Initiatives


Consultative Support and Assistance

The Defense Personnel and Security Research Center (PERSEREC) provides direct support and assistance to personnel, security, and suitability policymakers in a number of government agencies. For example, we provide quick response studies and analyses for the DoD Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Intelligence and Security), the Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service as well as the Office of the Director of Administration and Management and Washington Headquarters Services. In addition, PERSEREC provides consultation and assistance to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs through the Nuclear Matters and Physical Security Enterprise and Analysis Group, and Office of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2. In collaboration with the Director of National Intelligence, these DoD offices are sponsoring the development and implementation of a new Continuous Evaluation capability and we are providing assistance for this effort. PERSEREC also provides support to the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive in performing its responsibilities in connection with the National Insider Threat Task Force and serving as the Executive Staff for the Security Executive Agent.

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Automated Continuous Evaluation System (ACES)

ACES was developed by PERSEREC over a period of several years as an automated approach to assessing eligibility for access to classified information in between an initial background investigation and a periodic reinvestigation (PR) or, during the career of a cleared employee, in between PRs. As this program has developed, however, its potential for streamlining the expensive and time-consuming clearance process is becoming apparent. Use of ACES may help avoid costs associated with the use of manual investigative leads by triggering case expansion only when necessary and through the replacement of record checks that are not fully automated. With regard to response to the insider threat, when fully operational, ACES will offer to the DoD earlier detection and intervention and an increased range of issues for determining vulnerabilities. Human resources will be required only when issues of concern are discovered.

The system, as it currently stands, can query over 40 different government and commercial database records to identify cleared personnel who appear to be engaging in behaviors of security concern that may indicate personal vulnerability (e.g., substance abuse, criminal behavior, or financial problems) or possibly espionage-related activities (e.g., unexplained affluence). Additional databases are currently being added or evaluated for their productivity of security-relevant information.

ACES utilizes sources of information pertaining to the 13 Adjudicative Guidelines for determining eligibility for access to classified information. In 2008 the ACES system was used to demonstrate the productivity of an Automated Record Check (ARC)-enabled case flagging strategy. This research supported subsequent revision of the federal investigative standards to authorize and require ARC-enabled expandable focused investigations. The ACES system is currently being utilized in various pilot evaluations in concert with the Continuous Evaluation Concept Demonstration initiative that DoD is conducting in collaboration with the Office of the Director for National Intelligence. ACES also is being evaluated as a tool for improving the screening of applicants for military service.

Possible uses in the future for ACES include (1) the triggering of expanded investigations when new issues are detected, (2) record checks to support initial investigations and continuous evaluations, and (3) its use in concert with other systems to trigger counterintelligence (CI) investigations when issues of CI concern are detected.

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Adjudication Decision Support (ADS) & eAdjudication

The ADS initiative explores the use of computer automation to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of determining eligibility for access to classified information (the granting of security clearances). The security clearance process involves two main steps: investigation and adjudication. First, personnel security investigators collect information about an individual’s personal history as it relates to loyalty, trustworthiness, and reliability. This background information serves as the basis for determining clearance eligibility. Adjudication is the process of reviewing this information and rendering a decision. Research results have shown that an ADS system can reliably process the electronic results of personnel security investigations, i.e., “e-Adjudicate” the information and, consequently, eliminate the need for human adjudicative review (“h-Adjudication”) of investigations that contain acceptably minor adverse information.

An automated ADS system greatly shortens case processing times for the cleanest cases, facilitates the initial review of complex cases by adjudicators, reduces adjudicator workload, increases adjudication consistency, and facilitates the assignment of complex cases to adjudicators with relevant expertise. This automated clean-case screening system makes use of information on policy, criteria comparable to those of expert adjudicators, and empirical research to reach determinations that accord with the federal standards outlined in the Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information. In addition, the system reliably detects and documents adverse information of security concern to maintain the integrity of the process.

The ADS system processes investigative information typically gathered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for the DoD and is expected to be integrated with other automated record checks such as the Automated Continuous Evaluation System (ACES). The ADS decision rules and technology were thoroughly tested to ensure that cases can be approved without increasing risks to national security. Approximately 30% of SECRET-level clearances for DoD organizations using ADS electronic adjudication (eAdjudication) are automatically approved. eAdjudication rules are being developed for additional security investigation types as well as for application to suitability background investigations. ADS is currently saving the government, industry, and taxpayers millions of dollars, and substantially expediting the process of clearance applications and renewals. As part of the government-wide security clearance reform initiative guided by the Executive Branch Performance Accountability Council, ADS eAdjudication, implemented in DoD in February 2009, is being expanded to include other agencies. Approximately 50% of all personnel security and suitability investigations may eventually be eligible for expedited approval by an ADS system.

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Cybervetting and CyberPsychology Security Risks

Cybervetting can be defined as checking blogs, social media sites, and other Internet-based sources to identify issues of security concern applicable to people holding or seeking positions of trust. PERSEREC’s initial effort entailed working with the national security and law enforcement communities to identify the primary legal, privacy, policy, and procedural considerations that should be taken into account when establishing a cybervetting program. Pilot projects are planned to test the efficacy of cybervetting. In addition, a series of CyberPsychology studies are exploring how certain types of activities in cyber environments, such as Second Life, can spill over into negative effects on workplace reliability, judgment, and other areas of personnel security concern.

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Personality Disorders that are Security and Safety Risks

Security and safety problems are sometimes caused by individuals with particular personality disorders. Identifying such individuals is difficult because: (1) traditional clinical personality assessment methods have diagnostic weaknesses, and (2) there is insufficient information on which personality disorders relate to the greatest security, safety, and reliability risks. To address these challenges, PERSEREC initiated a two-phase study. In Phase I, 20 personnel security adjudicators from four government adjudication centers served as expert raters on behavioral characteristics that are security risks. The raters identified the characteristics of a hypothetical risky person using the 200 behaviors of the Shedler-Westen Assessment Procedure (SWAP)-a validated and recognized personality assessment instrument designed to assess aspects of personality that are neither accessible via self-report nor readily observable by others. Successful results were used to develop item weights for the Dispositional Indicators of Risk Exposure (DIRE)-a new SWAP scale. In the Phase II field test, clinicians used the SWAP/DIRE method to evaluate the security and mental health fitness of individuals employed in a sensitive government nuclear program. Clinicians reported that the SWAP and DIRE significantly improved their ability to assess important aspects of employees’ mental fitness, including the presence of risky personality disorders. Phase III research results continue to support the criterion validity of DIRE with respect to behaviors of security and safety concern.

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Investigation & Adjudication Quality

PERSEREC developed tools that have been implemented in DoD to assess the quality of personnel security investigations (PSIs) received by DoD central adjudication facilities (CAFs) as well as the documentation accuracy of adjudication decisions made by DoD adjudicators. Quality review helps promote standardization and contributes to goals specified in Executive Order 13467. The success of PERSEREC’s quality review program was instrumental in the 2011 decision by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to remove DoD’s personnel security clearance program from GAO’s list of "High Risk" program areas. These quality review tools play a critical ongoing role in empirically assessing personnel security program strengths and problems, and bringing them to the attention of stakeholder groups such as the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), DoD adjudication facility representatives, and the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security (DUSD [I&S]). PERSEREC quality initiatives recently implemented by DoD include the online "Rapid Assessment of Incomplete Security Evaluations" (RAISE) for monitoring investigation quality, and the "Review of Adjudication Documentation Accuracy and Rationales" (RADAR) for monitoring adjudication documentation quality.

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Improved Insider Threat Detection and Mitigation

Reviews of serious incidents, such as the Ft. Hood and Washington Navy Yard tragedies as well as the WikiLeaks data case found failures to capitalize on available information in detecting and monitoring potential insider threats. Despite red flags that should have triggered a response, critical information was not assessed, mismanaged, or not reported to commanders and supervisors in a position to act. PERSEREC is undertaking an initiative to improve the identification and management of DoD personnel who pose a safety or security threat. One aspect of this initiative focuses on improving the monitoring of personnel with security clearances through use of additional public records and appropriate social media data. We are determining the utility of these information sources and the conditions where their use is both legal and consistent with individual privacy protections. The goal is to develop a risk-rating tool that provides early detection and automatic alerts to commanders, supervisors, and other relevant officials when insider threats are present. A second aspect of this initiative focuses on making known relevant derogatory information more accessible to commanders. Presently, much of this information resides in temporary files maintained by local commanders. A need exists to bring this information into a central repository where it can be made available to commanders when concerns about service members’ radicalization, trust betrayal, potential for violence, unreliability, or unsuitable performance arise.

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Migration of the Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS)

PERSEREC is participating in a multi-agency effort within DoD to prepare the JPAS database for migration to its successor system, the Joint Verification System (JVS). JVS will be a component of the Defense Information System for Security (DISS) family of systems being developed as part of the effort to reform the security clearance process within the federal government. PERSEREC’s roles in the migration effort include identifying problematic data, ensuring data is accurately transferred from the old to the new system, assisting with design of mapping data elements from the old system to the new one, and lending subject matter expertise to aid in the design of the new system. A small team of PERSEREC analysts is working closely with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) colleagues to complete the transition, and going forward PERSEREC will continue to play a role in the new JVS, providing data validation and analysis services.

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Guides for Security Professionals

PERSEREC is currently updating two guides for use by security professionals.

The Adjudicative Desk Reference (ADR) is a comprehensive, softcopy-based reference work for personnel security adjudicators, investigators, and managers. It is a comprehensive collection (500+ pages) of background information about the issues covered by the 13 adjudicative guidelines. For each guideline, such as Alcohol Consumption, it provides information that an adjudicator or manager might want to know about that behavior (i.e., alcohol abuse or dependence) before making a decision, or that an investigator should know in order to formulate the right questions. This background information about adjudicative issue areas is not U.S. Government policy, so it may not be cited as an authority for denial or suspension of access. It is a job aid to assist personnel security adjudicators, investigators, and managers in implementing the U.S. Government personnel security program. The ADR has also been useful to appeals panels and lawyers dealing with security clearance decisions, personnel officers making suitability and trustworthiness decisions, and Employee Assistance Program counselors. The ADR recently was updated to reflect changes in the adjudicative guidelines and new academic research on the topics covered by these guidelines. The ADR has been recommended for use by the Security Executive Agent Advisory Committee.

The Online Guide to Security Responsibilities is a comprehensive, web-based collection of security and threat awareness information. It is intended to make almost everything an organization might want its personnel to know about security, or that your personnel might want to know, available on their computer desktop with a few clicks of a mouse. Organizations can customize it, if desired, to fit their specific needs. It is also a good source of material for security professionals preparing awareness briefings or articles for newsletters. Topics covered include procedures for protecting both classified and sensitive unclassified information, standards of personal conduct, foreign espionage methods and threats, risks associated with foreign travel, counterintelligence and terrorism, spy stories, computer vulnerabilities, vulnerability to communication intercepts and eavesdropping, and more. In hard copy, there are over 600 pages of material.

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Consolidation of DoD Central Adjudication Facilities (CAFs)

In 1990, PERSEREC assisted DoD with efforts to consolidate DoD adjudication facilities from 18 to eight. In 2010, in concert with Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC)-mandated Central Adjudication Facility (CAF) collocation to Ft. Meade, Maryland, PERSEREC was asked to help with further efforts to consolidate DoD adjudication. PERSEREC supported the initial phase of the consolidation effort by compiling and integrating working group evaluations of various consolidation concepts, including the consolidation concept the group presented to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence for approval. During the second, or Implementation Planning, phase, PERSEREC assisted by compiling implementation plans drafted by groups responsible for key components of the consolidation. PERSEREC also led the workload analysis, with input from the component CAFs and other stakeholders, to help lay the foundation for consolidation by identifying operational responsibilities of the new DoD Consolidated Adjudications Facility (DoD CAF) and the resources required to meet those responsibilities. The DoD CAF is expected to improve the efficiency and standardization of collateral security and suitability determinations, (e.g., through implementation of automated electronic adjudication “eAdjudication” tools designed by PERSEREC) including new vetting requirements of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12).

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Espionage: History, Motivations of Spies, Case Examples of American Spies

In addition to the August 2009 report Espionage and Other Compromises of National Security – Case Summaries from 1975 to 2008, three technical reports on espionage have been published based on the PERSEREC espionage database, the most recent in March 2008. The focus of this March 2008 report is on changes and trends in espionage by Americans since 1990, compared with two earlier periods during the Cold War.

In the report individuals are studied in three groups based on when they began espionage activities: (1) between 1947 and 1979, (2) between 1980 and 1989, and (3) between 1990 and 2007. Findings indicated offenders since 1990 were more likely to be naturalized citizens, and to have foreign attachments, connections, and ties than in earlier periods. They were more likely to demonstrate these ties by being motivated to spy from divided loyalties. Twice as many American espionage offenders since 1990 have been civilians than have been members of the military, fewer held Top Secret while more held Secret access, and 37% had no access to classified information themselves. Two-thirds of American spies volunteered since 1990. The number of persons sending information to Russia plummeted since 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, while increasing numbers have sent information to Asian and Latin American nations. The percentage who received no payment for espionage has increased to 80% since 1990, while recent spies are more likely than in earlier periods to be sent to prison. Substance abuse has declined among American spies since 1990. Among financial motives, debt remained the most common for financial espionage; motives held by one-third of individuals included debt. These and additional findings from this research offer insight into the trends in espionage by Americans, and suggestions for appropriate ways to focus counter-espionage efforts.

The PERSEREC espionage database currently is being updated and a new report documenting recent changes and trends in espionage is under development.

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