Security clearances are ostensibly hard to come by, as a number of Trump associates can attest. But there have been some notable exceptions — including murderers, rapists, and pedophiles who were accidentally granted access to classified information as a result of a massive U.S. government backlog in the issuing of security clearances.
The backlog of over 700,000 cases has made waiting times for top-secret clearance on average close to a year, a senior government official told a panel in Washington D.C. last week, leading to temporary clearances being issued for contractors and other officials just to keep government programs running.
But some patently unfit for security clearances have slipped through before comprehensive background checks can be fully investigated.
“I’ve got murderers who have access to classified information. I have rapists. I have pedophiles. I have people involved in child porn,” Daniel Payne, the director of the Defense Security Service told the conference. “This is the risk we are taking.”
Charles Phalen, the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau who also spoke at the conference said that the government’s ability to conduct background checks was slashed by 60 percent after it cut a contract with a company in 2014, according to the Associated Press. But the demand for employees has largely outweighed the risk of granting the wrong people access.
“If we did not give these individuals interim clearances, the production of these programs would shut down,” Payne said. “It would have a horrific impact.”
Some key takeaways:
- Around 4.3 million Americans have a security clearance as of October 2015, according to data provided by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
- Of those, almost 2.9 million people have “secret” clearances and 1.4 million are classified in the”top secret” clearances.
- Roughly 100,000 people have interim clearances, according to McClatchy, meaning they haven’t actually been entirely vetted yet.
- The Department of Defense has 500,000 people under “continuous evaluation,” which Payne says he expects to double by the end of 2017.
- The government has rescinded 48 security clearances as a result of that continuous evaluation, according to the Associated Press, with new details uncovered, which they previously would not have known.
- Hundreds of others have been written up to undergo additional vetting, according to the Associated Press. In February, the Office of Personnel Management changed its requirements for top-secret security clearances, mandating re-investigations into clearances every six years instead of every five to try and help reduce the backlog.