Facebook said to seek staff with national security clearance


San Francisco - Facebook is looking to hire people who have national security clearances, a move the company thinks is necessary to prevent foreign powers from manipulating future elections through its social network, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Workers with such clearances can access information classified by the US government. Facebook plans to use these people - and their ability to receive government information about potential threats - in the company’s attempt to search more proactively for questionable social media campaigns ahead of elections, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is sensitive.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment.

Job candidates with such clearances are often former government and intelligence officials or contractors. The status can carry over to private-sector jobs, as long as the position still requires access to sensitive information. Previously granted clearances become inactive when intelligence workers leave government employment, but they can be reactivated on Facebook’s behalf, the person said.

The Office of the National Director of Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

Facebook has been under pressure to address issues related to potential political manipulation after it disclosed early last month that it sold about $100 000 in ads during the 2016 presidential election to buyers it later learned were connected to the Russian government.

Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election as well as its possible collusion with associates of President Donald Trump, is said to have a “red-hot’’ focus on how Russia used social media platforms.

'Create chaos'

Russia-financed Facebook ads that were turned over to congressional panels addressed a broad range of issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement. Senate Intelligence chairperson Richard Burr told reporters at a news conference this month that the theme seemed to be “to create chaos at every level.’’ The House Intelligence Committee hopes to release the ads as soon as possible, its leaders have said.

The targeted spots were purchased by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm with ties to the Kremlin. Facebook’s discovery of the ads was aided by an earlier public US intelligence report that named the group, but future discoveries could be easier if the company doesn’t have to wait for the public release of similar information.

Chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said last month that Facebook plans to add more than 250 people across its teams that deal with security and safety for the social network and to more than double the team working on election integrity. He also said the company would seek to work more closely with government officials to get information on what to investigate ahead of elections.

It’s common for private companies, such as military contractors, information technology and engineering firms, to hire employees with US government-issued security clearance. Candidates with top-secret clearance have been in high demand for years.

These types of employees are needed when private companies interact and share information back and forth with government agencies. If Facebook is going to cooperate with intelligence agencies to identify potentially problematic ads and share that information with the government, it will likely need workers with security clearance.

Facebook, Google and Twitter are set to testify to Congress on November 1 about Russia’s use of their services and ads to meddle in U.S. elections.

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