuff. And she almost never gets involved in the blogging. This time she alerted me to this issue, wanted me to blog it and helped with some of the research and typing.

      As far as I am concerned you are welcome to curse. I know they don't like it around here, but you can come to Culture Kitchen and let it all out if you want. We don't mind so much.

  •  A few reassurances.... (0+ / 0-)

    I'm a DoD employee with a security clearance (i.e, been through the SF 86 process), and might be able to shed a bit of light.

    First, though, I'm in full agreement that requiring this sort of background check for any sort of federal job at all is overkill, especially at a scientific agency like NASA where many of it's "facilities" are really parts of universities.  

    That being said, what they'll actually investigate is probably a lot less than you're imagining (though the forms can certainly make you think that).

    Even for a "SECRET" level clearance, all that is generally done is to check the subject against various national databases, notably FBI and the like to see if there have been any criminal convictions or arrests.  They probably also run a credit check, verify your current and past addresses, check foreign travel against INS records.  They usually do not interview anyone about you.  

    Generally if you aren't a known criminal or known foreign spy, and the basic residence/school/employent data you provided checks out, you're fine.  If you have relatives in North Korea and spent three years working in Moscow for a vanished Russian bank, it'll be more complicated.  Casual drug use that stopped a few years ago isn't usually a problem.

    You do have to grant permission to request info from mental health providers, but at least for a SECRET, all they ask is something like, "Is there any reason this person shouldn't be trusted with a national security position, possibly including access to nuclear weapons?".  They do not look for info on your sexual behavior, and being gay is not an issue (Bush Sr. eliminated that as an automatic concern).  

    It's different for higher-level clearances; for those they will interview you and co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Even then there's little to no effort to dig into your private sex life or politics short of involvement with groups seeking to overthrow the government.  Questions of acquaintances often center around honesty and reliability, unexplained wealth or known financial troubles, and making sure stories are consistent.  If it comes out that a subject is well known for cheating on his wife that's an issue; they won't give a hoot if you and your wife violate a 200-year old state law against kissing on Sundays.

    Given the huge expense and time for detailed investigations, to investigate millions of ordinary federal employees they are certainly going to have to be much less thorough.  I suspect for the SF 85 investigations it's just database checks, particularly for criminal records.  

    As for that "suitability matrix", I'm pretty sure they mean actual criminal convictions for things like "carnal knowledge", which as you note is what some states call certain sex crimes.  I also suspect that matrix is rather old -- note that it refers to no dates later than 1990 and includes no examples of computer crimes, for example.  

    Bottom line:  you are quite right to be outraged about having to go through this and to there even being the possibility of scientists losing their non-classified jobs over such issues.  As a practical matter, though, it's very unlikely anyone will be denied their ID approval unless they have criminal convictions they've been hiding.

    •  Agreed... (0+ / 0-)

      But, in Bush America, signing a blanket waiver (which is included even in form 85) allowing just about any investigation is a pretty worrisome thing.

      On a practical level I think my wife and I are not so concerned. In a lot of ways I don't think they WANT to bother us too much since we are vocal, articulate, politically connected, fairly well off New York Jews. We aren't any more radical than your average Jewish New York Democrat.

      But as people who really would like to see Osama bin Laden captured, we don't really think making people take off their shoes in airports or making all Federal employees sign a blanket waiver does the job.

      And as civil libertarians, the implications for America's Constitution is pretty chilling.

      As to the Suitability Matrix, I suspected that by and large it means criminal convictions and such. But some aspects (attitude? personality conflicts?) don't sound like criminal offenses, and other aspects (sodomy) have worrisome legal implications given how they have been traditionally defined.

      "Carnal knowledge" was a major thing that many focused on as outrageous. Hence my extensive analysis to reassure people that it really is a genuine and reasonable legal definition.

      Thanks for the comments. I am contemplating a fourth diary that can give some other viewpoints. I have someone else who has given some interesting points of view. If I can get a good collection that I can quote, I may use them for a fourth diary. If I do, may I use your statements? No promises it will ever happen and it probably won't make it to dKos (since interest here seems far less than interest at Culture Kitchen), but I could see using them along with others' comments.

  •  Every infrastructure is a critical infrastructure (0+ / 0-)

    And every American who has a job needs to be trusted. Thus we **need** security and background checks. Those can go into vast invisible files. So if any one us steps out of line the private army can give us a visit. So we are all good little boys and girls.

    If you think it is hard to stop facism, imagine how hard it will be to throw it off if we keep losing.

    Recommended by:
  •  Sounds a little bit like... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ....the loyalty oath issue from the 50's in a way, only more personally intrusive.

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