Tell Me About Your Neighbors

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One feature of living in Greater Washington is a visit from pleasant, but direct, trench-coated young men from the Defense Security Service, the background check people. I figured this morning's drop-by would be of the five-minute, seen any-meth-labs-or-artillery-pieces-in-the-yard variety. I was wrong.

Post 9/11 it seems these things are much more in-depth. Three times as long and ranging into areas like, "Seen any foreign nationals?" that definitely were not an area of interest before. Plus much more emphasis on trying to plumb character, asking if they comply with neighborhood association rules and whether the recycling bin might harbor evidence of a drinking problem. (Compared to mine, hell no.)

Also very direct questions about any sign of "extravagance" or outsized expenditures that often—Aldrich Ames for one—do mark some shady goings on. Another new feature was asking about any sign of media buzzing around the prospective clearance-holder, like a TV truck at the house. Guess glory hounds make bad security risks.

In the end I had absolutely no dirt to dish. But what if I had? What if I had seen my neighbor one late night lurch out of a Live-Eye packed with foreign nationals and puke on the curb? Should I feel compelled to share this with the earnest young man from DSS?

I think the answer is probably yes.

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  1. Much as I dislike governmental prying, I think you’re right. A clearance for national security work is not a civil right, and the people applying for these jobs know this.

    The DSS folks aren’t FBI-Hoover-era cultural conservatives either, and they recognize that there’s a difference between unusual behavior and dangerous behavior.

    Also, it’s almost certainly a crime to lie to DSS investigators.

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