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New DoD Policy Requires Security Pledge

By Linda D. Kozaryn
National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, March 22, 1999 – Leading by example is one of the basic tenets of military leadership. Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre did just that, March 18, when he reaffirmed his commitment to protect classified information.

Hamre, along with ten members of his personal staff, solemnly pledged to "accept the obligations and acknowledge the responsibilities associated" with being granted top- level security clearances. They are the first of about 400,000 military and DoD civilians slated to do so in the coming months under a new policy DoD issued in early February.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen signed a memorandum Feb. 5, titled, 'Personal Attestations Upon the Granting of Security Access.' It affects every active duty and reserve military member and DoD civilian employee with a Top Secret clearance or access to sensitive compartmented information (SCI) or special access programs (SAP). Effective Feb. 15, they "must make a verbal attestation that he or she will conform to the conditions and responsibilities imposed by law or regulation on those granted clearance or access," the policy states.

This verbal attestation, or pledge, is designed to restore "a sense of obligation and honor," to those granted top- level security access, according to Hamre. "It's a special privilege to be given access to special information, and there's a personal commitment that goes with that," he said.

The pledge must be witnessed by at least one person in addition to a presiding official. Senior defense officials aim to fully implement the new procedure within 60 days.

The new policy is the result of a year-long security review, Hamre noted. Recent reports of Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear labs did not prompt the decision to require verbal pledges, he said, but do serve to underscore the gravity of such security violations.

Hamre said he told Cohen several months ago that the department needed to bring back the significance and personal commitment associated with being granted access to special information. "Since the end of the Cold War," he said, "the security system has became somewhat lax due to the lack of a clear opponent. We let a lot of the basic discipline for security atrophy."

Acquiring a top-level clearance became simply part of an administrative routine -- almost a nuisance, Hamre noted. As a result, people were unaware of the commitment they were making to safeguard classified information. Signing a written personal attestation was merely "a road bump" in the process, not a solemn vow, Hamre said.

"It was one of those things you signed when you got your building permit," he said. "We lost the sense of obligation that went with it. This has to be more than just signing a form as though you're getting a parking pass."

As the deputy assembled his immediate staff for the ceremony in his Pentagon office March 18, he noted that people granted top level clearances "become custodians of some very important information on behalf of the American people."

As the group of military and civilian assistants raised their right hands to make the pledge, he said, "We're going to personally affirm that this is our responsibility as employees to honor and protect this country by protecting information that is shared with us."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, along with ten members of his personal staff, solemnly pledge to "accept the obligations and acknowledge the responsibilities associated" with being granted top-level security clearances. They are the first of about 400,000 military and DoD civilians slated to do so in the coming months under a new policy DoD issued in early February. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel  
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