Some people working in the HEL community have security clearances, work on classified government projects, and may rarely present their work in public forums. When dealing with particularly sensitive programs, the government may even classify who is working on the program.
Each government has its own designation of clearance levels. In the United States, we have things such as Confidential, Secret, Top Secret (TS). That's the simple story, of course. Nothing is really that simple. One way it gets more complicated, is that at a level, there can be compartmentalized clearances. Compartmentalized clearances describe a situation where "my" group of people can't talk to "your" group of people even though we both have the same level of clearance. It's a formalized system to limit access to people that not only have the right level, but have a pre-declared need to know.
Zeta ClearanceYears ago, I was part of a formalized military training class that was privileged to have access to all sorts of classified, and many compartmentalized programs. For multiple days, we were "in briefed" to different programs and had to sign paperwork signing away our life in order to hear the new information. One part of your life you give up when in briefed to a program is the free ability to talk about the program, or to even talk about the program's existence. In other words, if I were to brief you into a compartmentalized program responsible for researching green coffee cups, you are no longer free to discuss the possibility of green coffee cups, present research papers on green coffee cup technology, or talk to the press about funding for green coffee cups, etc.
Now, consider the situation where different groups of people are walking around, and nobody can talk to the other people to find out who's in what program, or even if there is some other compartmentalized program to be part of. Sort of the ultimate "by invite only" situation. When members of the training class thought about this long enough, we started wondering who gets to start new compartmentalized programs. Is there some "clearance god" out there who says what compartments there are? Of course, that information is classified, so there's no way to know!
This became relevant for one guy (who I'll call George) in the class who was very interested in Roswell, New Mexico, Area 51 issues. Specifically, the crash of something back in the late 1940s. A space ship? A weather balloon? Read more about the Roswell Incident if you've never heard of it before. The best read is a Wikipedia Report on Roswell, although in 1994, the GAO also put out an Official Government Report on Roswell.
In any case, based on George's tremendous, and budding, professional interest in the Roswell Incident, we thought we would challenge him by in-briefing him to the Roswell Incident information — which, of course, we had no clue if it really existed. We took it upon ourselves to create such a clearance and stuff it with all sorts of good information! Thus was created the compartmentalized Zeta Clearance for folks knowledgeable about the Roswell Accident. To be clear, I have no clue that a real Zeta Clearance does or doesn't exist, but it was tantalizing to consider that it could exist if those of us in the class just agreed among ourselves to do so. Well sort of.. But who would tell us to stop, if it was compartmentalized so only we knew it existed? To fully enjoy the new clearance, we needed someone to not know about it. And George's intense interest in the Roswell cover-up made him just too tempting of a target.
The SetupOne day when George wasn't around, we had chatted about how much fun this would be, and then I forgot about it. Several days later, we were collected in a briefing room, deep behind several layers of combination locked doors. Most of the class sat around a central oblong shaped table, and I leaned back against the wall — one of many chairs around the periphery. George sat about 2 or 3 chairs down from me.
The enlisted troop from the intel office that was briefing us droned on about this, and about that. About technologies, about offices, about locations, about weapons systems. Whatever was part of the next clearance brief. Paperwork circulated. "Sign Here". Next Brief.
And then it happened. He hands out paperwork and starts briefing about another clearance covering original knowledge collected from the southern United States. About 2 or 3 minutes into it, I started sitting upright. He was moving the brief closer and closer to the real Roswell incident we had joked about only days earlier. It was so good, I was taken in, and I started glancing around the room to see how others were responding. One person caught my eye, winked, and motioned to sit back and enjoy the show. ..and so others in the class, along with our staff "class mom", had gone forward with the Zeta Clearance!
And then all of a sudden, the briefer said, "This is all based on the original foreign material recovered from the Roswell Incident...." At which point, George, who had started fidgeting in his chair, stands rigidly upright, clasps his hands over his ears, yells, "NOOO!!" and bursts out of the room. By being briefed into this program, his ability to speak or write about it an issue he had spent years researching was instantly made seriously illegal and could land him in jail!
This was not something George took lightly. For days, he moped around, mumbling about the value of doing government work, or whether all this classified activity was worth the sacrifice. The class leader was a stately Major, sensitive to others in the class, and he started feeling like we had dug too deeply in the Zeta Clearance gag on George. But after a week or two, we were too far into it to pull out.
We figured if we left well enough alone, the gag would die over the next few month, and when out-briefing at the end of the year, we'd tell George that Zeta was all a gag. He'd relax. We'd all still be friends.
BoomerangProblem is, the class leader hated to see George suffer. One evening, he got together with several others, and told George the truth. Zeta was nothing. It was all the idea of the staff class mom to set him up and watch him squirm — well, that was half true. I think we sort omitted the part that we were all in on it. But in any case, George's wrath needed a target, and the class mom (we'll call him Rob) seemed a suitable target. And so George did what George does well..
You see, George ran around with field deployed classified actions teams. I can't go into all the details, but suffice it to say he was in charge of 18-year olds authorized to carry and use automatic weapons and lethal force against anybody who challenged the equipment they protected. In and of itself, this job created some comraderie among his troops that lasted a long time. For example, imagine yourself challenged by local sheriff authorities as your caravan of vehicles pulls into un-named locations out of the way, appearing like some illicit drug lord operation or terrorist activity. The sherrif challenges drivers to get out of their cars, at which point the military members key up because nobody is suppose to yield control of equipment. After all, who says the sheriffs are legitimate? National assets must be protected. Drivers refuse to get out. Sheriff unholsters weapons. Military security folks pull out automatic weapons. "Drop your weapons." "Drop YOUR weapons!"... A dicey situation that apparently played out more than once.
But in any case, it made George some friends in the security forces community. And that all played into a perfect plan to get back at the staff class mom with a customized gag ...just ....for ...him.
PaybackI didn't know of all the events as they were prepared. There was a holiday weekend. A 3-day pass. The class dispersed somewhat, and when we came back together, George didn't show up. That was odd, being a military class and all, so the class mom starts investigating. By the second day, words like "missing" and "AWOL" started creeping into the conversation. Word on the street was that George, being so upset about loosing his Roswell investigator career, cracked, sort of went insane, and started doing wild things.
There were reports of him accosting military gate guards, and then the security teams from Air Force Bases in the southern united states started calling back through the chain of command to find out who George was, where he was stationed, what his legitimate military job entailed. Reports came in that he had been apprehended by the security forces carrying definitely-not-stock heavy civilian weapons, and had stormed the facilities down by Roswell. In the course of handling the incident and detaining him he had escaped. Civilian police reports had him driving northward back toward the base at which our school was resident, and threats had been heard about doing bodily harm to certain staff class moms. All this was sort of vague, but was being corroborated by multiple sources and the story continued to build. Rob was going nuts by this time, terrified that his gag had gotten totally out of hand. He's thinking an officer Letter of Reprimand from the commanding officer at best, or lethal confrontation with George at the worst.
I had duties as class photographer, and so one morning I was detained handling those issues. I was late getting to class, checking through the secure room-within-a-room door locks by myself, when lo-and-behold, I see George. It's not a crazy George. It's good old fashioned, good-humored affable George, but clearly George with a mission.
I quickly came to understand what had been arranged. Rob had been reduced to a totally distracted, paranoid person, and George thought it was time to release the pay back gag, and flush everything into the open. We smiled and joked lightly with each other passing through another door into a controlled area about 6x9 feet in size. The light changes color and the opposite door opens, and through the door steps... Rob!
He glances at George and, I'm telling you, I never saw a person's face turn more white. Blood literally left his upper torso. His knees buckled. And he physically collapsed on the ground. Words came out, but they weren't quite intelligible. George and I looked at each other and didn't know what to do!
It took a moment or two for Rob to re-establish equilibrium. Whatever it was he was leaving for was put on hold, as all three of us returned through the door into the classroom. If my memory serves me, the scene there was a lot more subdued than it could have been. Whatever was going on in the class went on hold as an entire classroom of people swapped stories, and came to fully realize the coordination George had done to make sure Rob got a "good story". Both sides of the story were told back and forth and the entire Zeta Clearance story slowly became one of those legends that stay with a person through the years.
PostlogYes, we're all still friends. Rob went on to stand up the next expansion of the school, and all the class members dispersed at graduation to different military assignments around the world. Some of us have had a chance to professionally work together, others have taken more remote paths. But 11 years later, those days in the mid-90s still evoke fond memories of a good time — prepared to do things nobody else in the nation could do, and we had a good time doing it.
The real story is classified. And you're not briefed into the program...