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About That Homeland Security Background Check…


Readers will no doubt recall the icky saga of Brian Doyle, the Deputy Press Secretary at Homeland Security who was arrested last week for allegedly talking dirty with a minor over the internet, sending out dirty pictures and a whole lot more.  When I wrote my article about the arrest, I talked a little about the need for better background checks at the DHS. 

There were some questions at the time of the article as to whether or not a background check would have turned up anything about Mr. Doyle that would have raised flags about this latest arrest.  Or about anything at all — the assumption from the questioners being that Homeland Security did some sort of background check on Mr. Doyle and that he screened through okay, I suppose.  Color me skeptical.

Well, this morning I started crusing through my usual blog reads — and look what Jeralyn found:

But this is not the first time Doyle’s alleged Internet habits have got him in trouble. A source told that while working at Time magazine’s Washington bureau, managers discovered that Doyle had been looking at pornography on a receptionist’s computer late at night.

He admitted to the incident, was reprimanded, and was asked to give a formal apology to staffers, the source said.

Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff’s reaction to this discovery?  It was essentially, "Shit happens."  Let’s be clear, as deputy press secretary, Mr. Doyle would have certainly had access to some high level clearance information — you know, things like port security documents and information; airport security documents and information — all those things they are supposed to be doing to keep us safe.  Keeping that information out of the hands of people who want to harm us ought to be a big priority, right?

As reader looseheadprop said about background checks:

An FBI background check includes not only disclosures the subject makes by filling out forms that you cannot believe—sooo much detail–plus records checks for thing like criminal records, DMV, and taxes.

It also involves FBI agents going to every neighborhood you have ever lived in and questioning a minimum of 2 unrelated neighbors who remember you.

Also, the FBI asks you for a list of references and then asks each of those people for the names of two others not already on your list, and asks those people for two more and so on and so on until they just keep getting duplicates.

I was still a law student when I had my first B/G check. It took months. Hell, they located my kindergarten teacher!  (We had a nice telephone reunion)

It has to be redone every five years even if you are still with the gov’t. I still get interviewed when they do the updates on agents and AUSA’s I have known.

If this guy was in the press office at DHS he is potentially exposed to tons of sensitive info. It is beyond outrageous if this guy was not B/G checked. And if a check was done in-house, what the F*** does that say about the competence of DHS to protect us from—–anything.

Congressman Peter King, head of the Homeland Security committee in the House, was appalled:

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y., has vowed to investigate the department’s hiring procedures.

"If there was an incident at Time magazine, Homeland Security above all should have found it," King told the Washington Post. "Homeland Security is our last line of defense, and to be taken seriously, you have to have very, very strict security standards."

Federal officials would not say if investigators became aware of the incident at Time when they conducted a background check on Doyle in 2004, the Post reports.

And Chertoff’s response  when asked if an employee with access to high level security information on a daily basis who might be compromised by an underage porn issue would be a potential security problem for the DHS?

Chertoff, noting that "individuals will misstep," said he doubted Doyle’s offense created a risk to national security based on the allegations.

But he added: "We are always focused on tightening our security. We will certainly cooperate with Congress.

So, let’s recap with some shorter Chertoff:  Shit happens.  A predeliction for underage girlies wouldn’t open a door for potential blackmail.  No security risk there.  Nothing to see.

Good heavens, our national security is in the hands of a bunch of incompetent morons who have no concept of the purpose of a background check.  How about some accountability from Michael Chertoff instead of just the same old brush off?  Is that too much to ask?

Feeling safer? Me, neither.

(Note:  Although there is a question of liability on Time’s part if they disclose this sort of thing about a former employee, I am told, by a reliable source.  Corporations are put in a bind as to what they can or cannot disclose about former employees when they are phoned by potential new employers.  Not sure how this would work on a background check for a high level security clearance sort of job.  If anyone has insights or has worked with this, I’d love your input.  For example, if a former employer fires someone for stealing and a prospective employer calls tham as a reference and they are told that the employee was fired for stealing — and then they don’t hire that person for that reason — in some jurisdictions, the former employer can be sued by the stealing employee.)

(Sometimes, you just see something that is too perfect.  This cartoon made me laugh out loud for five minutes.  It’s a Bennett.)

UPDATE:  Okay, let me make this perfectly clear for everyone:  According to the news article, Doyle was using someone else’s computer in the workplace after hours to do this.  I don’t care what kind of porn he was looking at — imagine finding out that someone was using your desk after hours to do anything?  If it were kiddie porn, I can tell you that had he been turned in every computer on the network into which he had ever logged would have been seized and had the hard drive searched.  Is that something you want to deal with as an employer?  Let alone as an employee whose computer (and all your work product) gets seized along with it?  Good heavens, the porn part isn’t even the issue for me — it’s the fact that he clearly knew there was some policy issue that he was trying to get around, and maneuvered to do so by using other people’s workstations.  If you don’t think that raises a security risk question, then you have the same issues as "Shit happens" Chertoff.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com