Staff Report: Slipping Through the Cracks: How the D.C. Navy Yard Shooting Exposes Flaws in the Federal Security Clearance Process

February 11, 2014

Key Findings:

-          Non-cooperation of 450 police departments with federal background investigators – Federal law requires local law enforcement agencies to provide criminal history information to federal security clearance investigators.  But Federal law is vague on exactly what must be shared and many local law enforcement agencies frequently shun federal security clearance investigators, by providing only limited, if any, information.  New York City, Newark, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Seattle – where Aaron Alexis had a gun-related arrest – are all included on OPM’s list of cities with non-cooperating police departments.  Documents in the report detail incomplete information made available to background investigators, who did not know that a previous 2004 arrest of Alexis in Seattle involved a firearm and that a police report stated Alexis claimed to have suffered a “’black-out’ fueled by anger.”  (Pages 18-19 and 40-43)

-          Lack of continuous monitoring – Under current law, a person holding a Top Secret clearance must be reinvestigated every five years in order to continue holding the clearance, those holding a Secret clearance must be reinvestigated every ten years, and those holding a Confidential clearance must be reinvestigated every fifteen years.  In the intervening years, cleared individuals and their supervisors must report any derogatory information but there are no effective checks enforcing compliance beyond the renewal requirement.  Numerous violent incidents from Aaron Alexis’ post 2007 past – when he received his security clearance –  would have only been recognized when his clearance required renewal in 2017.  (Pages 32-35)

-          Regulations prohibit background checkers from looking at the Internet or social media when performing checks – Investigators conducting federal security clearance background checks do not see, search, or receive reports of the vast amount of information available online.  Nor do current federal security process guidelines allow the adjudicators who grant the clearances to access this information.  The current Investigators Handbook guidelines strictly prohibit the use of the Internet to obtain substantive information.  The Handbook does not address the use of social media, but instead includes a near-blanket restriction on the use of the Internet.  Regulations prohibit efforts intended to safeguard national secrets that many private employers conduct independently when making hiring decisions.  (Pages 35-38)

You can read the complete report here.