Secrecy News

NASA Security Badge Holder May Pose a Safety Hazard

A secure identification badge holder that was issued to NASA employees could pose a threat to sensitive NASA operations or personnel, the agency warned.

The badge holders were issued to comply with President Bush’s Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12, which requires all government personnel to possess a secure, tamper-proof form of identification.

But the NASA badge holders, which are “electromagnetically opaque” to guard against unauthorized scanning of the identity badges, have created new safety problems of their own.

“The current issue with the badge holder is the possibility of the badge holder becoming a Foreign Object Damage (FOD) hazard to flight hardware, or a projectile hazard under certain circumstances,” wrote Randy J. Aden, the senior security official at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in an email message to all JPL personnel on August 22.

A NASA Kennedy Space Center Safety Notice on August 15 provided additional background.

“The badge holder may separate with little effort, allowing the clips, the front half of the holder and badge ID to separate creating a significant FOD hazard in controlled areas,” the Safety Notice explained (pdf).

Consequently, “personnel should ensure the badge holder is not worn, or is properly secured, in the vicinity of sensitive flight hardware, such as electronics, where FOD may be an issue,” Mr. Aden advised.

Also, “When removing your badge, do not point [the] end with metal clips towards your face or another person” in order to minimize the projectile threat, the NASA Safety Notice suggested.

NASA’s implementation of Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 is controversial for other reasons as well, especially at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While the Directive requires agencies to verify their employees’ identities, JPL has instituted a far-reaching background investigation process that goes far beyond that.

At JPL, the HSPD-12 “identification” procedure includes a potentially open-ended investigation into employees’ finances, intimate relations, and personal conduct. It is roughly comparable to a security clearance background investigation, although few scientists are involved in classified research at JPL, which is mainly devoted to planetary exploration.

Last year, 28 senior scientists at JPL filed a lawsuit to challenge the Lab’s implementation of HSPD-12, which they described as overly intrusive and unconstitutional. Descriptive information on the case, which remains pending, is available from the plaintiffs here.

The official JPL web site states that “The successful implementation of HSPD-12 will increase the security of Federal facilities and Federal IT systems. This will provide better protection for the employees, the information systems and the employee’s work products.”

Neither the JPL public web site nor other NASA web sites mention the new badge holder safety issue.