Senators Vow To Crack Down on Security Clearances

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, arrives for a closed door briefing on Syria

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, arrives for a closed door briefing on Syria

Capitol Hill wants the system that grants contractors elite access to be much more accountable. By Matt Berman

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blasted the security-clearance process for some government contractors on Wednesday, telling National Journal, ”In both the case of the Navy Yard shooter and Edward Snowden, it defies belief that they were given security clearances, given their backgrounds.”

The shooter at Washington’s Navy Yard was hired in September 2012 by a subcontractor for Hewlett-Packard, where he was granted secret-level clearance. Edward Snowden, who leaked a trove of NSA documents, was a contractor and computer systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton. While the two cases are obviously drastically different—no matter how bad you think Snowden’s actions were, he certainly didn’t kill anybody—they highlight a growing concern in Congress about exactly who is getting high-level security clearances, and how easy it may be for the wrong people to acquire them.

Sen. Collins isn’t the only person voicing such concern. On Wednesday, four senators sent a letter to Inspector General Patrick E. McFarland calling for an investigation into how the Navy Yard shooter received his clearance. The senators were particularly interested in how he was able to get that clearance despite “his patterns of misconduct.”

In an e-mail to National Journal, Collins also outlined what she would like to happen:

The first step is a thorough congressional investigation. I’m hopeful that the Intelligence Committee will expand the work that we’re already doing to learn how Edward Snowden was able to get such a high security clearance, and I’ve also talked to the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee which has jurisdiction over the Office of Personnel Management and encouraged that committee to take a look at whether too much of this work is being contracted out.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., told reporters Wednesday, ”I think there’s real interest in focusing on background checks for contractors. We’re going to drill down on this.” On Tuesday, the White House announced that the Office of Management and Budget would begin a review of the security-clearance process for contractors and federal employees in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence Office and the Office of Personnel Management.

It’s not yet certain how far this will go, or how much Congress will be able to reform the security-clearance process for contractors. But with 13 people dead, it’s hard to see this issue just fading away.

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