Top-Secret Crate Packers Among Legions Hired With LeakerGopal Ratnam and Danielle Ivory
To the growing list of U.S. jobs that require Top Secret clearances add this one: packing and crating.
A June 2 job posting on the website of CACI International Inc., a government contractor that works for the Defense Department and intelligence agencies, seeks a full-time “packer/crater” to prepare products such as “chillers, generators, boats and vehicles” for shipping.
The listing says the candidate must have a high-school diploma and hold a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance, the type held by Edward Snowden, 29, the former National Security Agency contractor who says he passed information about classified electronic surveillance programs to two newspapers.
From packers to computer specialists, the number of U.S. military and intelligence jobs requiring Top Secret clearances has risen since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the federal government expanded efforts to track and stop terrorists globally. That has made the government more dependent on contractors such as Arlington, Virginia-based CACI to fill many of these roles, and it has increased the workload on investigators who must process security clearances.
“Perhaps the government should take a look at the number of people being granted access to sensitive information” and the security risks of that proliferation, said Robert Burton, a partner at the law firm of Venable LLP in Washington who served as acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in President George W. Bush’s administration.
About 1.4 Million
About 1.4 million Americans held Top Secret clearances as of October, including about 483,000 who worked for contractors, according to data from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Packer/Crater is listed among occupational specialties on the Central Intelligence Agency’s jobs website, which says the job pays $23.94 an hour and requires a polygraph examination.
Access to Sensitive Compartmented Information, or SCI, is limited to those cleared for specific Top Secret programs or information.
Among those with Top Secret clearances was Snowden, who had been working as a computer technician for government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. for less than three months after previously holding a position with the CIA. Booz Allen said yesterday it had fired Snowden, who it said had a salary of $122,000 a year, for “violations of the firm’s code of ethics and firm policy.”
For Booz Allen, based in McLean, Virginia, almost a quarter of annual revenue comes from work for intelligence agencies, according to its annual regulatory filing. About 27 percent of its employees held Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearances, according to the company.
The company, which reported sales for the year ending March 31 of $5.76 billion, was acquired in 2008 by the Washington-based private-equity firm Carlyle Group LP, which still holds 67 percent of the company, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Booz Allen, the 13th-largest federal contractor, competes with Lockheed Martin Corp., SAIC Inc., CACI and other companies for U.S. intelligence contracts.
Jobs seeking candidates with Top Secret clearances are among the five most-advertised requirements in the U.S., according to Wanted Technologies, a Quebec City-based company that collects and analyzes job ads.
While postings for Top Secret jobs declined about 23 percent in March from a year earlier, there were still 20,000 such ads posted online, according to “Hiring Demand Indicators” published in April by Wanted Technologies. All of the top five job categories were related to computer technologies.
Government agencies must turn to contractors for almost a half-million workers with Top Secret clearances because agencies can’t meet their needs for such “highly prized” workers from within, said Stan Soloway, president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Virginia-based group that represents contractors such as SAIC and CACI.
The danger of leaks isn’t exacerbated by having workers for contractors holding Top Secret clearances, Soloway said.
“You’d still have an overwhelming number of people” working in this area, even if the government was hiring federal workers rather than contractors, Soloway said. “The sheer growth in the intel community increased the potential for leaks.”
The demand for workers with security clearances has grown so much that many of the background investigations that once were done by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Personnel Management are now farmed out to contractors as well, said Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore law professor and former member of the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting.
“You couldn’t fill a need as large as it is today if you still depended on the FBI to do field work on every job applicant for a clearance in the government or as a government contractor,” Tiefer said. “So many clearances are being granted that they are doing it by having contractors process the clearances.”
The boost in jobs requiring Top Secret clearances has another effect too: It costs money.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a July 2012 report that the Director of National Intelligence hadn’t provided other government agencies with a clear policy and instructions for determining which civilian jobs needed that clearance.
“Developing a sound requirements process is important because requests for clearances for positions that do not need a clearance or need a lower level of clearance increase investigative workload and costs unnecessarily,” according to the GAO report.
To issue a Top Secret clearance, the government or a designated contractor conducts a Single Scope Background Investigation, which includes a review of everywhere an individual has lived, attended school and worked, according to the GAO. Investigators also interview four references who have social knowledge of the individual, talk to former spouses and conduct a check of financial records. Top Secret clearances must be renewed every five years. Some also require a polygraph examination.
The U.S. spent $1 billion in 2011 to conduct background investigations for a variety of classifications, the GAO said.
In 2012, each investigation to issue a new Top Secret clearance costs about $4,000 with a renewal cost of $2,711, compared with the base price of $260 for a more routine Secret clearance, according to the GAO.
“A lot of security reform efforts have been focused on other aspects” of how intelligence agencies work, Brenda Farrell, author the GAO report said in a phone interview. “This one definitely needs attention.”