WASHINGTON Feb 11 The U.S. security clearance
process that failed to flag former spy agency contractor Edward
Snowden and the Washington Navy Yard shooter needs reforms as
simple as letting investigators use the Internet and forcing
local law enforcement to cooperate, a congressional report said
The report suggested federal investigators be allowed to tap
tools ordinary Americans use to find out about a specific
person: Facebook, Twitter and Google.
The Office of Personnel Management's Investigative Handbook,
updated in 2007, places an almost blanket restriction on
Internet use, it said, but social media and search sites
"contain a treasure trove of information about their users".
"Congress should force OPM's investigative practices into
the 21st century by allowing investigators to use the Internet
and social media sources in particular for the first time," it
The report was compiled by the House of Representatives
Oversight and Government Reform Committee and reflected closer
government scrutiny of the security clearance process and the
contractors who carry it out. The report was released before a
committee hearing with key figures in the security process.
It was triggered by last September's killings of 12 people
at the Navy Yard. Shooter Aaron Alexis was a Defense Department
contract employee who received a "secret" clearance in 2008
despite his involvement in a series of violent incidents and his
Last month, the Justice Department accused United States
Investigations Services, the largest private provider of
security checks for the government, of bilking the government of
millions of dollars through improper background checks.
USIS vetted both Alexis and Snowden, the former National
Security Agency contractor who disclosed secrets about U.S.
government surveillance before taking refuge in Russia.
The House committee report said Congress had a
responsibility to determine how Alexis got clearance despite red
flags, which included a warning from his mother to his employer
that Alexis had "a history of paranoid episodes and most likely
Much of Alexis' background information was not passed on to
the adjudicator who granted his clearance, the report said.
Specifically, his 2004 arrest was not included in the Office of
Personnel Management's background investigative file that went
to the Navy, which ultimately granted him clearance twice.
MORE REGULAR CHECKS NEEDED
The committee, led by Republican U.S. Representative Darrell
Issa, said legislative fixes it was considering included
requiring continuous evaluation of clearances, which now have to
be re-evaluated every five or 10 years.
It also proposed giving government greater access to the
mental health information of people holding clearances and
ensuring local law enforcement offices fulfill their obligation
to provide specific information to background investigators.
The report said local police departments are now required by
law to cooperate in federal security clearance investigations,
but more than 450 offices around the country do not, including
New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
The OPM is in charge of background investigations for
security clearances for non-intelligence personnel. Information
compiled by OPM and its contractors is relayed to the agency
that requested clearance, which decides whether to grant it.
In prepared testimony before the committee, OPM Director
Katherine Archuleta, who has been in the job three months, said
that last week she ordered the quality review process be done
only by federal employees, not contract workers.
"We no longer will have contractors participating in our
ongoing final federally controlled quality review process," she
The Justice Department lawsuit said USIS failed to perform
quality control reviews of its background investigations.
The new CEO of USIS, which said it is cooperating with the
government, tried to minimize contractors' role.
"It is critical to recognize that USIS and OPM's other
contractors have no role in deciding whether an individual
actually receives or retains a security clearance," Sterling
Phillips said in prepared testimony. "We only collect and report
information and we do not even make a recommendation."