Congress finds short­cuts, eyes cover-up in se­cu­rity clear­ances

In­quir­ers de­mand full OPM dis­clo­sure

The Washington Times Daily - - Front Page - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The fed­eral agency charged with screen­ing em­ploy­ees for se­cu­rity clear­ance of­fered hints about how to cut cor­ners, and its lax poli­cies could have led to the clear­ance the Navy Yard shooter needed to ac­cess the base, the House’s top in­ves­ti­ga­tor said Wed­nes­day.

Rep. Dar­rell E. Issa, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and chair­man of the Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, said his staffers have come across ver­bal and writ­ten poli­cies from the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment that in­di­cate the se­cu­rity clear­ance process was short­cir­cuited in the case of Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter.

But Mr. Issa says OPM is re­fus­ing to turn over those doc­u­ments and al­low­ing them to be viewed only be­hind closed doors. If he doesn’t have the doc­u­ments by noon Thurs­day, he said, he will is­sue a sub­poena.

Mr. Issa said he thinks the agency is try­ing to pro­tect it­self from em­bar­rass­ment from ques­tions about the clear­ance process for Alexis and for Ed­ward Snow­den, the for­mer con­trac­tor whose leaks have ex­posed some of the gov­ern­ment’s most se­cret spy pro­grams.

“Th­ese poli­cies in­clude the fail­ure to se­cure ar­rest records that would have alerted fed­eral of­fi­cials to his vi­o­lent past,” Mr. Issa wrote in a let­ter, ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times, which was sent Wed­nes­day to OPM Di­rec­tor Kather­ine Archuleta. “Per­haps most dis­con­cert­ing, though, is OPM’s in­dif­fer­ence to ob­tain­ing all the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion about in­di­vid­u­als un­der re­view for a se­cu­rity clear­ance.”

Mr. Issa said his investigators also have seen an OPM train­ing pre­sen­ta­tion that of­fered tips on “how to com­plete a thirty day caseload in less than thirty days.”

That same doc­u­ment also told those con­duct­ing the se­cu­rity re­view that when look­ing for crim­i­nal records, lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cers “ei­ther got ’em, or they don’t.” Mr. Issa said that “cav­a­lier” guid­ance made it seem like it was ac­cept­able not to fully pur­sue those records.

That mat­ters be­cause, in the case of Alexis, se­cu­rity clear­ance investigators failed to turn up in­for­ma­tion about an ar­rest and failed to un­cover ac­cu­sa­tions that he used a gun to shoot at a ve­hi­cle’s tires.

Mr. Issa is seek­ing all train­ing ma­te­ri­als, the con­tracts with third-party com­pa­nies that help with the screen­ings, and in­for­ma­tion on how the screen­ers’ job per­for­mances are as­sessed.

In an ear­lier let­ter to Mr. Issa, OPM’s chief at­tor­ney said the agency was with­hold­ing doc­u­ments be­cause some of them con­tain sen­si­tive busi­ness in­for­ma­tion and oth­ers, if made pub­lic, would lay out clear ways to de­feat the clear­ance sys­tem.

OPM also hinted that it could claim to pro­tect the doc­u­ments by ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege be­cause they im­pli­cate the White House bud­get of­fice’s in­ter­ests.

Spokes­woman Lind­sey O’Keefe said Wed­nes­day that the agency be­lieves it has given ac­cess to Mr. Issa’s investigators.

“We have al­ready made th­ese doc­u­ments avail­able to the com­mit­tee for re­view. We have re­ceived Chair­man Issa’s most re­cent let­ter dated Novem­ber 20, 2013, and plan to re­spond to him as ap­pro­pri­ate,” Ms. O’Keefe said in an email.

The method of grant­ing se­cu­rity clear­ances has be­come a heated topic this year, with sev­eral con­gres­sional com­mit­tees vow­ing to re­view the pro­ce­dures in the wake of the Navy Yard shoot­ing and the Snow­den leaks.

Mr. Issa said the fact that the gov­ern­ment and its con­trac­tors cleared Alexis and Mr. Snow­den “en­abled them to carry out their heinous acts.”

The push for doc­u­ments has bi­par­ti­san sup­port — though not nec­es­sar­ily Mr. Issa’s threat of a sub­poena.

“I be­lieve the com­mit­tee has a right to th­ese doc­u­ments, and I hope we can work this out with­out re­sort­ing to a sub­poena,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cum­mings of Mary­land, the rank­ing Demo­crat on the over­sight com­mit­tee. “The agency should iden­tify any sen­si­tive ma­te­rial, and the com­mit­tee should safe­guard this in­for­ma­tion ap­pro­pri­ately.”

In his let­ter, Mr. Issa said the com­mit­tee has the ex­pe­ri­ence and abil­ity to pro­tect sen­si­tive data.

Mr. Issa first re­quested unredacted OPM doc­u­ments in Septem­ber, in­clud­ing the full 2007 back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port that ap­proved Alexis’ se­cu­rity clear­ance.

Alexis used that clear­ance in Septem­ber to gain ac­cess to the Navy Yard fa­cil­ity, where he killed a dozen peo­ple and wounded eight oth­ers be­fore he was fa­tally shot by po­lice.

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