Defense Security Service, United States

Defense Security Service, United States

The Defense Security Service (DSS) serves the Department of Defense (DOD) in a number of capacities, conducting personnel security investigations, providing industrial security products and services, and offering security training to DOD personnel, contractors, and employees of other government agencies. Its most significant undertakings are the Personnel Security Investigations (PSI) Program; the Industrial Security Program (ISP); and the Security Education, Training, and Awareness Program.

Established as the Defense Investigative Service on January 1, 1972, the service changed to its present name in November 1997 in order to more accurately reflect the breadth of its mission. Oversight comes from the assistant secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence. As of 2003, DSS employed some 2,600 persons throughout the United States, with a much smaller contingent in Europe. About half of its personnel roster was comprised of special agents responsible for undertaking approximately half a million PSIs per year. Another 230 employees were involved in the ISP program, working with more than 11,000 contractors involved in research, development, and other classified projects outsourced to specially screened entities in the private sector.

Background investigations. The PSI program of the DSS oversees background investigations on military, civilian, and contractor personnel affiliated with DOD. PSIs are used to determine the suitability of an individual for entrance into the armed services, for access to classified information, and for appointment to sensitive positions within DOD. PSIs conducted by DSS special agents are submitted to the agency's Personnel Investigations Center at Fort Meade, Maryland, where they are processed. When completed, PSIs are sent to the appropriate DOD adjudicative facility, which makes the determination as to the individual's suitability. DSS is thus purely a reporting and screening agency, and has no power to choose or reject individuals for positions within DOD.

The work of processing security clearances, the most prominent service of DSS, has also provided the occasion for a number of frustrations. In July 2000, the agency experienced the breakdown of a $100 million computer system, thus temporarily bringing to a halt its background checks. Also in that month, a review panel that included representatives of DSS came under fire for approving an award to Loral Space & Communications Corporation "for outstanding security performance and practices." In 1996, Loral had forwarded a report on a Chinese rocket to the Chinese government without first obtaining State Department clearance, a situation that had led to a grand jury investigation. The backlog of security clearance investigations forced DSS to turn to civilian contractors for help. In June 2002, DOD investigators learned that one of the firms DSS had used, Government Business Services Group, may have submitted false reports to DSS and claimed to have completed work it had not done. As of fiscal year 2004, DOD had transferred responsibility for conducting most background checks from DSS to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

Other DSS programs. Under the ISP heading in DSS are three industrial security programs, the largest of which is the National Industrial Security Program, or NISP. DSS representatives working in the NISP oversee security at cleared contractor facilities, and assist the contractor's staff in formulating and maintaining security programs. The other two ISP sections are the Arms, Ammunition, and Explosives (AA&E) Program, which provides protection for munitions, and the Critical Infrastructure Program (CIP), which oversees systems vital to the operation of DOD. Additionally, the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO) in Columbus, Ohio, processes, issues, and maintains ISP facility and personnel clearances.

The Security, Education, Training, and Awareness Program includes instruction in counterintelligence and other areas. Training takes place at the DSS Academy, or DSSA, in Linthicum, Maryland, where some 10,000 students from DOD and the defense industry learn core security disciplines that integrate training in CI and information systems. Education is provided through combinations of formal classroom teaching, computer-based learning, and correspondence, distance, or tele-training.

In the realm of counterintelligence, the DSS Counterintelligence Office, established in May 1993, seeks to integrate an awareness of counterintelligence with DSS core mission areas. Its aims are to infuse the defense workforce with counterintelligence knowledge, to increase awareness of counterintelligence throughout DOD and the contractor base, and to assist those it trains in recognizing and reporting intelligence collection activities conducted by foreign powers or groups.



Barr, Stephen. "Defense Department Agrees to Have OPM Take Over Background Checks." Washington Post. (February 5, 2003): B2.

Pincus, Walter. "Computer Shutdown Hits Defense Security Service; Backlog of Background Checks Grows." Washington Post. (July 8, 2000): A10.

——. "A Pentagon 'Embarrassment': Loral Wins, Is Stripped of Award for Security Practices." Washington Post. (July 19, 2000): A21.

Pound, Edward T. "Keeping Secrets Secret." U.S. News & World Report. (June 3, 2002): 22.


Defense Security Service. < > (February 22, 2003).


Classified Information
DOD (United States Department of Defense)
Security Clearance Investigations

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