By Ryan Evans
When you read about the recent hack of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in which China is thought to have filched millions of security clearance application forms, you might have shrugged your shoulders. Just another hack, right? No big deal, right? Wrong. This cyberburglary is an even greater intelligence catastrophe than the Edward Snowden affair. And our negligent leaders, bureaucracies and their contractors need to be held responsible.
When I applied for my security clearance in 2010, as I was preparing to work with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan as a social scientist, I filled out a long form called an SF-86. Practically everyone with a federal government security clearance knows this document. It takes a lot of time to complete and requires in-depth disclosures of a very personal nature. My SF-86 contains my Social Security number, information about my credit history, my job history (including a dispute with a past employer), contact information for my closest friends and family in the United States and abroad, all non-Americans with whom I am close, a list of every foreign official I ever met, every place I lived and people who could verify that I lived there, and much more. If I had ever been arrested or had any history of drug abuse, I would have had to report that, too.
So you can understand my frustration when I discovered that China had likely hacked the OPM and two of its contractors and made off with at least 4 million SF-86s on former, current and prospective U.S. government workers.
Beyond narrow concerns about identity theft, think about the national security implications.
This form provides all sorts of information that could be used to recruit an individual as a spy. In fact, collecting such information is the whole point of the form. The U.S. government wants to assess the vulnerability to recruitment or blackmail of every person given access to classified information. Beijing may now have in its hands the most intimate details of the lives of the human beings responsible for generating and keeping our nation’s most sensitive secrets.
Photo credit: Cliff Owen/ Associated Press