The Defense Department is paving the way to move nearly a quarter of all security clearance holders into the continuous evaluation program, according to recent remarks made by the Director of the Defense Security Service, Daniel Payne. This puts DSS directly on track with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) planned roll-out of continuous evaluation for the cleared workforce.
Pilots began in the Department of Defense in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2015. In mid-2016 a government Request for Proposal (RFP) sought a private sector social media monitoring program, including the ability to conduct deep web and dark web searches. Among the sites the government monitors are music sharing and dating websites, as well as forums and social networks. A specific example of a candidate who was flagged under the CE program is an individual who’s name was listed among conference attendees, and as a conference organizer for a U.S.-based conference where foreign nationals may have been present.
Needless to say, the government’s CE program digs deep when it comes to searching and flagging information for the government to consider.
Why the Push for Continuous Evaluation?
Despite the possible CE misfires, Payne notes the program has been highly successful, particularly at flagging issues individuals had not self reported between periodic reinvestigations (PRs). The hope is that has CE is fully implemented, the need for PRs will disappear altogether (a near reality at present time, when PRs have been suspended and CE and self-reporting are the primary mechanisms for finding adverse information for the already cleared).
Payne reported that of the 500,000 currently in the pilot, 48 had their security clearances revoked based on information discovered through CE. When the agency looks at who to add next, it’s based on agency prioritization, as well as adding individuals currently working under interim security clearances. Payne was a recent critic of the long-standing interim security clearance program, making a confusing statement about rapists and murderers being granted interim security clearances (something that should be impossible thanks to required FBI finger print checks). CE programs for interim security clearance holders will help the government flag any issues that may arise in the time between an interim clearance is issued and a final adjudicative decision is made (a period that thanks to the backlog, may take years).
Congress Loves Continuous evaluation
Congressional security clearance reform hearings have long focused on the government’s lack of progress when it comes to social media monitoring, or any modern vetting in the security clearance process.
“As we’re doing a background investigation, how could you not go look at their Facebook page, or their Twitter posts, or their Instagram, or Snapchat, or any of the other ones?” argued Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) during a 2016 congressional hearing. “…Go hire a bunch of teenagers and they’d do it better than we’re doing it. … ISIS has figured it out — they know how to do it. But we don’t seem to do it.”
The bigger issue may be the adjudicative criteria itself – and the national security framework, which hasn’t changed since 1947. At a June security conference National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB) Director Charles Phalen referred to the current program as, ‘like a 1947 Chrysler we’re still driving.’ He noted current procedures related to the background investigation process is all grounded in policy. Until some of that policy changes, major reforms will be a slow slog. Continuous evaluation is a step in the right direction, but the adjudicative criteria, and procedures used by background investigators collecting and evaluating the data, are still based on that 1947 model of risk and trustworthiness.