Whatever your opinion of Edward Snowden, many people are still trying to figure out how he managed to get security clearance while working for Booz Allen Hamilton. An experience yesterday brought me no closer to an answer to that question, but it did enlighten me a bit as to the strange world of security clearances and background checks.
We have a family friend who is 32-years-old and married with one child. I have tremendous respect for him, and my sons look up to him. He’s incredibly patriotic and quite religious. In fact, his college degree is in Ancient Biblical Languages. A little over a year ago, he signed up for the National Guard and spent a year away from his family training to learn how to repair missiles. He has government clearances to do that work.
Since returning home, he’s been looking for a job. Because he has a real heart for helping people, he initially thought he’d apply to be a firefighter or policeman. So far, the firefighter job isn’t panning out too well. Evidently, in Austin, it really helps to be a woman if you want to fight fires. Last week, he did receive some good news. He aced several background checks and physical tests and was being fast tracked to be a Texas State Trooper.
So yesterday he went for his polygraph exam which is one more step in the process.
That’s where it all got very weird.
He’d barely sat down in the chair when the polygraph examiner told him, “You have about a one in a million chance of passing this test. You’re too clean.”
Then the examiner informed him that most people walk in with pages of lists of things they’ve done wrong in their lives. “Some even know where bodies are buried,” he added.
After putting the cuff on my friend’s arm so tight that the circulation was being cut off, he began grilling him about his life. Did he fight with his wife? Did he ever beat her?
The big question came when he asked him if he’d ever done drugs.
“No,” my friend replied. He’d been around other people smoking pot, but he’d never done drugs himself.
“You’re lying,” the guy responded, “You went to school in Nashville which is a very liberal place. Surely, you’ve done drugs.”
My friend insisted that he hadn’t, but the examiner persisted. Finally, he told my friend that he was failing him on the exam for being “deceptive.” In the examiner’s opinion, surely he must be hiding something.
On top of that, he insisted that my friend sign a paper stating that he felt he’d been treated fairly in the exam or the guy wouldn’t send the application on through Human Resources. Desperate for a job, my friend signed it under duress.
Afterwards, my friend was both angry and devastated. He hadn’t lied so to fail a polygraph was disconcerting to say the least. He’d also been counting on this job because finding a job in this economy, particularly when you also have a military commitment, is tough.
As he shared his story with me, I was stunned. What are they looking for at the Texas Department of Public Safety? Former drug smugglers?
Also, how is it that a guy who has clearance to know military secrets about U.S. weapon systems isn’t qualified to give speeding tickets on the freeway? Something just doesn’t add up.
Last night, I was trying to cheer my friend up. I joked with him, “Maybe you should call the examiner up and tell him ‘I actually do know where some bodies are buried. Now can I get the job?’”
Fortunately, my friend won’t rest until he finds out what was really going on there. I hope he’s successful. In the meantime, I’ll continue to wonder about “background checks” and if I ever get pulled over by a State Trooper in Texas, what horrible things he’s done in his life that helped him land the job.