May 2006 
Volume 05, Issue 1 
Integrated Defense Systems

Protecting national secrets

What do employees on classified programs do? They can't tell you--but they're on the front lines of U.S. security

Photos by Greg Thon

Charles HebertTheir workday begins like that of any other Boeing employee, with the usual good-bye to family and the usual commute. But then they enter a world known only to a few, a world where protecting knowledge is imperative to the security of the United States and its allies.

They're employees who work on classified programs.

Each classified-program employee embraces the challenge to protect the secrets of some of the United States' most sensitive national space and intelligence programs, but they don't consider their efforts extraordinary. Like all Boeing employees, they pride themselves on delivering results that meet or exceed the customer's expectations and help build a better future for Boeing.

"Boeing's classified-program employees play a vital role in our nation's defense," said Howard Chambers, vice president and general manager of Space and Intelligence Systems, the Boeing division employing the majority of classified-program employees.

Personal integrity at work

Every Boeing program contains pockets of information that require protection. However, information within classified programs has an added element of control due to U.S. security needs. "If you don't do your job, you can put others in real peril," said Sheree Walker, a systems engineer and technical subcontract manager.

Understanding classified information

While most people understand the term "classified information," they might not realize that there's more to it beyond "Secret" and "Top Secret."

There are actually two separate U.S. classification systems--one governed by the Department of Defense (DoD) and one established by the intelligence community. All such information is regulated on a "need-to-know" basis. In other words, if you need classified information to do your job and are cleared to that level, then you will be granted access to it.

Within the DoD, information may be classified at one of three levels, each delineated by the severity of harm the information's unauthorized disclosure would cause to U.S. security.

• "Top Secret" is applied to information whose unauthorized disclosure would reasonably be expected to cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security.

• "Secret" means "serious damage" would be done to the United States.

• "Confidential" means "damage" would be done to the United States.

Technologies that enable critical systems are assigned these levels because they can possibly reveal sensitive system capabilities and vulnerabilities. Escalating classification levels are assigned to weapons systems and intelligence systems in accordance with their importance to U.S. security.

Within the intelligence community, there is another classification system. "Special Access" programs deal with extreme Sensitive Compartmentalized Information that exceeds normal security circumstances. Access to such information is closely controlled and selectively approved.

Like other employees, classified-program employees understand the importance of the information they've been entrusted with and the outcome of compromising that information. That understanding accounts for the personal ownership employees have for their work. "I honestly believe in what I do because it supports freedom across the world," said Dave Bever, a program manager. "Our classified work supports the men and women in uniform and the safety of everyone in this nation."

Most classified-program employees aren't aware of the exact nature of their job until they're briefed, or "read" into the program, by Security. Many don't know what to expect at first, but they soon start to understand the significance. "Once I was read into the program, I knew hands-down I wanted to pursue this as a career," said engineer Sarah Vaneekhoven. "It was so important to the nation. I wanted to make sure the program thrived."

Balancing secrecy, community

Sarah VaneekhovenWhile many classified-program employees work in areas and locations known only to a few, others labor among the greater Boeing population, indistinguishable from anyone else except for the buildings they enter. While they maintain an aura of secrecy about their job, they make sure they connect with their family and Boeing colleagues to participate in community activities.

While "outside," these employees must continuously guard the information they have. "I always have to remember where I am and when I can discuss certain topics," said systems engineer May Tassler.

Similarly, when employees leave the office, there isn't much of an opportunity to discuss work with family and friends. For employees' children, the mystery of what their parent does is difficult to understand based on what they see on television or hear during "Show and Tell" at school. It's also hard when there are restrictions on bringing visitors into the office. "It is a hard concept for the kids to understand that you can come to their school, but they can't come to your work," said Denny Hodge, a Boeing associate technical fellow.

Working on classified programs does make discussing work with family difficult, but not impossible. "They understand that we can't talk about what we do," said Manny Yi Donoy, Quality manager. "They trust us completely and vigorously support us. That support speaks volumes to how we feel about our work and the dedication we have to our job."

Motivating factors

May TasslerUnique to these employees is an understanding and acceptance that the rest of Boeing--and the majority of Americans--will probably never hear of the successes of their programs beyond their immediate circles. And they're OK with that knowledge, knowing as Boeing employees they can take pride in the successes of their peers. "I get a kick out of hearing what's going on around the company, like the International Space Station, C-17 and 787," said Charles Hebert, chief engineer for FishTools software. "It's cool because Boeing is so diverse. But for my part, publicity isn't really why I do this."

"The nature of the work makes it very challenging, and every success is rewarding," said Tammy Povak, a systems engineer. Working within a like-minded community is a source of satisfaction for many employees, including those in this group. "The rewards of working with highly motivated, smart people who share my enjoyment in tackling some of the world's most formidable scientific and technical challenges--that's why I'm here," said Jim Soash, a deputy program manager.

And for some, it's about career growth. "I never would have thought I could start a new career working on classified programs after so many years in the airline industry," said Ralph Lennon, X6 risk manager. "I sometimes pinch myself to make sure it's real." For others, the opportunity to devote time to a worthwhile cause is the motivating factor. Said software engineer Jason Weller: "I always wanted to serve our country in some way, and this allows me to do that."

Balancing security and business

Loyd TreuhaftA group of highly trained individuals within Boeing Security is responsible for ensuring employees supporting classified programs follow security policies and procedures every day.

"We live in a constantly changing world that requires us to look for innovative policy solutions that protect both our customers' interests and our internal business partners' strategies," said Loyd Treuhaft, Shared Services Group senior security manager. He supports Space and Intelligence Systems, the Boeing division that employs most classified-program employees.

"No two security situations are exactly the same. That is why working in Boeing Security is so exciting. You never know what the next problem or issue will be or even what the next day at work will bring your way," Treuhaft said.

To face these challenges, Boeing security professionals seek out expert advice from all over the company. These professionals come from varied backgrounds, including law enforcement, the government or military, and within Boeing. "This diversity, containing a broad range of experience, is a valuable asset when a security process must be changed or developed," Treuhaft said.

As the classified world has changed, the biggest impact has been from communication technology. Computers, cell phones and hand-held personal data assistants bring their own challenges. "Our job is not to tell a business partner 'no,' but rather to tell the partner 'how,'" Treuhaft said.

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