Hard Life Lessons from the Land of Q Clearances

In an ongoing effort to share helpful things in life about topics other than delicious coffee & beer, I want to take a moment to discuss something that effects all of us, every day.

Mt. Lassen, Bumpass Hell - I try to display more serenity than the heart of volcano that exploded, but it's hard sometimes
Mt. Lassen, Bumpass Hell – I try to display more serenity than the heart of a volcano that exploded, but it’s hard sometimes.

First, let us review the two fundamental pieces of wisdom that can so easily be forgotten in a moment of blinding internet rage:

  1. NEVER read the comment threads.
  2. NEVER feed the trolls.
You know these moments of blinding internet rage. It is unbecoming of you to lie and say they’ve never happened. They happen when someone, somewhere, on the internet is wrong and you need to correct them. Generally, you forget Rule #1 first, then Rule #2 goes out the window as you read, and then you need to call your doctor to up the dosage of your blood pressure medication (maybe get you some of that nice thorazine too to take the edge off). And if that troll was directed at you, well, it takes a truly serene Buddhesque state to resist their bait.
Let me discuss in a bit more detail why you need to heed Rule #2, in particular, as it relates to folks that work in a land of nuclear secrets.


When you have been entrusted with secrets, it is your obligation to not divulge them. If you are working at a rather secretive, tight lipped company, you are bound by some rather brutal Non-Disclosure Agreements and the breach of contract lawsuit can get nasty. In the Gub’mint, be it military or cleared personnel in other departments, the punishments can go all the way up through treason. In particular, The Man takes a very, very, very dim view of people who can’t keep their lips sealed when entrusted with the keys to the nuclear arsenal.


Now, you may feel that too many things have been classified or that things that have absolutely no reason to be classified, like the amount of toilet paper a given facility purchased, have been. Or that transparency is the only way to keep people honest as corruption breeds in the dark. I’ve lost more than a few friends on the topic of Wikileaks because, for the rest of my natural life or until 10CFR1016 changes, I am obligated to not read ANY of it until it appears in the media whereupon I still can’t comment on it as I am an “Informed Individual”. I am inclined to agree with transparency, declassification, and lack of classification in the first place, in general, but there are some things that I would prefer not be shared willy nilly such as nuclear secrets. And, unfortunately, I am all too aware of the intelligence value of a toilet paper order.


Is you brain hurting yet? Good, you are starting to understand what an NDA or clearance really means if you actually intend to honor your word.


A clearance is a way to verify that people are trustworthy and will not divulge secrets. This is not to say that secrets can’t be gleaned from cleared personnel. We have spent an inordinate amount of money over the last decade to “harden” our security infrastructure but we still have one weak link: people. In America, much of this money has been spent to try to engineer people out of security because people are seen as a source of error. I have seen this time and time again, where the after incident root cause analysis almost always comes to the conclusion that the problem was “a training issue”. Not that Jimbo here is too much of a goddamn idiot to not electrocute himself drooling on his keyboard, but that we just didn’t give him enough training. But that is a separate rant about how America has destroyed our bureaucracy through a lack of trust.


Back to people being a weak link in security. Going through the DOE, FBI, and CIA archives of turned agents and convicted violators, the most amazing part is how easy and how cheaply it has been been to get information from people at the most secured of facilities. Sure, you could try to blackmail them with sexual indiscretions, foster drug addictions, take advantage of the same in their family members, or just outright bribe them, but really that’s a lot of work and expense. The easiest way is to just ask, earnestly and with great interest, for someone to explain their work. People want others to be interested in what they do and it is crushing to be unable to share. To find someone genuinely interested with an inkling of the classified information you already know…conversation is almost too much to resist. This is doubly hard for those of us who also teach because we WANT to share.


Of course, that’s the nice way of doing it. The nastier way is an ego attack (or, if you are the kind of nerd that had the AD&D psionics handbook, an ego whip). It is very easy, with a modicum of knowledge about a person’s work, to level a broadside attack on the work and/or the person. Now, to defend yourself fully you may have to disclose information that you shouldn’t, but, but you know better than this…this fucking troll and YOU HAVE TO AND YOU CAN GODDAMN WIN, RIGHT?!?!


No, you can’t. This is what is so infuriating to cleared personnel, the inability to respond. To get a doctorate, to be willing to put yourself in harm’s way, or to be willing to work with the things no sane person wants to touch? This all takes hubris. To have this hubris is to also be so very vulnerable to ego attacks. Several times I had to go smack someone upside the head for going on a forum and putting the puzzle pieces together. Yes, the individual puzzle pieces weren’t classified, but the full picture is and numbskull had no reason to do so other than, really, showing off.


So, the next time you are tempted to respond to a troll, take a moment to realize that it is bait. No matter how you respond, any response gives up a little bit of your life to the troll. Once you have made that investment, it is hard not to compound it because you need the initial investment to be worthwhile. It takes almost no effort on their part to play out the line to get you to divulge more information.


Take a moment to be sure of yourself. Before you so much as type a word in reply to something that has pissed you off, walk away from the computer and other media that might let you respond. Go to the beach, go to a bar, huff a cat, walk in the woods, give your baby a noogie, whatever. Realize you have better things to do than argue with trolls and that you cannot win this fight, ever.


This message brought to you by Herr Direktor Funranium’s +3 whiskey of troll resistance.