20 October 2011

Trust me

A previous post noted concerns regarding vetting processes within the Australian government. The SMH today reports that -
tens of thousands of Defence Department security clearances are being urgently investigated after fake information was entered to speed the process, officials revealed yesterday. ... Under questioning at a Senate committee hearing, the Defence Department's head of security and intelligence also admitted that 5000 of those clearances were classified ''top secret''. It is the first indication of how widespread the problems were.
The report goes on to comment that -
Claims that Defence Department employees were forced to enter fake data at the initial stages of the clearances were first aired earlier this year.

Whistleblowers said the fake information was designed to fill gaps in personal histories, speeding up the processing of clearances, which were passed to ASIO for further evaluation.

The department's deputy secretary for intelligence and security, Stephen Merchant, told the committee hearing yesterday about 20,000 clearances might need to be rechecked.

At the May Senate hearing, Mr Merchant claimed the fake entries were part of a monitored process - with agreed fake terms designed to spark attention.

He said the ''work arounds'' were agreed to by ASIO.

The Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, last month admitted that neither of those two claims were correct and said that no more ''work arounds'' would be entered without a formal agreement with ASIO.

However, the Herald revealed that in June several clearances were filled in with fake information despite there having been no agreement with ASIO and defence officials telling the committee the previous month that there was no more need for ''work arounds''.
We can sleep soundly, as Mr Merchant is reported as stating that the investigation is ''well-advanced'' and swill be finished shortly. A very similar article in the Age last month - alas, there's a lot of recycling going on at Fairfax - indicated that Merchant will be retiring shortly.