The security week that was: 10/03/08

Murky Matters on Security Clearances

We don't talk much about security clearances on, but it may be time we do. Security clearances are just what they sound like: Permission to access material that is classified in some form or another.

As I understand it, there are three basic levels of security clearances: Confidential, Secret, Top Secret. As you move up that level, the difficulty of the loyalty and background checks is supposed to get harder and harder.

Now, there may be some misinformation that security clearances are only needed for spies and top-level staff inside three-letter agencies. That's simply not the case. Security clearances are given to a variety of employees of the U.S. government -- basically anyone who has to interact with confidential, secret or top secret information. And while security clearances formerly were typically only received by actual government employees, now those clearances are being readily used by government contractors.

What's my point? The point I want to make is that I don't feel that security clearances are being given their due respect anymore.

Recently I was told about a U.S. army troop readiness project where non-citizen contractors with H1-B visas were being given clearance so they could work for this project. The project required the "secret" clearance, which is the mid-level of clearance.

As I was told, a secret-level security clearance typically takes a few months at a minimum to process, but some of these persons, who are not yet U.S. citizens, are already working. The kind of information they have access to involves the readiness of our nation's troops, as well as the weapons and equipment that they would need for deployment.

OK, so here are my questions:

1) Should we suspend the background and loyalty checks for secret-level jobs just so we can get people to work faster?
2) Should non-citizens be given jobs that require them to access government secrets when there are plenty of U.S. citizens that could do such jobs? (One factor here is usually cost of the employee. I have been repeatedly informed that American employees for such jobs usually do cost more.)
3) Are we still giving respect to security clearances?

I'm digging deeper and learning more about this security clearance issue, but from what I initially understand, non-citizens are not technically allowed to obtain security clearances. I'm not sure about you, but having a foreign national working with access to information on our troops' statuses and movements makes me a bit nervous.

Insights into school security Research looks at security in our nation's schools

I spoke this week with three participants in a piece of research on how schools do their security. Despite all of the sentinel events like Columbine and Virginia Tech, the people I spoke with were pretty honest that most schools are still taking a very reactive approach to school security. According to representatives from NASRO, NASSLEO, and CCTV-firm Wren Solutions (the sponsor of the research), schools are still operating such that they fund security improvements only after they have a serious incident. The research (see story on this research) looked at schools and adoption of electronic access control. As you might expect, the old lock-and-key is still very much dominating school access control.

Shoplifters getting better at what they do...
...But so are LP personnel

If you take a look at the 2008 release of data from loss prevention research firm Jack Hayes International, it would seem that not only are shoplifters getting better (criminals stole some $6.7 billion worth of merchandisers in 2007 from just the 24 retailers that Hayes International studied), but also that LP investigators are getting better, too. Apprehensions of shoplifters and dishonest employees were up by 9.16 percent and 17.57 percent respectively. Look for a full review of this research next week.

In other news related to retail security, the Loss Prevention Foundation appointed new board members: Patti Feltz (Polo Ralph Lauren), Monica Mullins (Wal-Mart), Kevin Valentine (Sterling Jewelers), and Stan Welch (J.C. Penny's).

And before I close out this short section on retail security, I should point out LP has a new black eye. According to a post in Curt Baillie's Security2LP blog, the Nordstrom's LP staff at the King of Prussia mall store were doing the very thing they were hired to protect against. Four of the loss prevention staff at that store were involved in the merchandise thefts.

Finally we take a look at our most read stories of the week: