Whenever someone wants a security clearance, the US government first asks a seemingly endless series of questions. Some of them are predictable like the applicant’s current address and social security number. Others are far more intimate like histories of drug use or psychiatric treatment. Now China likely has that information.
The AP reported on Friday that hackers believed to be working with China targeted the Office of Personnel Management and stole the forms used to gather information in those background investigations. This personal information could be used by a foreign intelligence service to blackmail someone with access to government secrets. Having that information in the hands of the Chinese government potentially puts some of the nation’s military and intelligence workers at serious risk.
Evan Lesser, the managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, a job site for positions requiring a security clearance, told the AP that “you don’t need these records to blackmail or exploit someone, but it would sure make the job easier.”
While it’s not yet known how many people are affected by the breach, government officials who spoke to the AP put the potential number in the millions:
Nearly all of the millions of security clearance holders, including CIA, National Security Agency and military special operations personnel, are potentially exposed in the security clearance breach, the officials said. More than 2.9 million people had been investigated for a security clearance as of October 2014, according to government records.
This hack is the second major breach into OPM records in the past two weeks. A hack announced last week may have exposed the personnel records and social security numbers of up to 14 million government workers.