The following essay on investigations deserves a page of its own. For similar "think pieces" on other topics, please see our "Aides Memoire page." A printable copy of this essay can also be found there.
Adjudication of security clearance cases is a relatively straightforward matter. There are 13 adjudicative areas of concern - categories of information related to adjudicative criteria, which must be evaluated against everything else that is known about the person, and a decision made, based on "whole person" information, as to the trustworthiness of the individual. The "whole person" adjudication is required by government-wide standards, since the adjudicator is supposed to be evaluating a person, rather than a single action. And adjudications are, of course, only as good as the information on which they are based.
The adjudicative factors are based on areas of concern and actions which could raise concerns about the suitability of an individual with regard to clearance. An argument can be made, and we would accept it, that certain actions – constituting gross breaches of public trust – are, in and of themselves, always disqualifying. All of the others, however, must be considered in terms both of context (potential mitigating factors) and, again, the "whole person."
The question then arises: "What is the whole person?" Based on precedents established by DOD and OPM (which collectively perform over ninety percent of all USG security clearance adjudications, Concerned Foreign Service Officers maintains that the a whole person evaluation should be conducted using the sum total of information known to the Agency about the individual, including information in performance files, medical files, information from prior background investigations and the totality of information, both positive and negative, gathered during the current investigation. Twenty years of loyal service, for example, should be at least as important an indicator of potential loyalty to the Government as whether or not an employee recently had an affair. DS appears to disagree, in part because they maintain that compartmentalization and "privacy rules" allegedly bar them from seeing some information possessed by the HR section of the State Department. Nor do they seem to make any effort to consider past Personnel Security Background Investigations, allegedly because the information from those investigations could bias the findings of the current investigation. DS appears to operate on the principle that the "whole person" information is limited solely to the information gathered during the current investigation, usually an investigation which is NOT performed according to the rules for PSBIs.
In an adjudication, the objectivity of the investigation is vitally important. Objectivity is vital in any event, of course, and is mandated by the FAM, but it is particularly vital if the investigation is the sole source of information on the "whole person." Every effort must be made not only to ferret out derogatory information, but also to ferret out, with equal zeal, information that could place the derogatory information in context, indicate mitigating factors, and provide the adjudicator with the most complete picture possible of the "whole person" on whom the adjudicator sits in judgment.
There is considerable evidence that this does not occur, in part because many DS agents are insufficiently trained to perform this type of an investigation. They are trained primarily to conduct investigations aimed at prosecuting criminals, which are focussed specifically on the derogatory information which can be used against such an individual in a courtroom or disciplinary setting . In such investigations, not only does one not actively seek out information on mitigating factors but also, including them in your report could potentially damage your case.
Such an investigation is completely different from the type of investigation mandated by law to be the basis for a security clearance adjudication. Concerned Foreign Service Officers feels that they are so different that they should not only be conducted differently, but should also be conducted by different individuals. An agent who primarily investigates derogatory allegations should not do a personnel security background investigation. We note, in fact, that most agencies that do personnel security background investigations (including DoD and OPM which adjudicate the vast majority of all U.S. Government clearances) use dedicated personnel security investigators who specialize in that function.
We do not maintain that it is necessary for DS to hire agents solely for the personnel background function. We do believe, however, that agents performing this function should be specifically trained in the special task required of them, and in the significant difference between this task and a criminal investigation. We believe that they should have the experience necessary to understand actions by Foreign Service Officers in a "Foreign Service context" and/or training in the agency-specific knowledge required to conduct investigations within that context. We also believe that agents performing this function should be dedicated to it, at least for a specific tour of operation. The current method of tasking, combined with the lack of training and inexperience of most DS agents, is clearly producing biased results and clearly is a factor in both the numerous acts of investigative misfeasance we have documented and the repeated failure of DS adjudicators to consider the whole person.