Our History

Establishment of the Defense Security Service

The Defense Security Service (DSS), formerly known as the Defense Investigative Service (DIS) was established on January 1, 1972. DSS was created in response to President Richard M. Nixon's approval of proposals suggesting the reorganization of the national intelligence community and the creation of an "Office of Defense Investigation" to consolidate Department of Defense (DoD) personnel security investigations (PSI). Prior to this consolidation, such work was accomplished through U.S. military departments by four major DoD investigative agencies. They were: 1) the U.S. Army Intelligence Command, 2) the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Command, 3) the Naval Investigative Service, and 4) the Office of Special Investigations, Air Force. Centralization of PSIs promised economic savings through better program management and more efficient use of resources.

Military departments were directed to transfer certain military and civilian manpower resources to DSS and on May 1, 1972, the agency took operational control of the National Agency Check (NAC) Center and the Defense Central Index of Investigations (DCII). On October 2, 1972, DSS became operational in all 50 states under the direction of Brigadier General Joseph Cappucci, former commander of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Formation of this new agency and the consolidation of the PSI process brought additional benefits to the final investigative product - uniformity, improved quality and timeliness.

Timeline of DSS History

The Early Years

DSS was an organization whose manpower, facilities and operational structure were almost entirely borrowed from the Army, Navy and Air Force and the initial months of the agency's existence proved turbulent. Not only was General Cappucci faced with the arduous task of growing one homogeneous operational organization from separate military investigative units with different procedures, but doing so amidst such obstacles as personnel shortages, inadequate resources, and poor working conditions. As early as March 1973, seven months after its start, DSS had a workload twice the size of that considered the optimum, with 48,000 investigations and thousands significantly overdue. Despite such fertile ground for complaint and low morale, transferees exhibited a great sense of loyalty to the DSS mission and were ready to meet the challenge. By the end of 1974, DSS was on the road to recovery.

As DSS matured, military personnel were gradually returned to their parent services and the workforce became entirely civilian. Additional security functions were transferred to DSS, with the most significant being the transfer of administration of the Defense Industrial Security Program from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to DSS on October 2, 1980. As part of the industrial security program, DSS was given responsibility for what was then known as the Key Assets Protection Program and the Arms, Ammunition and Explosives Program. Along with this alignment, DSS inherited the Defense Industrial Security Institute, giving us the opportunity to train our own personnel for the first time.

A Small Agency with a Big Mission

DSS continued to carry out its mission despite the pressures of workload requirements surpassing resource availability. Between 1974 and 1985, DSS' investigative workload increased over 58%, with 17.5% fewer personnel resources devoted to the mission than were afforded military departments prior to the establishment of DSS.

Despite the escalating workload during these years, DSS sought to improve upon its contribution to national security by introducing new processes and programs. In 1981, DSS implemented a new type of background investigation; the first major change in the conduct of personnel security investigations since World War II. The most striking innovation in the new investigation was the inclusion of an interview of the "subject," which consistently led to the development of more significant information and gained widespread recognition throughout DoD.

In 1983, DSS launched a substantial program whereby periodic investigations were conducted on personnel not only having access to Special Compartmented Information (SCI), but to top secret information. This new and aggressive program was designed to detect those cleared personnel who may no longer be reliable or trustworthy and to deter those who might otherwise become traitors.

The Year of the Spy

In 1985, Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, established the Stilwell Commission following the revelation of the "Walker spy ring" and in response to the alarming increase of espionage cases against the U.S. government. Reported cases of espionage had doubled from the 1950s to the 1970s and then doubled again during the 1980s. The Stilwell Commission was directed to review and evaluate security policies and procedures in DoD and identify weaknesses in security programs. The Commission's findings were published in the report, "Keeping the Nation's Secrets" and their recommendations directly impacted DSS. The Commission believed increased priority should be given to DoD security efforts and that necessary resourcing must be made available. As a result, Congress increased DSS funding by 25 million dollars in fiscal year 1986, with an emphasis on Periodic Reinvestigations.

Significant Enhancements during the Last Decade

DSS has undergone a dramatic evolution since its early days, rapidly developing into a complex security organization providing personnel, information, and industrial security products and services, including research studies and comprehensive security training to DoD and other government departments and agencies. The Industrial Security Program has enabled DSS to move into the international arena and provide assistance to U.S. industry operating in Europe and adjacent geographic areas. The international program has grown by leaps and bounds as the decline of defense spending has resulted in industry's expansion into international markets. The typical cleared defense contractor of today has multiple foreign customers, including both foreign military and commercial sales. The insular, DoD-oriented contractor of the past has been replaced by a global business activity extensively involved with foreign entities, businesses and governments.

In May of 1993, DSS established a counterintelligence (CI) office in response to the dramatic changes taking place in the defense marketplace and the growing need for current and relevant intelligence-threat data by the DSS workforce and industrial managers. In addition to being a rich resource for sharing CI experience and knowledge with the DSS workforce through training, policy development and operational support, this office enables the identification and communication of threat data to industry.

The personnel security investigation (PSI) mission transferred from the Department of Defense (DoD) to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) effective Feb. 20, 2005, and included PSIs for industry personnel under the National Industrial Security Program (NISP). The transfer was made pursuant to section 906(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004. DSS retained the function, on behalf of DoD, to oversee the OPM billing and financial reconciliation process for PSIs for the entire Department.

We are proud of our accomplishments through the years. We are confident that our rich history, a quality workforce and improved business strategies will make us the security provider of choice for the future.

Former DSS Directors:

  • Brigadier General Joseph Cappucci, USAF, 1971-1976
  • Bernard J. O'Donnell, 1976-1981
  • Thomas J. O'Brien, 1981-1988
  • John F. Donnelly, 1988-1996
  • Margaret R. Munson, 1996-1998
  • Steven T. Schanzer, 1998-1999
  • Charles J. Cunningham Jr., 1999-2002
  • William Curtis, 2002-2004
  • Heather Anderson, 2004-2005
  • Janice Haith, 2005-2006
  • Kathy Watson, 2006-2010
  • Stanley L. Sims, 2010-2016