by Bill Holmes
The two most recent examples are the Aaron Alexis shootings at the Washington Navy Yard and the Edward Snowdon theft of classified documents. Both of these individuals had security clearance to be in a position and place to do their dirty deeds. To get a security clearance you have to submit multiple forms. Supposedly the reviewers of these forms don't take them at face value. References are checked, searches are made for criminal records, mental health records are reviewed and who knows what other verifications are made.
Are we spending our national security dollars in the right place? There were yellow flags with Snowdon. There were bright red flags with Alexis.
Last night (9/17) Charlie Rose had three former FBI people on his PBS show. One was Mary Ellen O'Toole, Ph.D. who was an FBI profiler. With 20/20 hindsight, she pointed out several issues with past behavior by Alexis. He had a couple of issues with guns, he had multiple disciplinary issues while in the Navy, he had inconsistent behavior with his family and friends. His discharge from the Navy was less than decorated. He had documented mental health issues. Despite all of this, he obtained enough of a security clearance to be working on an IT contract at a Navy installation. He also was able to get a gun into the Navy Yard.
So the question is did anybody actually review his application for clearance? Did the contractor do even a cursory review of his application? If the answer is yes then that review process needs to be improved. If the answer is no then heads need to roll and procedures must be tightened.
Here is my theory. With the need to give security clearance to five million people, many deadbeats and worse slip through. Some of those deadbeats are probably people who review security clearance applications of others. There is also pressure on the conscientious reviewers to get the applications approved. There is work to be done and the workers need clearance. In the case of Aaron Alexis there was IT network wiring that needed to be completed.
The FBI profiler, with hindsight, came up with several points about Alexis that indicated danger. She never interviewed him but has looked at his behavior paper trail. She mentioned several points that would make him a bad risk for a trusted position. Why can't this knowledge be passed down to those who review applications or those who supervise these workers. It seems to me that every time we have a mad gunman or a security breach there are many warning signs that have been missed or ignored. How about we fix the process or fire the incompetents.
I have one other question that applies to the Navy Yard and Fort Hood shootings. Where were the military police (MPs), shore patrol (SPs) or Marines? It seems that civilian cops ended the episodes and took the casualties. Thanks to the local police departments but shouldn't the greatest military on earth be better prepared for attacks.
It's time to fix the way this works. We don't need five million people with security clearance. We don't need every janitor, cable puller or carpenter to have security clearance. We need to determine what is actually top secret and then really limit that access. The current system is a result of laziness. Stamp every document top secret, classify every government installation as restricted. Then you don't have to actually analyze the content of the documents or the national security impact of the installation.
One of the points brought up by the former FBI people on Charlie Rose's show is that there is little coordination between agencies on mental health issues. We have made it almost impossible for healthcare professionals to share information with other health workers and especially with law enforcement agencies. Dangerous people will continue to get past checks until there is more coordination. This applies to gun licenses as well as security clearance. It's a delicate balance between personal freedom and public safety. It seems to me that the government uses privacy laws as an excuse when a bad guy does bad things and they don't stop him while at the same time they completely ignore individual rights and privacy when it serves their purposes.
Let's figure this out. I'm tired of hearing how government agencies are reviewing their procedures to ensure whatever bad thing happened never happens again. Do those reviews ever result in changes? The norm is to have congressional hearings where politics and grandstanding is the agenda. Then the issue fades from the headlines and maybe a scapegoat resigns but no real change happens.
It has now been a week since the Navy Yard shootings. Have you seen anything about it in the news in the past couple of days. Nope, that news cycle is over. When the next shooting or security breach happens we'll get all indignant, for a couple of days. Come on National SECURITY Agency, spend as much effort checking those applying for security clearance as you do scanning phone records of the rest of us.
What do you think?