Excerpt: Screening the System


The following excerpt comes from Screening the System: Exposing Security Clearance Dangers (February 2017) by Martha Louise Deutscher. 

From Chapter 1: The Many Faces of a Threat

Ethnicity, Nationality, and Other Threats

When Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt’s national security priority shifted to organizing the nation for global war. Before Pearl Harbor, the FBI was already tracking elements and organizations that were suspected of loyalty to Germany, Japan, or Italy, and many people were arrested in the weeks after; seven thousand German and Italian aliens (non– U.S. citizens) were moved away from their homes on or near the West Coast and, along with 110,000 people of Japanese heritage (most of whom were U.S. citizens), put into “war relocation camps.” Americans of Japanese descent were also banned from joining the military at the time. For example, Daniel Inouye, future Medal of Honor recipient and U.S. senator, was only allowed to serve as a medical volunteer in his home state of Hawaii when the war broke out. But in 1943, when the U.S. Army dropped its enlistment ban on Japanese Americans, Inouye enlisted in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a U.S. Army unit of second- generation Japanese Americans.15 Many Americans of Japanese descent who had been previously interned with their families volunteered to serve their country.

Just as the ethnicity of specific citizens was seen as a threat during World War II, so are certain groups of federal workers undergoing undue scrutiny in the twenty-first century. The FBI’s Post-Adjudication Risk Management Plan, or PARM roster, has more than doubled since its inception after terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. The program singles out hundreds of FBI employees who were born overseas or have connections abroad for additional surveillance, ostensibly to prevent foreign spies from recruiting them. Authorities say that federal employees with foreign connections can pose potential national security risks. But they are speculating, as they have done throughout U.S. history when specific groups of people, including categories of federal workers, have been identified as threats to the state. I believe that one way to mitigate actual security risks is to reassess the assumptions underlying programs like PARM. Authorities have been wrong in the past about who poses a national security risk. For example, there are those thousands of federal workers who lost security clearances and jobs during the Cold War because they were gay. In the quest for security, a nation of immigrants must rely on the better angels of our nature that reject, rather than perpetuate, xenophobic predispositions.

In the case of the FBI’s PARM program, the government may be working against its best interests. The United States needs diverse and talented employees. A report to the president and the Congress by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board in January 2013 states that employees of the federal government and applicants for employment should receive fair and equitable treatment in all aspects of personnel management “without regard to political affiliation, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or handicapping condition, and with proper regard for their privacy and constitutional rights.”16 Senior FBI officials insist that inclusion in the PARM program is neither discriminatory nor a barrier to career advancement. Yet it is the rare individual who runs afoul of the security clearance system and emerges unscathed. And many at the FBI feel their careers have been hampered because of the very skills they were hired for possessing, such as languages and regional and cultural familiarity.


15. Yenne, Rising Sons.
16. U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, Managing Public Employees.

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