Caught in a squeeze play

Significantly, both accounts draw on the same policy language, throwing light on an ambiguous set of guidelines written to instruct employees with security clearances on how to deal with foreign nationals.

The case of Kim Gore - a Fort Belvoir employee with a top-secret clearance - raises questions about what a civilian with her access is responsible for reporting to supervisors concerning foreign contact.

Even though the Army determined that Gore did not compromise national security, the case has prompted a U.S. congressman to examine whether there is a need to tighten the language and clarify the policy.

The red flag
Kim Gore had planned on informing her supervisors about the foreign ballplayers she hosted when the breast cancer patient applied to work from home in May 2006.

But when it came to filling out the "flexiplace" form, Gore found no place to include the information on the ballplayers employed by the Potomac Nationals, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. She agreed to allow her employer to inspect her home, and left it at that.

After two months of waiting, Gore said she gave up on being granted permission to telecommute, and thought no more about her ball-playing guests from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Curacao.

Then, with dizzying suddenness, Gore's world went topsy-turvy.

Her request to telecommute was granted on Aug. 23, the day before a Potomac News article was published, featuring her as a host of foreign ballplayers.

When Gore's second-line supervisor learned of the article, he filed a reprimand - Gore's first in 33 years of service - for "lack of candor in your request for reasonable accommodation," and the logistician's electronic access to classified information was suspended.

Though the Army eventually restored her access, the allegations of wrongdoing rankled. "Show me what I did wrong," Gore demanded, and contacted her congressman, Rep. Thomas M. Davis, R-11, then chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Davis, elected to a seventh term in November, sent off inquiries to the Army seeking information on the status of Gore's security clearance and clarification on the policy regarding foreign nationals.

In a November letter responding to Davis, obtained by the Potomac News, Maj. Gen. Michael R. Mazzucchi faults Gore for her "failure to disclose the presence of foreign nationals" to her supervisory chain.

Citing the Potomac News article published on Aug. 24 detailing Gore's host activities, Mazzucchi wrote: "Her supervisors were unaware of this and would not have allowed her to work at home had they known."

The key concern of Mazzucchi, the commanding officer of Gore's employer, the Communications-Electronics Lifecycle Management Command (CECOM), was that Gore was privy to classified information concerning U.S. security interests in Latin American countries, including those countries where her guests were citizens. An Army spokesman for Fort Monmouth, N.J., where CECOM is based, put it this way: "Since the athletes living with Ms. Gore were from nations related to Ms. Gore's work, there is clearly a potential risk to security."

Davis' office also received copies of guidelines outlining Army policy on the effects foreign nationals have on an individual's security clearance. Among the various conditions raising security concerns was this one, roughly articulating the central question of the Gore case:

"Failure to report, when required, association with a foreign national."

Room for interpretation
Mazzucchi's letter and the guidelines the Army sent to Davis' office led a reporter to ask CECOM officials what regulation required an employee to report contact with a foreign national.

Henry Kearney, an Army spokesman, responded that no regulation requires "that an employee must notify their commanders or directors that they have foreign nationals sharing their home" when an individual has arranged to telecommute.

In conversations spanning three weeks in February, Kearney repeatedly stressed the importance of annual security training, in which employees are instructed to notify a supervisor "when they're in contact with foreign nationals that could conceivably jeopardize security." It is left to the employee to assess the risk.

Added Kearney, "As an army employee, if I were in a similar situation to [Gore's], I would have informed my boss."

When the Potomac News contacted Davis' office on Feb. 20 with Kearney's response, the congressman's staff director, David Marin, said he would press the Army for clarification.

Davis, who spent Thursday and Friday in "work-related meetings" in Hampton Roads and Richmond, could not be reached for comment.

"There appears to be a discrepancy between what we were told and what the Potomac News was told regarding the Gore matter," Marin wrote in an e-mail. "The discrepancy also suggests a need to improve policy guidelines for employees, so there is not confusion about what is and is not permissible and so cases like this can be avoided in the future."

David Price, a Virginia Beach-based lawyer who specializes in security clearance cases, said parts of the policy language are left intentionally vague.

"Anything you do, they can throw under Guideline E," said Price, referring to the section on personal conduct in the "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Access to Classified Information," drafted by the Department of Defense.

Falling somewhere between regulations and guidelines are what Price calls "reportable incidents," an event like a DUI conviction that an employee can get in trouble for not reporting. Without full knowledge of the facts, Price could not say whether Gore's hosting foreign nationals would count as such an incident.

"It would have clearly been better for her to report it, particularly if at the same time she was wanting to work from home," Price said in a telephone interview Thursday. "But did she reasonably know that she needed to report this? I kind of doubt that the average person would think so," he said.

Reading between the guidelines
Gore is no stranger to the guidelines, which she scrutinized once she began hosting foreign players. While several possible disqualifying factors appeared related to her situation, none of them, she felt, accurately described it.

The Foreign Influence guideline, for example, lists nine potential security concerns that end with similar, conditional language: "... if that contact creates a heightened risk of foreign exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure or coercion," and "if [foreign connections] ... create a potential conflict of interest ..."

"They don't," Gore insisted, pouring over the guidelines spread out on her kitchen table.

To Gore, the next page of mitigating factors looked like absolution.

One condition reads: "There is no conflict of interest, either because the individual's sense of loyalty or obligation to the foreign person, group, government, or country is so minimal, or the individual has such deep and longstanding relationships and loyalties in the U.S., that the individual can be expected to resolve any conflict of interest in favor of the U.S. interest."

"That's exactly right," Gore said. "I did bond with [the ballplayers], but so what? Would I ever sell out my country? Hell, no."

Gore has no foreign relatives, no passport, and the Latin American players she's hosted are the closest she's come to visiting a foreign country. In her last five years of performance evaluations, Gore is repeatedly praised as "dedicated," "respected by peers," and commended her for "personal courage and integrity."

Six months after the event, Gore is still indignant about her loyalty being called into question. The letter from Mazzucchi to Davis' office - "character assassination," she calls it - reopened the wound.

"I did use prudent judgment," she said, pausing to let each word resonate: "Because nothing happened."

"Down in the weeds"
The Army, legal and union officials familiar with personnel cases consider Gore's situation unique. Kearney said that CECOM has never revoked an employee's clearance because of contact with a foreign national. Mark Roth, general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, said he had never heard of a similar case in 30 years of practicing. Price, the Virginia Beach lawyer, called the case a "down in the weeds kind of problem."

But if unique, Gore's case points to what else could lurk in the weeds. The fact that she hosted foreign athletes for two years, and that it was a newspaper article that alerted her supervisors, raises the possibility that other employees may have close contact with foreign nationals but choose not to report it to the Army.

In defending the current policy, Kearney argued that the annual security training was an adequate "safety net."

"Neither training nor regulations provide specific what-to-do steps for the infinite range of potential risk scenarios," he said. "We need to maintain security awareness. That's the safety net. I would say Kim Gore did not have security awareness."

Marin, Davis' staff director, took a different view. "The fact that [Gore's] supervisors discovered this arrangement by chance speaks to the need for firmer guidelines, and enforcement of these guidelines," he said. "At the very least, that means we are going to be seeking clarification from the Army."

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