China's hack on the US 'is a significant blow’ to American human intelligence

A second data breach allowing hackers to acquire the security clearance information of 14 million federal employees could compromise the success and safety of American intelligence officers operating abroad.

Experts fear that the hackers’ alleged theft of employees’ SF86 forms — a 120-page questionnaire detailing the personal history of anyone applying for government security clearance — from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) could be used to blackmail, exploit, or recruit US intelligence officers.

Some CIA, National Security Agency and military special operations personnel were potentially exposed in the attack, according to AP.

Joel Brenner, who from 2006 to 2009 served as the Intelligence Community’s top counterintelligence official, described the hack to AP as “crown jewels material, a goldmine” for China, adding: “This is not the end of American human intelligence, but it’s a significant blow.”

The SF86 form is an exhaustive examination of the applicant’s life, including their financial records (including gambling addictions and any outstanding debt), drug use, alcoholism, arrests, psychological and emotional health, foreign travel, foreign contacts, and an extensive list of all relatives.

“I’m really glad to be out of the game,” a recently retired CIA senior operations officer told former NSA intelligence analyst John Schindler in a Daily Beast article.

“There’s bad, there’s worse—and there’s this,” he said, referring to the breach. “CIA officers are not supposed to be anywhere in OPM files, but I’m glad I’m not posted overseas right now, hoping that’s true.”

“When you add this to Snowden, it’s really not a good time to be posted abroad anywhere less safe than maybe Canada or Australia,” a currently-serving CIA officer told Schindler. 

The OPM “conducts more than 90% of all federal background investigations, including those required by the Department of Defense and 100 other federal agencies,” Reuters reported last week.

The government agency also stores the results of polygraph tests, which is “really bad, because the goal of government-administered polygraph tests is to uncover any blackmailable information about its employees before it can be used against them,” Michael Borohovski, CEO of Tinfoil Security, told Business Insider on Friday. “So it’s really a goldmine of blackmail for intruders.”

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This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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