The Defense Department wants to tighten up access to classified information by potentially shrinking the list of 3.5 million people who hold active security clearances.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday announced several policy changes as he unveiled the results of official investigations into the Navy Yard shooting incident last year that killed 12 people.
The gunman, Aaron Alexis, was a contractor and former sailor who held a security clearance despite “a pattern of misconduct and disturbing behavior,” according to investigators.
The military will begin “continuous evaluations” of people holding security clearances, in which background checks will be conducted continually and randomly. The current procedure updates background checks only when a security clearance is up for renewal, typically every 10 years.
“This will help trigger an alert if derogatory information becomes available, for example if someone with a security clearance gets arrested,” Hagel said.
He also said DoD may reduce the number of people holding secret-level security clearances by at least 10 percent.
And the department may start conducting its own background investigations instead of the current practice of letting the civilian Office of Personnel Management handle those reviews, Hagel said.
Security clearances are critically important to many service members who would be unable to perform their day-to-day work without them. Moreover, clearances are often valid beyond military separation and allow veterans to compete for lucrative jobs in the private sector that require clearances.
Alexis was granted a security clearance “even though he never needed it while on active duty with the Navy. This eligibility, valid for 10 years, allowed him to later gain employment at a DoD contracting firm” at the Navy Yard, according to an outside review of the shooting incident.
The report pointed to “a growing culture of over-classification” and noted that since 2001, DoD has tripled the number of individual security clearances approved each year.
The shooting highlights the military’s flawed approach to base security and insider threat prevention, said Paul Stockton, the former assistant secretary of defense who helped lead the outside review of the Navy Yard shooting at Hagel’s request last year.
“For decades, the department has approached security from a perimeter perspective. If we strengthen the perimeter — build our fences, if you will — against threats on the other side, we’ll be secure,” Stockton told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday.
“That approach is outmoded. It’s broken, and the department needs to replace it. Increasingly, threats — cyber, kinetic, all threats — are inside the perimeter. What the Department of Defense should do is build security from within.”
Hagel also announced plans to create a Defense Department Insider Threat Management and Analysis Center that will help track policies and procedures designed to prevent incidents like the Navy Yard shooting.