The U.S. government is at risk of being infiltrated by bad actors and shoddy workers. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a dire warning this week, labeling the Department of Defense security clearance process a “high risk” problem.
The threat is so serious that the agency broke tradition to speak about it a year early.
Security clearances are awarded to those with working with top-secret information. It’s absolutely critical that they’re given to the right people. Foreign spies, people with nefarious intentions, all sorts of potentially dangerous individuals would love to receive top-security clearance.
The government hasn’t been taking the threat seriously. A report released by NBC News this week found that a whopping 165 defense contractors had their security clearances revoked in 2016 after being subjected to further scrutiny.
Deal breakers that should have excluded those men and women from government contracting jobs were initially ignored. Why? Because the system is overloaded and inefficient. People are slipping through the cracks.
“A high-quality and timely personnel security clearance process is essential to minimize the risks of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and to help ensure that information about individuals with criminal histories or other questionable behavior is identified and assessed,” U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said in a letter released Thursday.
The damning report dredged up by NBC shows how people with sketchy, troublesome pasts are able to wriggle through the clearance process, often without having to lie. Once they’re cleared, they have access to sensitive information.
Rep. Elijah Cummings denounced the government weakness that allowed the shoddy background system to exist, before marring his complaint by adding President Trump to the mix. The problems noted by the Government Accountability Office have existed for a long time, under leaders stamped by conservative and liberal ideals. President Trump can’t be blamed. For that matter, neither can Barack Obama.
The president has the right to grant security clearances to whomever he pleases. It’s traditional for the White House to follow the FBI’s recommendations, but it’s not a requirement.
“I believe that serious deficiencies in our nation’s security clearance processes represent an urgent and grave risk to our national security,” Rep. Cummings wrote.
The NBC report looked at data from 200,000 security clearance applications processed within the last few years. 486 applicants were denied outright, or later their clearances revoked.
165 people tricked the system and were allowed access to sensitive material before they were caught.
According to NBC News: “The most common reason for denying a security clearance… was related to the applicant’s finances, with over 370 applicants being denied clearance for “financial considerations. Felony charges were the cause for revoking 63 clearances, and evidence of foreign influence or foreign preference was found in 56 applications.”
In almost all of the cases where someone had their security clearance revoked it was found that the applicant had originally lied. One person’s top-security clearance was yanked after it was discovered that he was a convicted child rapist. It took the government two years to fire him.
The GAO is overstaffed and underfunded. The agency admits that its current backlog is 700,000 applicants long. People are slipping through the cracks because the agency is becoming careless.
“The process for obtaining an interim clearance is the same for defense contractors as for senior White House aides,” writes NBC. “The FBI is responsible for reviewing the criminal history, financial records and foreign contacts of applicants for the White House, the Department of Defense and other agencies with employees that require clearance.”
The only way to fix the problems plaguing the security clearance system is to pump more money into the government agencies responsible for overseeing it. Politicians have to recognize the issues and then dedicate themselves to fixing them. If they don’t, child rapists and other morally-questionable people will continue to gain access to top-secret government material.
“Continued and coordinated focus on the challenges GAO has identified, and the personnel security clearance process generally, will be necessary to facilitate the transfer of background investigations from OPM to DoD,” GAO wrote. “Additionally, policymaker and stakeholder attention will also be essential to help ensure the smooth and timely processing of personnel security clearances government-wide.”
America can’t afford to lose its vigilance. People across the world want to steal our secrets, let’s not make it easy for them.