Former officials: Process for granting security clearances broken

Former officials: Process for granting security clearances broken
© Getty Images

Former Department of Defense officials are speaking out about a broken process to grant security clearances.

ADVERTISEMENT

During a “60 Minutes” episode airing Sunday night, multiple officials pointed to several high-profile cases in which personnel should not have been granted security clearances, citing the cases of fugitive Edward Snowden, convicted spy Chelsea Manning (known at the time of her trial as Bradley Manning) and mass murderer Aaron Alexis.

“Aaron Alexis should never have been granted a security clearance,” former Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Paul Stockton said.

Stockton said Alexis, who murdered 12 of his colleagues in the 2013 Washington Navy Yard shooting, had a violent history that should have disqualified him from his post.

“That kind of violent behavior, that problem of impulse control, that should have been a prime signal this person is not, repeat, is not appropriate to have the trust associated with a security clearance,” Stockton said.

Alexis had a police record detailing an anger-fueled blackout and an incident in which he deflated car tires with a .45 caliber Glock handgun, “60 Minutes” reported. There is no record that a background check investigating these reports was performed prior to granting his security clearance, the show added.

Stockton said after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there was a backlog of security-clearance applications.

“And Congress decided that getting rid of that backlog and increasing the pace with which investigations could be concluded was very, very important,” he said. “It was a top priority.”

Former officials also said there were shortcomings in the background checks of Snowden and Manning, who both leaked classified information after gaining security clearances.

Manning’s supervisor in Iraq, Jihrleah Showman, said she caught her sneaking cameras and recordable CDs into intelligence vaults.

She told her superiors that Manning “cannot be trusted with a security clearance” and that she is “most likely a spy,” but Manning’s clearance was never revoked.

“60 Minutes” revealed Manning’s police record showed a violent past that officials said should have disqualified her from a clearance. Manning later leaked hundreds of thousands secrets to the website WikiLeaks and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

An inspector general’s report into the Snowden leak said his background check was “deficient in a number of areas” and said “there may well be systemic problems” in how security clearances are granted, the CBS show reported.

“And when we have failures, they’re catastrophic,” former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre said. “The failure with Snowden was catastrophic. So our big, elaborate, expensive system didn’t prevent something that was truly important.”

The Office of Personnel Management, which handles investigations into federal security-clearance applications, declined to be interviewed for the report.