Shin Bet Security Services / Clearance Policy Is Too Liberal

Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman
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Yossi Melman head
Yossi Melman

The State Comptroller surprisingly criticized the relaxed Shin Bet Security Services policy of granting security clearance to individuals who used illicit drugs one time.

The State Comptroller's Report cited Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement that the drug abuse problem is "a strategic threat to the State of Israel," while describing the GSS' gradual loosening of "security screening policy in everything pertaining to the use of drugs forbidden by law."

The GSS has significantly revised its approach over the years, and no longer denies security clearance to those who admit having used "light" drugs once during their lives. These individuals are now granted security clearance for positions that require "security approval" (an official declaration that there is nothing in their history that prevents them from accepting a position with some degree of security classification).

Instead of praising the GSS' liberal attitude, which protects the right to privacy, the State Comptroller disagreed with this approach. One might conclude that the State Comptroller's position is that a young man who smoked hashish or marijuana once should be denied employment in a sensitive security position, because he poses the same "strategic threat" as that of a narcotics smuggler. This also implies that the GSS bears no responsibility in fighting the war on drugs.

The GSS responded that internal investigations in this field "were assimilated in the protocol and working principles of the unit, in an effort to preserve the correct balance between preventing a risk to security and basic rights and freedom of employment."

The State Comptroller's Report based its findings on a probe of two divisions that granted security classifications to those in public service in 2003-2004. Due to security precautions, the State Comptroller decided to present an abbreviated version of its findings to the Knesset.

One of the divisions works in the non-Arab sector, including espionage and sabotage prevention. The report called this division the "investigations division." Members of this division conduct background checks and investigations of candidates for positions. The second division is located in the protections department, and is defined by the report as the "classifications division." This division issues professional guidelines regarding security classification and information protection.

In some cases, the report criticized the GSS for conducting investigations over an excessively prolonged period, in a potential breach of the right to privacy. It reported that 2,000 of the 7,000 drivers who have been cleared by Transportation Ministry to carry potentially hazardous materials were never examined. Moreover, the orders and protocol transferred to security officers who are directed by the GSS security department have not been updated since 1991.

In response, the GSS reported that most of the deficiencies in the State Comptroller's Report have been corrected, or are currently being examined in order to learn from previous mistakes.

In any case, the State Comptroller's Report revealed that GSS probes of a candidate's suitability to accept a classified position represent no more than a recommendation - the service may not force its position on "security authorities" such as the Mossad, the Israel Defense Forces, Israel Police, or the Prison Services.

The report also noted that the IDF appoints candidates to sensitive positions who failed to pass GSS examinations, and does not re-examine military personnel in sensitive positions.

The GSS responded that "the IDF intelligence department is responsible for implementation of periodic security examinations in the IDF."