Pentagon loosens access rules to secret programs, raising security leak fears

The Pentagon has revised rules that can make it simpler for political appointees and congressional staffers to achieve access to the Defense Department’s most secret packages, raising considerations amongst security officers.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks issued a memorandum to senior Pentagon officers on Sept. 20 stating that filling out a counterintelligence questionnaire is now not required to achieve access to particular access packages. Known as SAPs, these are probably the most secret actions and packages inside the division.

The eased rules particularly enable Senate-confirmed political appointees, members of the House and Senate, the skilled employees of the congressional protection and intelligence oversight committees and senior White House officers access to the packages with out filling out a prescreening questionnaire as required for all different officers within the Pentagon’s Special Access Security Manual: Personnel Security.

Also exempted from the prescreening questionnaire are nationwide security advisers to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

A Pentagon official mentioned the rule change may very well be “devastating” to the safety of extremely delicate packages.

Security officers “see this as a front-door or quasi-sanctioning technique that can invite leaks, as earlier measures affording correct safety of extremely protected data are eradicated,” the official mentioned.

Special access packages are categorized above the top-secret degree and are reserved to shield probably the most delicate data.

Hillary Clinton, a secretary of state within the Obama administration, acquired criticism for placing data from a particular access program on her non-public electronic mail server, in accordance to authorities paperwork associated to a subsequent investigation. The delicate data concerned standards to authorize drone strikes on terrorists.

I. Charles McCullough III, serving as inspector basic of the intelligence committee, disclosed the compromise of this high-level data in January 2016.

Another program concerned the enemy-targeting radar frequency for surface-to-air missile methods in Iraq. The data required secrecy to shield the lives of U.S. pilots.

The Pentagon defended the choice to ease the rules.

The memorandum “formally articulates a long-standing Department of Defense follow of not requiring Special Access Program Prescreening Questionnaires from sure senior U.S. authorities officers,” Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon informed The Washington Times. “These embrace senior-level appointees within the White House, members of Congress and Senate-confirmed presidential appointees.”

Mr. Pahon mentioned the brand new rules don’t increase present practices however formalize “greatest practices which scale back pointless redundancies and inefficiencies.”

“These officers are already topic to rigorous background investigations by each the chief department and Congress; subsequently, the requirement to full a SAP prescreening questionnaire is taken into account redundant and pointless,” he mentioned.

The rules will facilitate extra environment friendly collaboration and streamlined access and security practices, he mentioned.

The 2015 handbook says each official who’s granted access to a particular program should first clarify whether or not they have “overseas affections,” or twin citizenship; “overseas associations,” equivalent to monetary pursuits overseas; or unofficial overseas journey after a earlier security assessment.

The questionnaire additionally asks about monetary issues equivalent to overdue payments, tax liens or garnished wages.

Personal conduct, such because the suspension or revocation of security clearances, is also a part of the questionnaire.

All questions are normal instruments to establish potential overseas spies or people who find themselves weak to recruitment by overseas intelligence providers. Any “sure” reply locations the candidate able for additional investigation earlier than they’re allowed access to the secret program.

Security consultants say the less-demanding rules will make it simpler for an already leaky authorities institution to disclose categorized data.

“This is completely a risk to nationwide security,” mentioned retired Navy Capt. James E. Fanell, a former intelligence director for the Pacific Fleet.

Capt. Fanell mentioned the brand new rule seems to be a part of a Biden administration effort that’s “systematically destroying some of the delicate and efficient packages in our nationwide instrument package.”

“This resolution is just not solely unprecedented and presents a grave risk to U.S. nationwide security, and it must be rescinded instantly.”

Kenneth E. deGraffenreid, a former deputy nationwide counterintelligence govt, mentioned Democratic administrations starting with President Clinton have sought to make it simpler to grant access to secrets and techniques.

The most up-to-date easing of rules for particular access packages seems to be a Biden administration effort to grant a “get out of jail free card” upfront to officers and congressional employees who leak categorized data, he mentioned.

“To grant a waiver like this doesn’t make plenty of sense,” Mr. deGraffenreid mentioned. “Anyone ought to have the opportunity to reply ‘no’ to all of these questions, and if they will’t, then waiving this questionnaire is unhealthy on its face and unhealthy for example for different officers.”

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