Earlier today, someone from the federal government came to ask me some questions about a former student who had applied for a job requiring security clearance. The questions seemed to be standard ones off a form.
One question was (more or less) “Does [applicant] to your knowledge have close relationships with foreign nationals?” My honest answer was, prettied up for language, “yes, I think so, given that she was born in another country and has probably not disowned her entire family. Besides, there are a great many foreign students in her graduate program and I assume she treated them more like colleagues and friends than like pariahs.” Then, to avoid harming the student’s chances, I said much the same thing translated from the Snark.
Can anybody help me out here? I have at least three questions: (1) Has this question always been asked of people seeking clearance, or was it a McCarthy-era innovation? (2) Are people regularly denied clearance solely because too many of their friends are foreigners of a nationality we distrust (and if so, has anybody thought about how idiotic that is)? (3) Do other countries ask similar questions? I can’t imagine anybody in France being asked whether he or she suspiciously had friends in Belgium or Germanyâ€”yet I doubt many French security types spy for Belgium as a result.
The whole line of questioning strikes me as antediluvian in a complex and globalizing world in which close contact with non-Americans is becoming both ubiquitous among talented people in urban centersâ€”especially among those with advanced degreesâ€”and crucial to solving our problems of national security (and everything else). Several questions regarding the applicant’s loyalty or disloyalty to the United States were asked separately in the interview, and to my mind legitimately. Is there any conceivable rationale for keeping the question that’s solely about knowing too many fer-ners?