The latest revelation that some/lots of feds owe a chunk of back federal taxes isn’t sitting well with the general tax-paying public. But that, bad as it is, isn’t what’s worrying officials concerned with national security. They fear that cash-strapped feds may be bait for blackmailers, both foreign and domestic. People who would pay big bucks for information Uncle Sam must keep secret. It wouldn’t be the first time.
It is especially galling (and chilling) to some people that 83,000 Defense civilians and contract employees, with high-level security clearances, are in the tax fix, according to the Government Accountability Office. It was not clear how many are employees and how many are contractors, although a Defense official who spoke off the record said the vast majority were problem contractors.
But that may not be the big problem!
To many members of the public (and the civil service too) it is hard to understand why the government — where 51 percent of white-collar workers are paid $$75,000 to $157,100 — would tolerate this year after year.
In 2013, right at tax deadline filing, the Associated Press reported that the Internal Revenue Service had given millions of dollars in bonuses to 1,150 workers who owed the IRS money. For back taxes!
Yet that might not be the big, long-term problem!
The GAO’s read-it-and-weep report also disclosed that just over 31 percent of the security clearances were issued despite the fact that the employees/contractors were — at the time they got cleared for classified, secret and top secret data — already another day deeper in debt to the IRS.
Bad as this latest round of news is, it may be just the tip of a much more dangerous iceberg. National security and the threat of blackmail.
We know that foreign powers have been hacking, at times successfully, into government personnel data bases. And seeking and sometimes getting things like names, Social Security numbers, addresses of what could be key members of the federal members of the defense, intelligence, homeland security, heath and safety community.
Agencies like the CIA, FBI and DIA have (on purpose) some of the best employee support programs in the government. They want to make sure workers are familiar with how their workers can maximize their pay and benefits package. And stay out of debt!
Some of the biggest U.S. espionage failures in recent years haven’t been the result of clever, ruthless foreign agents or turncoat Americans fed up with the system. They have been about people who wanted or needed money. Including some of our former neighbors in the D.C. area:
Aldrich Aimes at the CIA got millions from the Soviets before he was caught. He lived very high on the hog yet didn’t arouse suspicion because many colleagues thought he had married a rich woman. But she wasn’t, until she married him.
Robert Hannsen, the FBI’s biggest turncoat, also collected millions of dollars from his Soviet handlers over the years. His “drop” was in a public park in nearby Virginia. He went to the same church as the then-director of the FBI. Some accounts say he was a narcissist who thought he was smarter than anybody else or that he had a grudge against the bureau. But money seemed to be the prime motive.
From the mid-1960s to the mid-80s John Anthony Walker Jr., and later his son, spied on the U.S. Navy for the Soviet Union. They were paid millions for giving away top secrets about naval defense systems which, if compromised during wartime, could have cost thousands of lives.
When something bad happens, people always ask “Why?” I was once talking to an FBI profiler who had investigated a number of horrific mass murders. In two cases, the killers committed suicide. I asked if they ever found the “why” in such cases: “Hardly ever. Not for sure,” was the response.
Walter, Ames and Hannsen had little in common except they were all within the same 5-year age range. But one thing they did have in common: They wanted, or needed, money! And sometimes that may be the driver.