Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Navy Yard incident leads to calls for tighter security clearances. Are the old chestnuts for LGBT people finally roasted?

The discussion of security clearances for contractors, on the radar screen a few weeks ago because of Edward Snowden (and Bradley Manning) and again after Monday’s rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, brings back old chestnuts for me.  Security clearances used to be a big deal for LGBT people.
There is plenty of discussion right now that the procedures for mid-level clearances (Secret) are too lax, and their superficial nature always worked out for me in the days I need them.  When I would apply for a T.S. (either when I was in the Army, and later an employee – ironically – at the Washington Navy Yard from 1971-1972 – details on my IT Jobs blog yesterday) the problem clearly came up.  I had been treated by an individual therapist after my William and Mary expulsion for admitting “latent homosexuality” to the Dean of Men in late 1961, under pressure.  That therapy had run from almost immediately (December 1961) until June 1962.  In July, 1962, I became an inpatient at the National Institutes of Health, in a program set up by a Cold-War-driven Kennedy Administration to look at why “so many” students had difficulty adjusting to away-from-home life as college freshmen.  That isn’t so much of a problem today – 18 year olds are much more independent today than they were in 1961 (the Tyler Clementi tragedy is an outlier). 
The security clearances were actually important when I was in the Army – they kept me stateside and away from Vietnam – another moral quandary.  When I was mysteriously transferred out of the Pentagon in September 1968 to Fort Eustis as my T.S. fell through, I had to recertify the Secret again with an interview with a young Army psychiatrist at Fort Eustis, who asked practically nothing.  (This was indeed “don’t ask don’t tell” in the 1960’s.)
I actually had another period of individual therapy in 1964, after some compulsive thoughts were disturbing to me.

In my history, the discomfort over security clearances seemed to come from my being viewed as a sissy, and weak, willing to let others take the risks, than a real threat. However, I do recall being asked at a TS interview in the early summer of 1972 at the Washington Navy Yard (at NAVCOSSACT), "Has anyone ever tried to blackmail you?"  The answer was no.  Yet even my own father constantly warned me that this could happen. It never did.
Throughout the 70's, 80's and early 90's, available literature on security clearances for LGBT contractors was guarded, even when written by friendly sides like the ACLU.  It was a big issue.  Frank Kameny told Scott Peck on a radio show in 1993 that it was not a "do it yourself" operation. 
So I wonder what would happen today if I were to need a clearance?  Remember, the CIA stopped disqualifying LGBT people in early 1996, after President Clinton’s XO.  I presume the same should be true throughout the security establishment.   The emphasis is on “openness”, not living a double life (which was an obvious problem under DADT – what happened if a gay soldier had a relationship with a civilian with a TS clearance?) 

The same question could come up if I wanted to buy a weapon for defense at home.  Would the background check all the way back to 1961, where most records are probably lost?   

Update: Sept. 19:  I have since learned from the Piers Morgan show that Virginia's gun laws would only delve into my past if I had been involuntarily committed, so, no, there would not be a problem if I wanted a weapon at home. 

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