Wanted: Top (secret) chef

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One spy agency is looking for a new chef who can fry, bake and keep a secret.

Food contractor Sodexo recently posted a job advertisement seeking an executive chef for a top government agency, but specified that applicants must be able to obtain a top-secret government clearance.

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“Sodexo’s Government Services Division is seeking a strong Executive Chef to manage all the culinary operations at a high profile government dining account in Northern Virginia,” the company said. “The successful candidate must be able to obtain a TS [top secret]/SCI [sensitive compartmented information] clearance.”

The ad did not specify which agency is looking for the chef but noted that the job is in Herndon, Va. SCI access is used for officials dealing with intelligence information, such as staffers at the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency. 

In all likelihood, it’s not the lunch recipes that require a top-secret clearance. Instead, the security concerns are likely due to the future chef’s interaction with officials working on intelligence matters and the chances that he or she could pick up some errant bits of information around the cafeteria.

For Steven Aftergood, the head of the Federation of American Scientists’ project on government secrecy who noticed the ad, that’s a sign of the government’s overreliance on security clearances.

“Though it may seem ridiculous, the requirement for a chef with a Top Secret clearance exemplifies a significant policy problem, namely the use of the security clearance process as an employee screening tool,” he wrote in a Wednesday blog post. “This use of the national security clearance process has contributed to the skyrocketing growth in security-cleared personnel.”

As of October, there were more than 5 million government staffers and contractors with security clearances. Only about 60 percent of those people actually had access to classified information, however, which means that many chefs, janitors and other agency employees are getting clearances.

Watchdogs have urged agencies to scale back their security clearances to save money and reduce the risk of foreign agents stealing important intelligence information.

“Eliminating the TS/SCI clearance requirement for access to the kitchens and dining rooms of government facilities might be a sensible place to start,” Aftergood noted.