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It’s no secret: Credit card debt can turn you into a spy

John Egan
It's no secret: Credit card debt can turn you into a spy

Here’s a consequence of credit card debt that you might never have pondered: You could turn into the next James Bond.

It’s not even close to being as glamorous as James Bond’s global escapades, though. Still, it’s a tale of intrigue, greed and huge debt. Allow me to explain.

Meeting March 2 with reporters, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly delved into a hot topic of late: security clearances for high-level federal officials.

During the chat, Kelly said he hadn’t been aware of domestic violence allegations against White House staff secretary Rob Porter until the accusations went public. Porter resigned in the wake of the abuse scandal.

For more than a year, Porter had worked at the White House with temporary security clearance as his background check proceeded, according to media accounts. The alleged abuse reportedly had tripped up Porter’s elevation to permanent top-secret security clearance.

In discussing top-secret security clearances, Kelly told reporters he had been informed of other times when clearances had been delayed. One of those instances, he said, involved a woman with “excessive credit card debt.”

“She was paying it down. She’s since OK,” Kelly said. “And you all know that finances tend to be, more than anything else, why people violate security and, in some cases, turn into spies.”

Wait a minute. Credit card debt can turn you into a spy? Kelly’s right. It actually can, although it’s rare.

Security clearances and credit card debt as coercion

As noted by the BBC, the vetting process for security clearances is aimed at identifying concerns with a person’s background before security clearance is granted. These issues, according to the BBC, can range from unpaid credit card bills to drug addiction – “anything that could provide an opening for coercion by foreign agents.”

Ah, now it makes sense.

Curious about this credit-card-debt-as-coercion dilemma, I searched online to unearth more information. Bingo! I found a report on the topic.

The report, “Changes in Espionage by Americans: 1947-2007,” released in 2008 by the Defense Personnel Security Research Center, dives into the reasons why Americans spied for foreign governments during the six-decade span.

In the 1980s, the report shows, nearly three-fourths of American spies did so just for money. But from 1990 to 2007, just one American spy cited money as the sole motive.

The report also details the story of one would-be spy, Air Force intelligence analyst Brian Regan, who was propelled by two motives: a desire for money mixed with a feeling of disgruntlement.

The spy with $50,000 in card debt

Regan began preparing to commit espionage in 1999 by hunting for documents and photos that he could hand off to China, Libya or Iraq. At the time, he had run up more than $50,000 in credit card debt, according to the report.

A year later, he retired from the Air Force and then took a job as a private contractor so he could keep working at the Air Force’s National Reconnaissance Office and resume his espionage plan.

Angry about his “paltry pension,” Regan cooked up a scheme to provide classified intelligence to Iraq or Libya about their countries or their enemies, the report says. Federal authorities nabbed him in 2001 as he was setting off on a trip to Switzerland to carry out the espionage.

In 2003, federal jurors convicted him on three espionage-related charges. He later agreed to a plea deal in exchange for a life sentence in prison and a promise to cooperate with federal investigators.

How to dig out of card debt without spying

If you’re reading this blog post, it’s highly unlikely your background will be scrutinized in order to qualify for top-secret security clearance. It’s also highly unlikely that you’ll resort to spying as a way to pay off credit card debt.

But if you are weighed down by credit card debt, it’s no secret that there are a number of legitimate ways to dig out of card debt, such as establishing a cost-cutting budget or putting away your plastic. You don’t need to be a spy to figure that out.

See related: In credit card debt for the first time? Here’s how to pay it off,  Survey: Who is most likely to carry credit card debt?

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