Fast-tracking security clearances

In the wake of the horrific shootings at the Washington Navy Yard everybody is asking the same questions: How and why?

The “why” is nearly always the toughest. And more often than not, we never can be sure we got the real reason. But the “how” question is timely.

How did contractor Aaron Alexis, with his track record, get a security clearance? Shouldn’t a lot of different people have been able to connect the dots along the line: Incidents with the police. Incidents involving shootings. His early discharge from the Navy. Concerns expressed by friends, neighbors and coworkers.

Yet he continued to come to work. And like 5 million other Americans (most of them government contractors) he got a security clearance.



Could it be that the process has been streamlined too much? That the pressure to clear people quickly has resulted in a flawed process. Consider:

In 2005, it took an average of 189 days to get a federal security clearance. Today, thanks to pressure from politicians to speed up the process, the average is down to 44 days.

Would Edward Snowden, leaker of NSA secrets and now a resident of Russia, have gotten his job under the old, slower security clearance process?

Would Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter, with a very troubled past have been cleared in 2005 under the older, slower system?

Five weeks ago, Alexis apparently told police in Rhode Island that he was hearing voices, being followed, etc. The local cops contacted the Navy. Then what should have been done? In hindsight, the answer is easy. But, at the time, a tough call.

Of course, we will probably never know the answers but that won’t stop the public, press and media from demanding to know how this happened and what, if anything, could have been done to prevent it.

Where does being a good/concerned citizen end and becoming Big Brother begin?

If a colleague or neighbor mutters to himself, laughs for no reason or behaves strangely, do you turn him (or her) in? At what point? And who do you tell? Anybody who walks through Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, has seen that kind of behavior. How many “odd” possibly dangerous people do you encounter in a typical subway ride.

Currently private contractors do nearly half of all federal security checks. Is it wise to have contractors vetting contractors? So far, the experts haven’t done all that well.

Maybe it’s time to ask people who are in the bullseye — federal offices and military bases — what they think? Is there any way, short of having everyone telecommute all the time, to keep government offices safe?

If anybody knows, it could be you.


Compiled by Jack Moore

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