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Boston and Beyond

November 1, 2013

Changes pursued in US security clearance system


President Barack Obama has also ordered the White House budget office to examine security standards for government contractors and employees across federal agencies.

Concerns about weaknesses in the security clearance system have surfaced not only with Alexis but with National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and with Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning, currently imprisoned for leaking classified documents.

Federal officials said Thursday they were working to retool aspects of the nation’s security clearance system, including the process of re-evaluating the behavior of employees and contractors who have access to sensitive information.

Holders of top secret clearances are subject to re-investigations every five years and those with secret clearances every 10 years.

But officials are pursuing the use of expanded automated checks, including through commercial and government databases, to make sure employees remain eligible to hold their clearance, said Brian Prioletti, an assistant director in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

He said officials also were studying the feasibility of using information from social media sites in determining eligibility for a clearance.

“We have to find that balance between the civil liberties and privacies of a U.S. citizen versus national security interests,” Prioletti said.

Alexis applied for a security clearance with the Navy in 2007. Defense officials say he lied in his application about the 2004 arrest in Seattle and failed to disclose thousands of dollars in debts.

An FBI fingerprint check revealed the arrest, but an investigative report from an OPM contractor omitted the fact that Alexis had fired shots. Court records did not reveal details of the arrest and showed only that malicious mischief charges were not pursued.

Kaplan said investigators were not required to review the underlying police report and did not even try to access it because the Seattle police department, like other jurisdictions, had a history of not making such information available to contractors doing background checks.

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