Special agents protect nation’s secure access Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 December 2013
From left to right, special agents Eva Kirkland, Linda Lowery and Nathan Dunn review case materials after conducting background investigations on a potential security clearance.
Story and photo by Melissa Buckley
GUIDON staff
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You may have seen any one of these three on post, but never had a clue they were the first line of defense for our nation’s security.  

Three special agents from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management-Federal Investigative Services work on Fort Leonard Wood to conduct background investigations for granting security clearances.

“We deal with all of the different entities on Fort Leonard Wood who require clearances — from basic trainees to generals,” said Eva Kirkland, special agent.

OPM serves more than 100 federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense. Agencies use results of investigations to determine if individuals are suitable for positions of public trust or are eligible for access to national security information.  

Fort Leonard Wood’s OPM Federal Investigative Services special agents conduct background investigations on federal employees, applicants for federal employment and government contractors on post. They also cover about 12 counties surrounding the installation — from Arkansas to Jefferson City, Mo., and Cuba, Mo., to Lebanon.  

“When an individual is in a position, or is being considered for a position, of public trust or national security, the agency they work for submits them for the investigation. There are different levels of clearances, and the investigation we conduct depends strictly on what level of information that person will require access to,” said Nathan Dunn, special agent.  

According to OPM, the scope of an investigation varies, depending on the nature of the position and the degree of harm that an individual could cause.

An investigation usually includes interviews with the subject of the investigation, neighbors, employers and references. It also includes record checks at schools and local police departments. An investigator may check the person’s credit history and military record.  

“We obtain facts. We rely on the people who we interview. Their help is so important to us being able to conduct a quality investigation in a timely manner,” Dunn said.  

Kirkland agreed, and said a person’s willingness to participate in their investigations is a matter of national security.  

“If we, or one of our contract-counterparts, come to ask you questions, I ask that you realize that it’s for a position of importance within the U.S. government and their cooperation is truly needed to make these quality investigations,” Kirkland said. “A lot of people get nervous. Sometimes people think our investigations are criminal in nature. We try to reassure them that they are not. Their own reservations prevent them from giving us information that we need. I think we have all experienced that. We can tell they want to tell us more, but they won’t. It’s important to know we are just a tool to gather the information. We send the information off to somebody else to make a  decision.”

 Dunn said all OPM investigators and contractors will always be carrying credentials, will show them before requesting information and it’s OK to ask to read them.

“If anybody is apprehensive about who we are, ask to see our credentials. You can read over them. It has our name, what the agency is and what we do,” Dunn said.  

Linda Lowery, special agent, said the most rewarding thing about being an investigator is helping people obtain their goals.

“When we are investigating a young service member, especially an Initial Entry Training Soldier who may have had a pretty rough life — it’s very satisfying to see them overcome that. They have set a high goal for themselves. People holding positions that require security clearances have to make positive life choices and have integrity, as well as training and skills,” Lowery said. “It’s satisfying to see people coming from all over the U.S. to contribute toward national security. It’s a good feeling.”

Kirkland said her favorite part of her job is knowing she’s doing her part to protect the U.S.   

“I feel like I’m contributing to national security. I consider us a first line in protection for the nation,” Kirkland said.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 25 December 2013 )