Sen. Claire McCaskill has expressed concerns about security operations since the leaks from contractor Edward Snowden and the fatal shootings at the Washington Navy Yard, and now she says she has common-sense legislation to prevent such incidents from happening in the future.
She says systemic problems with the security clearance background check process are evident, and has co-sponsored a bill with Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), that would implement an automated review of public records and databases for any information that might affect the security clearance status of individuals who have such a clearance.
“There are systemic failures in the current process that are jeopardizing our ability to protect our nation’s secrets and our secure facilities,” she says. “Senator Collins and I aren’t ones to identify a problem and just talk about it-we are determined to offer concrete solutions, and that’s what this bill is all about.”
McCaskill is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“Although we have made significant advances in the processing of background checks, there is still a gaping hole in the current security clearance process that has enabled people who exhibit obvious signs of high-risk behavior to remain undetected,” said Collins, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “There needs to be a balance between the processing of clearances quickly enough to allow individuals to do their jobs, but also thoroughly enough to flag potential problems. Our legislation represents a sensible path forward to protect national security and to help prevent future tragedies.”
The bill would require the Office of Personnel Management to implement an automated review that would search public records and databases for information on every individual with a security clearance at least twice, at random times, every five years. These audits would identify information these individuals are already obligated by law to disclose including information relating to any criminal or civil legal proceeding; financial information relating to the covered individual; data maintained on any terrorist or criminal watch list; and any publicly-available information that suggests ill intent, vulnerability to blackmail, compulsive behavior, allegiance to another country, or change in ideology of the covered individual.
McCaskill says, as a former state audit, there are two kinds of audits: the kind everyone knows is coming, and the kind no one knows is coming.
McCaskill says that if, in the course of a randomly timed audit required under the Senators’ bill, the review finds any information pertinent to security clearance, the Office of Personnel Management would be required to notify the agency employing the individual-allowing the agency to follow the procedures already in current law to make an informed determination as to the individual’s ongoing employment, level of clearance, and access to classified information.
Recent reports have identified significant issues in the execution of background investigations on Edward Snowden and Aaron Alexis, including the exclusion of previous arrest records and a failure to independently verify submitted information.
“There are serious gaps in the government’s security clearance system, and our bipartisan legislation will help close those gaps by putting in place safeguards to better identify potential risks,” said Ayotte, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “We must ensure that individuals who hold security clearances are qualified, fit to serve, and don’t pose a danger to the workforce or our national security.”
“When we give someone a security clearance, we need to make sure that appropriate and commonsense safeguards are taken so that our country’s government facilities and its workers are protected,” said Heitkamp, also a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “This is a solutions-oriented approach to help make that possible, and I’m proud to join my colleagues from both sides of the aisle in introducing it.”
The Collins-McCaskill-Ayotte-Heitkamp legislation has been endorsed by:
· Federal Managers Association;
· The FBI Agents Association;
· The Alcohol-Tobacco-Firearms and Explosives Association;
· The International Association of Chiefs of Police
· The National Native American Law Enforcement Association;
· General Dynamics Information Technologies;
· Lt. Gen. Charles J. Cunningham Jr., Former Director of the Defense Security Service (1999-2002);
· Brian Stafford, Former Director of the United States Secret Service (1999-2003);
· Howard Safir, Former Police Commissioner of New York City (1996-2000);
· Floyd Clarke, Former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (1993);
· Michael Sullivan, Former Acting Director of the ATF (2006-2009) and US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (2001-2009);
· TechAmerica Foundation;
· and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.
Read the full bill HERE.