Let me first say, I am retired, have no access to any data on current events or specific recent events in DC or intelligence leaks. With that said I can comment on generic things I have seen dealing with government clearances.
Typically, the lowest level of security clearance is good for 10 years following a rudimentary background check. This includes a credit check and felony/arrest check. Higher level clearances have a more thorough check and are only good for 5 years.
As you’ve seen in recent articles, these clearances can be reactivated by an employer after a service member or govt worker leaves government service for the remainder of the clearance time. After the 5/10 year time frame expires, the employer or employee would have to pay for a new background check.
While I never did background checks themselves, it appears from the media reports, and from what I saw on active duty, there are not any annual recheck to make sure a member has changed since the background check was accomplished. I only saw members lose their clearance when they applied for an extension, and most commonly they lost it for being behind on car payments or credit cards.
Now we have our Washington Navy Yard shooter (former Navy Reservist) who never went higher than E-4. From 2004 to 2010, which includes time before and during his 4 year tour, he was arrested 3 times in three states – 2 of which were for gun discharges, and ultimately received his SECRET clearance for 10 years in 2008.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered “top to bottom reviews” of the Security clearance System and procedures for gaining access to facilities.. I’ll save him some time and money and propose a few here for clearances:
1. SECRET Clearances good for only 5 years to match TS and higher guidelines.
2. Full background checks for all levels of security clearances (Make SECRET match TS level background checks) No way you should miss an arrest on a background check.
3. Annual computer database checks on members with clearances on Terrorist and Criminal databases.
4. Annual Credit Checks to maintain clearance.
5. Mental Heath checks for members with clearances. Yes if you hear voices you should not have a weapon or a clearance.
5. If a member leaves the service/govt, a background check must be completed before reactivating a contractors previous clearance.
6. Increase checks on contractors performing background checks. Any violations of policy should lead to termination of their contract. (Contractor who did Edward Snowden’s background check also failed with the Washington Navy Yard shooter background check.)
7. Review background checks completed by the contractor in number 6 above for errors or incomplete checks. Suspend any clearances needing a complete check.
8. Review the number of clearances granted to contractors. As the military downsizes this number seems to grow in proportion, raising our risk.
While these are only a few changes, perhaps they might have helped in the Edward Snowden case and the Washington Navy Yard. Current clearance procedures are a failure. With all of the instant computer data available these days, it could be relatively easy to maintain in a Security office.
- Sen. Susan Collins calls for more frequent review of security clearances (washingtontimes.com)
- Hagel calls for full review of all base security, clearance procedures (stripes.com)
- Navy Yard killer Aaron Alexis heard voices, but kept secret clearance (mercurynews.com)
- Hagel says ‘red flags’ missed before Navy Yard shooting (reuters.com)