Security Clearance Process

Security Clearance Reform Again Debated on Capitol Hill

Last week’s Senate hearing on security clearance reform focused on defense contractors and necessary reforms to prevent another Aaron Alexis from falling through the cracks. Several issues are of specific interest to the background investigator community, including proposals to shorten the length of time between periodic reinvestigations; improving technology and increasing the automation involved in the background investigation process; and creating uniform standards of training for background investigators.

Here’s an excerpt from last week’s article on

“Our system is obviously broken,” said Ranking Committee Member Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).

While the Office of Personnel Management has reviewed Alexis’ background check and confirmed that all applicable standards were complied with when completing his investigation in 2007, agencies are still scrambling to provide Congress with recommendations for reform.

Increasing the frequency of reinvestigations to assess an individual’s continuing eligibility for a security clearance is one proposal by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).  Currently, reinvestigations are conducted every five years for Top Secret clearances or every ten years for Secret clearances.

“Continuous Evaluation (CE) is a tool that will assist in closing this information gap….CE, as envisioned in the reformed security clearance process, includes automated records checks of commercial databases, government databases, and other information lawfully available,” outlined ODNI.  “Manual checks are inefficient and resource intensive.”

ODNI also supports the implementation of “National Training Standards” to create uniform training criteria for background investigators, national security adjudicators, and suitability adjudicators.

Yesterday four Senators introduced a bipartisan bill to bolster the clearance process through an “enhanced security clearance system” to aggregate and store each applicant’s personal information.  The bill would also require review of the cleared individual at least two times every five years.

Comment Archive

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    Wow really, more money on a process that can never ever be foolproof. Maybe it could deter Alexis. But Snowden, or Manning.? I doubt it. they will always show up clean until they decide to go dirty. Then its to late.

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    I was an OPM investigator for three years. The current OPM investigation process needs to be scrapped. We are living in an age where we can track all email, phone, internet activity of anyone in the world, including the Pope, but for top secret security clearance investigations we use a paper-based, largely honor system with Subjects. Then we ask their friends– only on the record– if the Subject is a good person and if he/she has ever attempted to overthrow the U.S. Government by force. Really?!! I disagree with Payne. Electronic pattern monitoring would uncover these guys having distinct perusing and email patterns that could raise eyebrows among sharp monitors. Right now security clearance investigations are basing trustworthiness on whether someone paid a bill late, had a DWI, smoked pot in college a few times, etc. A lot of untrustworthy people out there (e.g., Manning and Snowden) haven’t had an OPM “issue” so there is nothing to base an assessment of someone’s trustworthiness on. Get someone’s electronic patterns (and unguarded words) for one month and I can assure you it will be infinitely more revealing character and trustworthiness and predictive of someone’s future intentions than the current OPM investigation process.

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    I have to disagree with both Darrow and Payne about Manning. First, he got sent to a discharge unit because his drill instructor wanted to kick him out of the army. After being reinstated, he was referred to mental health counseling. Within two months of his deployment, he was perceived as so mentally unstable, that his commanding officer deemed him a physical danger to himself and others and removed his rifle bolt. At least with Manning, there were more than enough obvious signs to revoke his clearance or not to grant it to begin with. Manning was more of a failure of people than process.

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    The process has flaws as does many. If we cross the line into electronic monitoring, we may as well be called the Soviet States of America. I once said about 20 years ago that computers and the digital age will be our downfall and I think we may be real close.

    Not one so-called spy is worth giving up freedoms we were built on. Much of what we do has problems, but it is the system we have. After millions of these, we still have had limited disclosure as far as we know. Put the monitoring in place and folks who are trained properly, can easily avoid being detected, anyhow.

    I have many military friends, govvie and contractor friends, who voice opinions, many on social media. If this is the guide we use, we will never have a qualified workforce.

    Of course, all IMO.

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    I hear what you’re saying BW and I sort of agree. I cycle through about two dozen social media forums and often post political comments that I wouldn’t want my liberal boss reading. But I think we’ve sort of reached a surveillance state way beyond anything in the past. Isn’t it sort of inexorable? And if someone is undergoing a BI for a TS shouldn’t they be really scrutinized? If you want to keep the old way of doing things you know it’s like boxing with your right hand tied behind your back. Or running a horse-driven, cross-country shipping service. And don’t Subjects already consent to be checked out? Paper, pens, the 70-year old canned questions, interviewing friends, et al., has gotta be radically updated. Tablets, quick & non-disclaimer-ridden reports, distilled questions, not interviewing friends, etc., has to be the starting point for the BI investigation process of the future.

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    We could focus less on the BI and more on physical security. Create a more invasive version of TSA lines for any system administrator entering or leaving the SCIF and you could have stopped Snowden and Manning.

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    For exactly what it is worth, I think Continuous Assessment (CE) is properly to go if its passively executed. The existing system of on the ground detectives in inept, slow-moving, and does not offer precise outcomes. I am not recommending it be gotten rid of, simply left at its 5 or 10 year regularity rates and supplemented by CE. The large quantities of legitimately aggregated Huge information on everybody need to be even more than sufficient to recognize patterns of questional habits in cleared people.

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    Don’t know if you saw it but the House recently issued a subpoena for OPM records related to investigations. The funny part is that in earlier correspondence OPM apparently tried to use a FOIA exception to justify not releasing the documents to a Congressional Committee. See the links below to Issa’s letter to OPM and the news story.

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    That use to be the norm in the 1980’s military. The military has forgotten how to protect itself.

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    Just found out from some friends of mine who still work for USIS that USIS just laid off 175 to 200 Investigators in low work areas.

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    The current TS/SCI investigation is a laughable process.

    Private investigator can dig up more dirt for less cost. Maybe outsourcing the investigation is an option.

    Legal concern: I believe having the employee acknowledge and agree to the personal intrusion is acceptable for some job. Every negative items that comes up should be on the table for discussion. 1) why is it bad 2)anticipate problem and prepare employee to deal with it (obviously some negative mark should be automatic disqualification)

    Shady business in government is never a good thing.

    On top of all that process, the biggest failure is / are the people! Even with no process, the people remain the biggest vulnerability in defending our nation. Current culture practices avoidance of accountability, believing that relationship is everything (forgetting that holding their friend accountable is a duty). *based on observation of EPR and inspection process in the Air Force.

    It is easy to get civil servants to say service before self, but it is another matter to get civil servants to serve from their heart.