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A history for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency

The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) traces its origins to two distinct missions – personnel security and industrial security.  Over the past 50 years, the agency has been defined and redefined by these inextricably linked core mission sets.

Defense Security Service

In 1970, a blue Ribbon Defense Panel stated that DoD personnel security investigative work was a non-combatant function in which some consolidation might lead to savings. This led to a recommendation and approval by the President for the creation of an “Office of Defense Investigation.” A Dec. 29, 1971 Secretary of Defense memorandum established the Defense Investigative Service, which became operational on Oct. 1, 1972 under the direction of U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Joseph Cappucci, former commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

The “charter” of DIS – its tasks, responsibilities, and authority -- was published in DoD Directive 5105.42 and designated DIS as a separate operating agency under the direction of the Secretary. Initially authorized 3,000 personnel, of which 1,750 were military, the organization consisted of a headquarters, 20 districts and four centers with a single mission to conduct all DoD personnel security investigations.

DIS/DSS retained the Personnel Security Investigative (PSI) mission until Feb. 20, 2005 when the function was transferred to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  This transfer also included PSIs for industry personnel under the National Industrial Security Program (NISP) and the transfer of approximately 1,850 personnel, which was stipulated in the 2004 Defense Authorization Bill.  DSS retained the function, on behalf of DoD, to oversee the OPM billing and financial reconciliation process for PSIs for the entire Department.

On April 24, 2019, Executive Order 13869 was signed shifting primary responsibility for conducting background investigations for the federal government from the Office of Personnel Management to the Department of Defense. The Executive Order directed the Department of Defense to reorganize the Defense Security Service to best position the department to assume primary responsibility for the government-wide background investigation mission. DSS was renamed the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency and will conduct all activities currently assigned to DSS and serve as the primary entity for conducting background investigations for the federal government. The EO directed the transfer to be completed by Oct. 1, 2019.

National Background Investigations Bureau
In 1883, President Garfield was assassinated by a frustrated job seeker, spurring Congress to pass the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act that year, which empowered the president to establish rules for determining the fitness of applicants for the public service. Section 2 of the Pendleton Act authorized the Civil Service Commission (CSC), later the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), to conduct investigations for enforcing civil service laws, rules, and regulations.

A few years later, Theodore Roosevelt would become one of the most instrumental players in strengthening the federal civil service system. As a Civil Service Commissioner from 1889 to 1895, Roosevelt vigorously enforced the Civil Service laws and extended them to many government positions.

Early CSC investigations dealt with matters such as misconduct, fraud or irregularity in examination, and the fitness of appointees. To determine the character and fitness of applicants for federal service, written questionnaires were used instead of full background investigations because there was no permanent investigative staff. When necessary, investigations were conducted by either the commissioners or CSC employees. Within a short time, however, the CSC began conducting investigations to determine the eligibility of applicants for other law enforcement positions, such as customs inspectors and border patrol agents.

During World War II, the number of federal employees and types of positions requiring background investigations increased dramatically. In 1947, Executive Order 9835 established the Federal Employees Loyalty Program, which prescribed a minimum investigation requiring an FBI fingerprint and name check for current federal employees. In 1952, a large volume of investigations for the Atomic Energy Commission and other designated agencies were transferred from the FBI to the CSC.

In 1953, President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10450, which established a government-wide security program. The order was designed to ensure that the employment of present and future federal employees were clearly consistent with national security. It gave CSC oversight authority for the federal government’s civilian personnel security program and extensive responsibility for conducting background and suitability investigations of individuals in sensitive positions.

When Congress created the Office of Personnel Management in 1978, the CSC’s authority for the federal suitability program and the federal government’s civilian security program was transferred to OPM. The Investigations Service (IS) had two main purposes for conducting investigations: (1) to provide a basis for agencies to determine whether a person should be granted a security clearance and (2) to provide a basis for determining a person’s suitability for federal employment. Executive Order 10450 and various public laws, (5 U.S.C. 1304, 42 U.S.C. 1874, 2165, and 2455) authorized IS to conduct security investigations of federal applicants, employees, or contractors for most civilian Federal agencies. IS was also responsible for the suitability program of the federal competitive service which required conducting investigations of the qualifications and suitability of applicants (Executive Order 10577).

Through enactment of the Intelligence Authorization Act, IS, along with other Federal investigative agencies, were granted the right of access to federal, state, and local criminal history information for security investigations.

In 2016, the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) replaced the Federal Investigative Services division. In October 2019, NBIB became part of DCSA as part of Executive Order 13869, shifting primary responsibility for background investigations for the federal government from OPM to the Department of Defense.

Consolidated Adjudications Facility
The Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO), established on March 1, 1965, was the first adjudicative facility of its kind in the Department of Defense. DISCO, led by its first director, U.S. Army Col. Lachlan M. Sinclair, was established to determine on a nationally centralized basis, the eligibility of industrial personnel for access to U.S. and foreign classified information.  At the time of its establishment, DISCO inherited the assets and personnel security clearance workload of more than 115 Army, Navy and Air Force offices.  It also absorbed, from the Army, the Central Index File containing the industrial security clearance records of approximately 16,000 contractor facilities and 1.5 million individuals working in those facilities.

However there was no plan to centralize the investigative activities and it was decided to assign investigations according to the alphabet: Army would investigate contractor employees with last names from A to F; Navy, those last names from G to L; and, the Air Force, the remainder.  This lasted until 1972 and the establishment of the Defense Investigative Service.

DISCO was organized by the Defense Contract Administration Service (DCAS) as part of the Defense Supply Agency (DSA), now the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).  DISCO was transferred to DIS/DSS from DLA in 1980 and remained there until October 2012 when it was disestablished and consolidated into the Department of Defense Central Adjudication Facility.

The Army Central Personnel Security Clearance Facility (CCF) was established Oct. 1, 1977 as a field activity of the U.S. Army Personnel Center. In 2002, the Army realigned the CCF as a subordinate command of the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command.

In June 1985, the Secretary of the Navy signed a memo to centralize adjudications less than a month after John Walker’s arrest for espionage by the FBI that revealed significant vulnerabilities to the Department of Navy’s security clearance process. The Navy’s Central Adjudication Facility, known as the DON CAF, was established in 1986 to review security clearance investigations conducted by Defense Investigations Service (DIS) to determine suitability for the issuance or retention of security clearances.

In May of 2012, the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the establishment of the DoD Central Adjudications Facility (DoD CAF). The CAF would be comprised of the functions, resources and assets of the Army Central Clearance Facility, Department of Navy CAF, Air Force CAF, Joint Staff CAF, Washington Headquarters Services (WHS) CAF and Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office (DISCO).

In January 2019, the Department of Defense Consolidated Adjudications Facility and select functions of the Defense Information Systems Agency and the Defense Manpower Data Center were transferred to the Defense Security Service to support the Defense Vetting Enterprise.  The transfer of the CAF was directed to be completed by Oct. 1, 2019, while the others were directed to be completed by Oct. 2, 2020.

The second historical lineage of DCSA is related to the Industrial Security Program.  In 1965, the Office of Industrial Security was established under the DCAS and DSA with U.S. Air Force Col. James S. Cogswell its first chief. The consolidation brought together more than 100 different offices of the Army, Navy and Air Force that had cognizance over plants handling defense contracts. In the reorganization, 11 CAS regions were established with uniform policies and regulations.

On Oct. 1, 1980, the Industrial Security Program, the Key Asset Protection Program and the Arms, Ammunition and Explosives Security Program were transferred to DIS from DLA. For 25 years (1980 until 2005) both the personnel and industrial security missions were resident in DIS/DSS.

The National Industrial Security Program was created in January 1993 by Executive Order 12829, and was intended to replace not only the DISP, but the industrial security programs of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Later that year, in June, DIS was directed to assume responsibility for finalizing the draft National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual (NISPOM).  The team completed their draft NISPOM on Oct. 15, 1993. The NISPOM replaced the nearly 45-year old DISP and its Industrial Security Manual. The NISPOM wasn’t effective until April 1995, but DIS began implementation of many of its provisions immediately.

The Counterintelligence mission was assigned to DSS in of May 1993. The Counterintelligence Office was established pursuant to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Counterintelligence and Security Countermeasures memorandum of Feb. 26, 1993. The memo establishing the office stated the “basic components of the program will consist of essentially the following:

  • “Prepare a CI awareness program for DIS employees, train and sensitive DIS investigators to the types of CI flags to look for in this rapidly changing threat environment.
  • Review subject interviews that contain information of a possible CI relevance and extract significant information.
  • Serve as a clearing house for referrals of potential espionage cases to CI agencies for investigation
  • Develop an in-house CI program; conduct internal inquiries into incidents that may be CI-related.”
  • Brigadier General Joseph Cappucci, USAF, 1971-1976
  • Bernard J. O'Donnell, 1976 - 1981
  • Thomas J. O'Brien, 1981 - 1988
  • John F. Donnelly, 1988 - 1996
  • Margaret R. Munson, 1996 - 1998
  • Steven T. Schanzer, 1998 - 1999
  • Charles J. Cunningham Jr., 1999 - 2002
  • William Curtis, 2002 - 2004
  • Heather Anderson, 2004 - 2005
  • Janice Haith, 2005 - 2006
  • Kathy Watson, 2006 - 2010
  • Stanley L. Sims, 2010 - 2016
  • Daniel E. Payne, 2016 - 2019
  • Charles Phalen 2019 - 2020
  • William K. Lietzau 2020 - Present

Underpinning both missions is security education and training.  Between 1953 and 1955, a central training facility to bring more uniformity to the DISP was established at the existing Army Intelligence School at Fort Holabird, Md. Army representatives were security-trained agents of the Counterintelligence Corps, the Air Force assigned a civilian with industrial security experience and the Navy assigned an officer with little direct experience.  

The Army Intelligence School continued to provide training in the DISP until 1972 when the school was relocated to Fort Huachuca.  The Defense Logistics Agency re-established the industrial security section under its control and chose the Defense General Supply Center, Richmond, Va., as the location for the Defense Industrial Security Institute.

An Information Security Management Course was added in 1974, a Personnel Security Investigation Course in 1981 and a DoD Security Specialist course in 1986. Because of the mission expansion, the name was changed in 1984 to the Defense Security Institute.

The school was founded in 1972 under the Defense Logistics Agency to train industrial security specialists and Facility Security Officers. After the transfer of the industrial security mission from DLA to DIS, which also included DoDSI, the institute began training Special Agents to conduct PSIs.  This training mission grew to include personnel security specialists working at DISCO and the Personnel Investigative Center and further expanded to include training for the military services and DoD agencies in the areas of information, personnel and physical security, adjudications and Special Access Programs.

On Jan. 1, 1984, DoDSI was redesignated the Defense Security Institute to more accurately reflects its mission and scope of responsibilities. In 1999, the Defense Security Service Academy was formally established, replacing DSI and in 2010, the Center for Development of Security Excellence was established. Furthering solidifying its security training mission, the Director of DSS was named the functional security manager for DoD Security Training in December 2007.