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Bearing Gifted Geeks

The great need for qualified computer security personnel is now forcing the government to rethink rigid hiring guidelines. At the Defcon computer security convention in Las Vegas, more than a dozen federal agents told attendees that traditional requirements like college degrees and polygraph tests were no longer strictly required for government employment. They also said security clearances are being approved quickly.

Apparently, “very gifted” have the chance of being hired even without a high-school degree. “I just spent five and a half hours last night talking with someone who has never graduated high school. And he is one of the most innovative people I know,” said Dr. Linton Wells II, assistant secretary of defense for the Department of Defense.

I have a hard time imagining an ASD sitting down and talking to anyone for five hours, but as they say; what happens in Vegas . . .

Wells explained that the government desperately needs qualified people as 40% of the senior personnel will be retiring during the next few years. With this upcoming shortage, the government is willing to accept people gaining skills away from schools. “The last standing perception of government service is that you need a college degree,” said Wells. He said this perception does not match reality. According to Wells, many employees, contractors and even people in the senior executive service do not have degrees.

Or they have bogus ones.

All well and good for the technical security field, but I would not expect this kind of loosening to take root any time soon in the halls of the larger IC. The idea that a piece of paper – or the “right” kind of paper – automatically conveys some magical powers that are guarantors of success in the field still holds both line bosses and HR shops in a death grip. Any number of security-issue bloggers affiliated with independent organizations have tried and failed to gain entry into the secret world without success. Academic credentials are less of an issue, but the long wait for a full clearance (no “interim” action at the highest levels) and the roll of the dice that is the polygraph is a strong deterrent. Why bother going through the rigmarole when you can be taken just as seriously, be semi-famous, and probably make more money with less overhead doing the thing you enjoy?

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.