Tag Archive: Security clearance


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How Can Red Flags Be Missed Like Navy Shooter’s?

Sep 20, 2013

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WASHINGTON — The government’s sprawling system of background checks and security clearances is so unreliable it’s virtually impossible to adequately investigate the nearly 5 million Americans who have them and make sure they can be trusted with access to military and sensitive civilian buildings, an Associated Press review found.

Case after case has exposed problems for years, including recent instances when workers the government approved have been implicated in mass shootings, espionage and damaging disclosures of national secrets. In the latest violence, the Navy Yard gunman passed at least two background checks and kept his military security clearance despite serious red flags about violent incidents and psychological problems.

The AP’s review — based on interviews, documents and other data — found the government overwhelmed with the task of investigating the lives of so many prospective employees and federal contractors and then periodically re-examining them.

The system focuses on identifying applicants who could be blackmailed or persuaded to sell national secrets, not commit acts of violence. And it relies on incomplete databases and a network of private vetting companies that earn hundreds of millions of dollars to perform checks but whose investigators are sometimes criminally prosecuted themselves for lying about background interviews that never occurred.

“It’s too many people to keep track of with the resources that they have, and too many people have access to information,” said Mark Riley, a Maryland lawyer who represents people who have been denied clearances or had them revoked.

The Pentagon knows there are problems. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a sweeping review of all military security and employee screening programs. “Something went wrong,” he said.

Separately, Congress has asked the inspector general at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to investigate how a clearance was awarded to Aaron Alexis, the Navy IT contractor who killed 12 people Monday inside a Washington Navy Yard building before he was shot to death by authorities. Just weeks ago, the Navy had warned employees under its new “insider threat” program that all personnel were responsible for reporting suspicious activity that could lead to terrorism, espionage or “kinetic actions” — a military euphemism for violence.

“The clearance piece of this is one, I think, we very clearly have to take another look at,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Navy Yard itself reopened for normal operations on Thursday, but it was hardly business as usual. Returning employees said they felt unsettled. Workers who streamed by the red brick wall of the Navy Yard in the early morning sun said it was too soon to talk about the week’s violence.

FBI Director James Comey said investigators were still working through video evidence, but fresh details of the shootings were emerging.

Comey said Alexis entered the Navy Yard in a vehicle, parked in a deck across from Building 197, entered carrying a bag, went into a fourth-floor bathroom and came out carrying a Remington 870 shotgun. The shotgun was cut down at both ends — the stock sawed off and the barrel sawed off a bit — and ammunition was stowed in a cargo pocket on the outside of his pants.

Almost immediately Alexis started to shoot people on the fourth floor with no discernible pattern, Comey said. Alexis also went down to the lobby, shot a security guard and took the guard’s handgun, continuing his shooting until he was cornered later by a team of officers and killed after a sustained gunfire exchange.

Comey said there was no evidence that Alexis fired shots down into the atrium despite initial accounts from witnesses at the scene.

“It appears to me that he was wandering the halls and hunting for people to shoot,” he said.

Alexis had worked for a Florida-based IT consulting firm called The Experts. He had been refreshing Pentagon computer systems, holding a military security clearance that would have expired five years from now.

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‘Sex for student fees’ man unmasked to be IT consultant ‘with top-level MoD security clearance’

‘Assessor’ for SponsoraScholar.co.uk Mark Lancaster worked on massive overhaul of the British military computer network

Mark Lancaster, 39, who presented himself as an “assessor” for the SponsorAScholar.co.uk website, has worked as a contractor on a massive overhaul of the IT network used by UK armed forces, military sources confirmed last night. He is also thought to have worked on computer systems used by British forces during the invasion of Iraq.

The Independent this week tracked down the married father-of-two to his £460,000 home on the edge of the South Downs national park in Hampshire after he was filmed asking an undercover reporter to undergo a “practical assessment” with him to prove the “level of intimacy” she could provide for the website’s claimed clients.

The Metropolitan Police has been passed a dossier of material concerning SponsorAScholar.co.uk and Mr Lancaster, and is understood to be seeking to establish whether there are grounds for investigating offences.

When confronted by The Independent at his large detached home in the picturesque village of Horndean, near Portsmouth, Mr Lancaster refused to comment, slamming the door and turning the key in the lock.

He did not respond to repeated requests from this newspaper to explain his involvement with the website, his conversations with the undercover reporter or whether he had disclosed his activities to his employer or the MoD.

On his entry to the LinkedIn website, Mr Lancaster describes himself as a “DV-cleared consultant with proven extensive experience”. DV is a reference to Developed Vetting, the highest level British government security clearance which allows holders to read ultra-sensitive documents.

The MoD states that the criteria for undergoing DV are “long term, frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET information or assets…. or in order to satisfy requirements for access to material originating from other countries and international organisations”.

A source with knowledge of the defence work carried out by Mr Lancaster told The Independent: “This was high level stuff. He had a very stringent clearance level and was involved with the computer systems used in-theatre in Iraq. He is very good at his job and he is rewarded accordingly – this work is well paid.”

The MoD last night declined to comment on the level of Mr Lancaster’s security clearance.

The LinkedIn entry, which had yesterday been removed from public viewing, states that Mr Lancaster is involved in an ongoing MoD contract known as DII or Defence Information Infrastructure (DII), which will marry together Britain’s disparate military computer systems and is described as “the single biggest [computer] infrastructure project… rolled out in Europe”.

Mr Lancaster claims to be working on DII for Japanese technology giant Fujitsu. The company said yesterday he did not appear on its database of current employees.

The IT consultant also claims to have worked for EDS, a defence engineering company based in Hampshire, and the American defence giant Lockheed Martin. Educated at the University of Hull, Mr Lancaster is listed as the secretary of an IT consultancy registered to an address in Brighton. Its latest accounts show it this year made an operating profit of £74,000.

Mr Lancaster, who used the name of a senior academic from a top British university for his dealings with potential clients for SponsorAScholar.co.uk, was secretly filmed by The Independent during a meeting at a McDonald’s restaurant in south east London with a reporter posing as a female undergraduate interested in the website’s business. The academic has since contacted police.

The site, which was set up this June using a false company name and a VAT number belonging to the legitimate dating website Match.com, claimed to have arranged for 1,400 women aged between 17 and 24 to be funded through their studies by businessmen willing to pay up to £15,000 a year for “discreet adventures”. Students were offered “up to 100% of your tuition fee” in return for spending two-hour sessions with men up to four times per term.

The sponsors, he told her, have “expectations of a high level of sexual intimacy with their chosen student”.

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