Pentagon Now Continuously Scanning All Staff With Security Clearances For Terrorist And Criminal Threats

According to the Department of Defense, all security clearance holders are now part of a program that monitors federal employees for suspicious behavior. This is part of a long-running effort to better monitor federal employees for criminal and terrorist activity.

Aerial photo of the Pentagon. getty

The Key Facts

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that all civilians, service personnel, and contractors with security clearances have been enrolled in continuous vetting. This system scans and filters terrorist and criminal databases to find red flags for employees. This program allows DOD officials to find out information about staff members who are under arrest or have terrorism concerns within days. Unlike waiting for background checks renewals that may take years, this program can be done quickly. The Pentagon announced Tuesday afternoon that 3.6 million people who have clearances are now part of the continuous vetting program.

What to Watch

The government will add federal employees to its continuous vetting program over the next two-years. It will scan for additional information and add financial and travel records to criminal and terrorist information already in the system. DOD stated that it hopes this system will replace the current five- to ten-year reinvestigations required for clearance holders.

What we don't know

According to William Lietzau (director of Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency), DOD could eventually monitor employees' social media activity as part the ongoing vetting program. Lietzau stated that it is still unclear what type of activity will be monitored and how officials will use the information obtained from social media. According to a 2016 policy, security clearance investigators can already look at posts on social media, but cannot ask employees for passwords or gain access to private accounts.

Important Background

Defense One reported that the federal government has been trying to vet employees who deal with classified information more frequently over the past decade. This is in addition to relying on background checks. In 2011, former President Barack Obama instructed federal agencies to look for a way to detect insider threats in their employees. Chelsea Manning's leak of troves of Pentagon documents as well as diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks was a major driver of this push. The Pentagon had indicated earlier in the year that it plans to fight domestic extremism within its ranks. In May, The Intercept reported that documents describing a DOD pilot program to search social media for extremist content were discovered. This report was denied by the Pentagon.

Chief Critic

Manning, whose sentence was reduced by Obama in 2017, warned that the federal government's emphasis on insider threats could make it difficult for whistleblowers five years ago. Manning described the insider threat program as a "blank check" for surveillance in a Guardian op-ed from 2016.

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Pentagon Starts Continuous Vetting All Troops for Insider Threats and Extremism; Social Media May Be Next (Defense One).

Chelsea Manning: Government anti-leak program is a 'blank control for surveillance' (The Guardian).