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How Does the CIA Keep Its IT Staff Honest? 238

Posted by timothy
from the vogonic-control dept.
Tootech points out this story for anyone who's been curious about getting that top-secret clearance and the promise of a cushy pension from the CIA, as a reward for decades of blood-curdling, heart-pounding, knuckle-whitening IT service: "Be prepared to go through a lot of scrutiny if you want to work in the Central Intelligence Agency's IT department, says chief information officer Al Tarasiuk. And it doesn't stop after you get your top secret clearance. 'Once you're in, there are frequent reinvestigations, but it's just part of process here,' says Tarasiuk, who also gets polygraphed regularly, though he won't be more specific. For those senior IT managers who are the 'privileged users,' meaning system administrators, 'there is certainly more scrutiny on you,' Tarasiuk says. 'It's interesting: there's so much scrutiny that a normal person might not want to put up with that. But it's part of the mission.'"
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How Does the CIA Keep Its IT Staff Honest?

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  • WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:34PM (#38410344)

    What use would the CIA have for honest staff?

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Funny)

      by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:48PM (#38410470) Journal

      What use would the CIA have for honest staff?

      The rest of them need someone to practice their dishonesty on?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ark1 (873448)

      What use would the CIA have for honest staff?

      You have to be honest to the organization but lie to everyone else.

    • Every organization has its people who just run things.

      Even the CIA needs admins, desktop jockeys, janitors and window washers who have nothing to do with spying.

    • by lexsird (1208192)

      Organized Crime sound familiar? Honestly, Pauly.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stephanruby (542433) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @10:53PM (#38413212)

      ...says Tarasiuk, who also gets polygraphed regularly, though he won't be more specific.

      Polygraphed [antipolygraph.org]?

      I hope they also check each employee's horoscope just to make sure.

      • by Larryish (1215510)

        The usefulness of polygraph tests lies not in the technical aspect, but rather in the psychological aspect.

        I firmly believe that with most of your typical FOX News and American Idol watching American public, you could generate a useful response simply by taping 2 small wires to the tip of each index finger and plugging them into the modem port on a laptop computer and then running a fancy-looking "real-time bar-graph" program on the laptop and allowing them to see part of it it reflected in a window behind

  • Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:39PM (#38410384) Homepage

    By only employing people who are willing to work for money, and paying them well?

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

      by KFK2 (23515) * on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:40PM (#38410400) Homepage

      ... paying them well?

      Haha, good one.. it's a government job.

      • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:52PM (#38410502)

        I'm aware of a few people employed with 3 letter agencies doing sysadmin work at remote facilities that bring in ~$150k. The worse part of it, in my opinion, is that the background checking must be so stringent, it apparently makes it hard to hire competent admins. I've had to walk more than one of them through some basic linux cli stuff like mount, restarting daemons, etc.

        • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Interesting)

          by multimediavt (965608) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @06:52PM (#38411866)

          I'm aware of a few people employed with 3 letter agencies doing sysadmin work at remote facilities that bring in ~$150k. The worse part of it, in my opinion, is that the background checking must be so stringent, it apparently makes it hard to hire competent admins. I've had to walk more than one of them through some basic linux cli stuff like mount, restarting daemons, etc.

          It really does take a "special" kind of person to go and work for the CIA and other such agencies. Not only are the entry requirements and investigations rigorous, the continual monitoring of bank accounts, credit cards, social media, email and regular polygraphed interviews are not what most IT personalities would be down for.

          The pay and other compensation are incredible, though. Has to be for the hassle and the stress of the work. I have known some guys that were/are in "The Agency" and like the work and serving their country. Not for me though.

      • Re:Hmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

        by CrazyDuke (529195) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:03PM (#38410600)

        The fed actually pays pretty well for most of their IT and engineering jobs. Have a look on usajobs.gov if you think otherwise. The problem is, they almost all require TS/SCI, which is neither cheap nor easy to get. Also, if you are "inside the beltway" near DC, the commutes to the suburbs can soak 2 to 3 hours each way even if you live near mass transit. Living in DC on budget is, uh, iffy. Don't get lost.

        The contractors are a mixed bag. Even though the companies often gets paid more for the positions than they would otherwise cost overall, the employees frequently end up either underpaid or are on contract terms that are not renewed and lack benefits.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:49PM (#38410474)

      By only employing people who are willing to work for money, and paying them well?

      If money is the only incentive, I'm certain there are many foreign governments that are willing to pay for inside information.

      • Risk/reward (Score:5, Informative)

        by Quila (201335) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @07:13PM (#38411996)

        Just think of a payoff: They'll pay you a million dollars for X information. You get caught, go to prison for 20 years at least. That's only $50,000 a year. You could have made a lot more than that as a cleared admin, and avoided a romantic relationship with Bubba.

        In reality, they don't usually pay that much for a run-of-the-mill information passer. Jonathan Pollard got $1,500 a month from the Israelis, and got life in prison. Robert Hanssen was a very high level spy, not just an admin, so he got $1.4 million over 22 years, and the rest of his life in prison (where he will die).

        And if you think you're so smart that you have a very low chance of getting caught, then you're an idiot. Hanssen himself was a counterintelligence agent, and that helped him go for as long as he did, but he still got caught.

        BTW, one of the things they check is unaccounted indicators of wealth, and they do ask friends and neighbors, and check your financials. I remember a new soldier was investigated back in the 80s because he showed up one day with a new BMW 7-series. This wasn't even caught during a reinvestigation, they just noticed. Turns out dad was rich and gave him the car as a reward for joining the Army. With such a clear reason he was okay, but had he not been able to show a solid source for the money he would have been in a whole heap of trouble.

    • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by the linux geek (799780) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:50PM (#38410482)
      Employing people monetarily-driven might make them more of an espionage threat.
  • Cushy Pension (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:41PM (#38410404)

    "Cushy pension"? Federal Employees get 1% for each year of service i.e. work 30 years and get 30% of your annual salary as a pension. They also get a 4% contribution to a 401(k). Better than nothing, but not really "cushy". Employees who are required to carry guns get a better deal, but TFA had to do with "IT" employees.

       

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:04PM (#38410606)

      "Cushy pension"? Federal Employees get 1% for each year of service i.e. work 30 years and get 30% of your annual salary as a pension. They also get a 4% contribution to a 401(k). Better than nothing, but not really "cushy". Employees who are required to carry guns get a better deal, but TFA had to do with "IT" employees.

      $150K salary at retirement, 30% = $45K / year guaranteed. That's more than the average working household, so it is pretty cushy. It may even be more than the new IT guy fresh out of college. So each retiree is like a currently employee on the staff.

      Plus keep in mind that these people have paid off their house, put their kids through college, etc. So the 30% of your final salary goes a lot farther than you may think.

      • Relativity (Score:4, Insightful)

        by cmholm (69081) <cmholm@mau[ ]lm.org ['iho' in gap]> on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:29PM (#38410852) Homepage Journal

        $45K salary at retirement, 30% = $15K / year guaranteed. That's more than a two person, poverty-level working household, so it is pretty cushy. It may even be more than the new Walmart stocker drop out. So each retiree is like a currently employee on the staff.

      • by spiffmastercow (1001386) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:45PM (#38410998)

        "Cushy pension"? Federal Employees get 1% for each year of service i.e. work 30 years and get 30% of your annual salary as a pension. They also get a 4% contribution to a 401(k). Better than nothing, but not really "cushy". Employees who are required to carry guns get a better deal, but TFA had to do with "IT" employees.

        $150K salary at retirement, 30% = $45K / year guaranteed. That's more than the average working household, so it is pretty cushy. It may even be more than the new IT guy fresh out of college. So each retiree is like a currently employee on the staff. Plus keep in mind that these people have paid off their house, put their kids through college, etc. So the 30% of your final salary goes a lot farther than you may think.

        Yeah, for a GS-15 maxed out in step increases. Most federal IT workers won't get past GS-12 in their career. And with so many years of pay freezes, they're not going to be anywhere near their top salary when they retire. Also, keep in mind that retirement is all or nothing. If you leave after 20 years but before you're 60, you get nothing.

        • by murpup (576529) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @05:15PM (#38411198)

          Actually, the pay freezes are not stopping the automatic step increases. Just the automatic cost of living adjustments. My agency has taken an effective $25 million budget decrease because our approved budget has remained flat, but because the agency must still pay for all those step increases and promotions, it has to take $25 million from the money we would use for contracting to pay for those added salary expenses.

        • by dadioflex (854298) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @06:45PM (#38411822)

          If you leave after 20 years but before you're 60, you get nothing.

          Why do people put up with that?

          I get that the US is dog eat dog, but why do the dogs put up with it? It comes across as a little third world, every time I see that my insurance covers Panama, Haiti, but not the US.

          Cuba is an effort-free vacation spot. The US? I have no idea. I can't risk finding out.

          • Generally, working for the federal govt in the U.S., for skilled or highly skilled people, means accepting a ~30-year commitment to public service, during which time you get low pay, reasonable insurance, reasonable vacation time, and (theoretically) reasonable treatment from management during your working years. It also means a fair (not guaranteed unless you hired on before about 1983 when the rules changed) shot at a decent retirement package.

            Note in the "inb4" category, just so we don't get sidetracked

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 17, 2011 @05:06PM (#38411144)

        Since I'm a federal employee mechanical engineer I'll let you know my benefits since you can look them up anyway. I live in Orlando , FL and I am 40 years old with almost 20 years experience.. I'm a GS 13 Step 8. My base is $101k but with overtime I usually bring in about $110k. I pay $500 per month for my medical and dental which is one of the higher plans but I still pay copays and drugs are $75 for a 3 moth supply in the mail order.

        The pension is 3 parts now. You pay SS tax like everyone else. You pay a couple hundred towards you pension a month. You get 1% per year of service of the average of your best 3 years. There are some bonuses for delaying retirement and some penalties for taking it early. Unlike the post below you are vested with 5 years of service even if you can't collect until you reach minimum retirement age. Then there is the TSP which is like a very basic 401k. There are about 5 funds you can put money into. You get 1% of salary for nothing and then are matched 100% on the next 4%.

        Overall the benefits are are a little better than the contractors like Boeing that we work with but the pay is less. The biggest benefit is job security.

        • I am 40 years old with almost 20 years experience

          Since you're sharing, do you mind telling us how much vacation you get?

          • With 15 years experience, federal employees earn 1 day of annual leave per pay period, so 26 days total vacation. They also earn 13 days of sick leave a year, regardless of length of employment.
            • Do federal employees get any stat holidays that those in the public sector don't get?
              • There are 10 federal holidays: New Year's Day MLK Day President's Day Memorial Day Independence Day Labor Day Columbus Day Veterans Day Thanksgiving Christmas I think there a lot of private employers who don't give Columbus Day and Veterans Day off, and some who only give Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, and Independence Day off.
    • Re:Cushy Pension (Score:5, Interesting)

      by 1729 (581437) <slashdot1729.gmail@com> on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:32PM (#38410892)

      "Cushy pension"? Federal Employees get 1% for each year of service i.e. work 30 years and get 30% of your annual salary as a pension. They also get a 4% contribution to a 401(k). Better than nothing, but not really "cushy". Employees who are required to carry guns get a better deal, but TFA had to do with "IT" employees.

       

      I wanted to be an FBI agent, and went through part of the hiring process a few years ago when they were aggressively trying to hire people with advanced CS degrees. I dropped out of the process due to the salary: ~$50-62k (depending on location), including the extra "availability" (overtime) compensation. At the same time, the FBI was posting >$100k positions for (non-agent) computer scientists.

  • by Rurik (113882) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:41PM (#38410408)

    But 2008 wants its stories back.

  • by bytesex (112972) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:44PM (#38410428) Homepage

    And that's why we trust the CIA.

  • Honest? (Score:2, Troll)

    by Shajenko42 (627901)
    I don't think most of what the CIA does would qualify as "honest". They're spies, aka liars, thieves and criminals.
    • Re:Honest? (Score:5, Funny)

      by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @03:48PM (#38410464)
      They're spies, aka liars, thieves and criminals.

      Yes, but they are our liars, thieves and criminals. As opposed to the other guys liars, thieves and criminals.
      • >> they are our liars, thieves and criminals

        Well, they're our government's liars, thieves and criminals at least.

      • by mjwalshe (1680392)
        you know the definition of a spy "is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country" :-)
      • Re:Honest? (Score:5, Funny)

        by rhyder128k (1051042) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:37PM (#38410932) Homepage

        Darling: So you see, Blackadder, Field Marshal Haig is most anxious to eliminate all these German spies.
        Melchett: Filthy Hun weasels fighting their dirty underhand war!
        Darling: And, fortunately, one of *our* spies--
        Melchett: Splendid fellows, brave heroes, risking life and limb for Blighty!
        Darling: ...has discovered that the leak is coming from the Field Hospital.

    • Re:Honest? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:56PM (#38411080)

      They're spies, aka liars, thieves and criminals.

      You do realize that the National Clandestine Service (the actual "spies") is only one of 4 departments in the CIA, as well as the smallest department. Most of CIA is comprised of analysts, communications and support staff, and researchers/scientists. And even within the NCS, not every person is an officer, posted overseas and actively engaged in espionage. A lot of them are going to work at headquarters, working on the take brought in by the field officers.

      • Those communications staff are there to recieve reports from the spies, and the analysts to analyse them. The CIA is a spy agency - that is its purpose. Everything it does is either spying, or in support of its spying operations.

        And yes, it's shady, secretive, often underhanded and manipulative, and it uses every dirty trick in the book. That's a good thing, because you can be sure that every other country including those with interests hostile to the US is doing exactly the same. Trying to play honestly
      • by makomk (752139)

        Most of CIA is comprised of analysts, communications and support staff, and researchers/scientists.

        AKA liars, thieves and criminals. By all accounts, the CIA's analysts have a habit of either telling politicians what they want to hear or what the CIA wants them to hear, and even when they're not intentionally lying they tend to get a lot of important things badly wrong.

      • by nurb432 (527695)

        shhhh stop confusing people with facts.

    • I don't think most of what the CIA does would qualify as "honest". They're spies, aka liars, thieves and criminals.

      While that's certainly true of the CIA's operational aspects, their IT guys are mostly just IT guys, just like any other organization -- just with higher value IT assets than most orgs. File storage, printing, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, etc., don't change just because the data is classified. Communications (phones, networks, email, etc.) get rather more complicated, due to security, but ultimately they're after things the corporate world is, too -- they just have rather higher security stan

    • by andy1307 (656570)

      I don't think most of what the CIA does would qualify as "honest". They're spies, aka liars, thieves and criminals.

      You want them lying to the bad guys, not to you.

  • Anyone remember the portrayal of US Fed programmers in Snow Crash? So scary it must be true!

    • by MRe_nl (306212)

      Neal Town Stephenson. Born on Halloween 1959 in Fort Meade, Maryland - home of the National Security Agency.

  • If you treat your IT staff like shit, it's no wonder you end up with staff that can't keep drones out of enemy hands.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Fuck, if they're already putting the nation's security into the hands of a pseudoscientific carnival trick, why not also use an E-meter?

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      It's enough if they can get the employees to think that it works.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      Licensing issues I suspect, "the E-meter is intended for use only in Church-sanctioned auditing sessions". Though perhaps this could be worked around in a loophole if the CIA were to merge itself as a branch of Scientology and declare all its facilities churches...

    • by Gorobei (127755)

      Yeah, let's try to hire technically competent people and scare them with a joke technology "magic lie detector." Sort of ensures your target hire is either an idiot or cynical.

      Why not just find the right people and pay them $300K/year?

  • I have always wondered how Microsoft keeps its staff honest. The open source folks have continued to struggled with closed Microsoft office formats with little or no progress in some areas. Are employees subjected to the same treatment?

    • The open source folks have continued to struggled with closed Microsoft office formats with little or no progress in some areas. Are employees subjected to the same treatment?

      Having read the Microsoft "Open XML" specification, I'm pretty sure Microsoft doesn't really understand all the details of the classic Office file format, either. Seriously. I'd bet good money there's a lot of old, poorly documented that nobody really understands anymore. It was prolly written by programmers in 1995 who have long since moved on.

    • I'd guess an NDA. Standard practice in any industry driven by knowledge. Any employee who leaks potentially valuable information will not only get fired, but become liable for damages totaling more than most people earn in a lifetime. Just make sure the employees know that leaking means financial ruin, and they'll be compliant. There aren't many people for whom software compatibility is a cause worth financial martyrdom.
      • by Alex Belits (437) *

        Any employee who leaks potentially valuable information will not only get fired, but become liable for damages totaling more than most people earn in a lifetime.

        lol wut

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:16PM (#38410734)
    If you read about the actual history and accuracy of polygraphs, you will find that they are not "lie detectors" at all, but merely tools of intimidation. (I could cite many, many sources. While not authoritative, the Penn & Teller show "Bullshit" has a very informative episode on the matter. And yes, the show is called "Bullshit" for a reason. Polygraphs are bullshit.)

    Polygraphs are used as tools for intimidation in order to interrogate. By themselves, they are worthless. They are security theater, much like the TSA. I really hate to see our country run by people who believe in (or pull) this kind of BS.
    • by ark1 (873448)

      If you read about the actual history and accuracy of polygraphs, you will find that they are not "lie detectors" at all, but merely tools of intimidation. (I could cite many, many sources. While not authoritative, the Penn & Teller show "Bullshit" has a very informative episode on the matter. And yes, the show is called "Bullshit" for a reason. Polygraphs are bullshit.) Polygraphs are used as tools for intimidation in order to interrogate. By themselves, they are worthless. They are security theater, much like the TSA. I really hate to see our country run by people who believe in (or pull) this kind of BS.

      Sure polygraphs are far from perfection but is your normal job interview perfect at assessing if you are the best candidate for the job? Is a 2 hours exam best way to assess your technical skills? Or reference checks? To me its just another step in what is a subjective process anyway.

      • he had a lot of mental tricks to do it too. he convinced HIMSELF that he wasn't lying, and then he was able to tell the interviewer he wasn't lying without breaking a sweat.

        id call his argument structure something like 'post modernism' crossed with lawyer-speak. i dont remember the details but it was something like this:

        say you steal 50 grand. you give it to your wife. she buys you a fancy car.

        also, it just so happens her parents are rich.

        the interviewer asks you 'where did the money come from for the car',

        • by pla (258480)
          he had a lot of mental tricks to do it too. he convinced HIMSELF that he wasn't lying, and then he was able to tell the interviewer he wasn't lying without breaking a sweat.

          Oh, good - So true sociopaths should have no trouble at all getting cherry positions at the CIA.

          I feel better that a known-flawed screening method only lets through the worst of the bad, rather than merely missing the borderline candidates.
      • by dbIII (701233)

        Sure polygraphs are far from perfection

        Let's see - invented by a guy that wrote comics and adopted by Edgar J Hoover at his most corrupt without any third party establishing whether it actually worked. Sure, it cost the FBI money, but that wasn't Edgar's money and I'll bet he got a bit under the table. You are correct, that is a long way from perfection.
        We can't even tell if people are lying by using an MRI. This little bit of snake oil doesn't even attempt to do anything more than get itself sold.

    • by gatkinso (15975)

      Well, I don't know if the polygraph works or not. I suspect it doesn't... but then again I don't know that for sure.

      I took an polygraph exam for the NSA - full scope polygraph. I failed. Don't know why - I told the truth.

      Then again maybe the truth was the problem. Who knows.

      It boils down to this: it is an interview. They ask questions, you answer. Regardless of how they evaluate your answers (using science, quackery, guessing, or witchcraft), you either get the job or you don't. It is that simple.

      • They make sure everyone "fails" the polygraph test. They ask you questions that they think they know the answer to and claim some squiggle proves you were lying. Except the machine is constantly making squiggles, so they get to choose which answers they interpret as lies. Then they use that "proof" to badger you until you confess to whatever it is that they already think you did.

        In the context of an interview, if you don't reveal anything embarrassing or unflattering because you're not intimidated by the po

        • by gatkinso (15975)

          In this context I meant "fail" to mean "I was denied employment."

          That is, the adjudicators decided I was unsuitable. For all I know I actually passed the exam itself.

          Oh well.

        • by gatkinso (15975)

          Oh BTW, your statement

          "They ask you questions that they think they know the answer to and claim some squiggle proves you were lying."

          is false. The questions are seem canned, and are very general "Have you ever been part of a terrorist group" "Are you hiding involvement with a serious crime?" "Did you lie on your SF-86" stuff like that.

          At least that is how it was for me.

  • by whoever57 (658626) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @04:17PM (#38410750) Journal

    I would have more respect for them if they did not rely on an instrument that is easily fooled and has no scientific basis for its use -- the polygraph.

    The polygraph is the security industry's equivalent of chiropratic to the medical industry.

    • I would have more respect for them if they did not rely on an instrument that is easily fooled and has no scientific basis for its use -- the polygraph.

      The polygraph is the security industry's equivalent of chiropratic to the medical industry.

      They don't rely solely on a polygraph! They're not as stupid as that. It's more of a prop to create an uncomfortable environment. Sure, it can detect variances in physical attributes that are tied to lying, but they are not the only "instrument" used. You do know that modern chemistry started out as "pseudoscience", it was called alchemy. Actually, a lot of the science we have today came from pseudoscience, before the invention of the "scientific method" and repeatable results. Science is a process that

      • by whoever57 (658626) on Saturday December 17, 2011 @08:34PM (#38412504) Journal

        The polygraph is just one part of the science used to detect lies, not the sole source.

        I don't think you understand the word "science". Science is more than repeatable results.

        Sure, it can detect variances in physical attributes that are tied to lying,

        No, actually, when scientific methods have been used, it has not shown to be effective at detecting lies. In fact, it has been shown many times that it is trivially easy to fool. The polygraph may detect certain responses, but there is no science that links those responses to lying. In other words, science, when applied to the polygraph shows that it is not effective.

        The real problem with relying on crutches such as the polygraph is that a negative result is more likely to allow a real spy (who would know how to "pass" a polygraph test) to continue undetected than not using the tool at all.

  • They constantly attempt to entrap each other so know one will ever know if that opportunity in front of them is real or not.

  • All others we polygraph.
    • by C-Shalom (969608)

      All others we polygraph.

      More like:
      In Elected Officials we have to trust.
      All others we polygraph.

      The Senate Foreign Intelligence Committee is a great example of this.

  • Hopefully good for all of that scrutiny.

  • It may be the CIA that is getting this treatment, but in another 10 years i can see the average IT guy getting the same treatment, thanks to the homeland security department.

  • ... Guantanamo Bay. Crystal clear water. Luscious beaches. What's not to like?

Nobody said computers were going to be polite.

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