Earlier this month Matt Novak, editor of Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog, dug into the 223-page FBI file for Robert Eugene Allen, the former head of AT&T, and noted that throughout much of his career Allen held security clearance. Allen, who passed away in September 2016, served as president of AT&T between 1986 and 1988, and later as AT&T’s CEO and chairman from 1988 to 1997.
One expects government contracting executives to hold a security clearance. But according to the FBI files, Allen was first granted a Top Secret Clearance by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) in 1975 when he was vice president and general manager of the Bell Telephone Company of Pennsylvania.
In fact, many mid-level employees in the telecommunications sector are likely to hold security clearance today.
“This is commonplace in the wireless, telecom and Internet space,” said Jeff Kagan, telecommunications industry analyst. “Telecommunications is more than just a phone call to grandma on a Sunday afternoon. It’s government, military and corporate. It’s secrets that cannot get out.
“In that kind of world, security clearances are mandatory,” Kagan told ClearanceJobs. “Every employee does not need clearance, but those that work within certain industries or sectors do require it.”
This is also just one reason why the United States Department of Justice must often sign off on mergers and acquisitions in this business sector. In early October, for example, the U.S. DoJ agreed to clear CenturyLink, Inc.’s pending acquisition of Level 3 Communications, Inc. CenturyLink provides telecommunications services for U.S. homes and businesses – as well as the federal government and Department of Defense.
“Unquestionably the operations centers of major telecommunications firms have interfaces with federal agencies responsible for security matters,” explained Jim Purtilo, associate professor in the computer science department at University of Maryland. “As a result the company will need employees with suitable credentials. That in turn means those employees’ supervisors will require clearances, too.”
AT&T’s Global Public Sector
The telecommunications industry has become even more connected with the government and its agencies. Telecom companies are increasingly looking to expand their offerings from commercial to defense and intelligence clients. AT&T created its new Global Public Sector organization in April of this year. The new organization was developed to provide advanced information and communications technologies to government and education customers across federal, state, local and international public sector markets.
According to AT&T, more than 4,000 of its Global Public Sector team members now support its government customers, and 85 percent of those employees have government-sponsored access and clearances. According to AT&T:
“The thousands of AT&T staff members with security clearances provide extensive experience in supporting classified projects for DoD and the intelligence community.”
Like most contractors, the major telecom industries have offices or headquarters in Washington, D.C., along with other major offices in locations from Texas and Colorado to California and Hawaii.
Security Clearance – Need to Know
“Security clearance is common in the telecommunications world where many of these bigger companies have DoD and other government contracts,” said Greg T. Rinckey, founding partner of the Tully Rinckey law firm. “Many of the corporate officers will have clearance as a need-to-know basis for those contracts.”
Many telcom employees will also be granted clearance for existing and ongoing projects with the government.
“The other reason is that these companies are otherwise involved in government programs,” Rinckey told ClearanceJobs. “Often times the NSA will want to talk to these companies about various telecommunications-related programs. It helps if the employees already hold a security clearance.”
That’s a fact other Silicon Valley companies – specifically those involved in social media – are also beginning to realize. If reports are true, Facebook will be looking to join the likes of Google, with its own facility security clearance and security cleared professionals. Good luck with that open-concept SCIF, however.