Pentagon is now continuously scanning all employees with security clearance for terrorist and criminal threats


Top line

The Department of Defense says all employees with security clearances are now part of a program that is continuously looking for signs of criminal and terrorist threats that they might pose, amid a year-long effort to closely monitor federal employees for suspicious activity.

Important facts

The DOD has enrolled all soldiers, civilians, and contractors with security clearances into a system called “continuous screening,” which automatically scans and filters criminal and terrorist databases looking for alert signals to employees, the Pentagon said in an article on its website Tuesday.

This program means DOD officers learn of arrest warrants and terrorism concerns raised against employees within days, rather than waiting for the next employee’s background check renewal, which can take several years.

Around 3.6 million people with releases are now included in the continuous monitoring system, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday afternoon.

What to look out for

In the next two years, the government plans to add employees from additional federal agencies to the ongoing review program. It will also start searching for more categories of information, adding financial and travel records to the criminal and terrorist information currently in the system. The DOD hopes this system will replace the five or ten year follow-up examinations currently required for cleared employees.

What we don’t know

The DOD could eventually scan employees’ social media activity as part of the ongoing screening program, Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency director William Lietzau told Defense One and MilitaryTimes. Lietzau said it was still unclear what type of activity would be tracked and how officials would use information from social media. Security clearance investigators are already allowed to view public social media posts, but they cannot ask for employee passwords or gain access to personal accounts under a 2016 policy.

Key background

Over the past decade, the federal government has sought to screen employees handling classified information more frequently instead of relying on regular background checks, Defense One noted. Former President Barack Obama directed federal agencies in 2011 to find a way to detect “inside threats” from their own employees. The move was fueled in part by the Chelsea Manning case, which leaked a slew of Pentagon documents and diplomatic telegrams to WikiLeaks. The Pentagon also announced earlier this year that it hopes to fight domestic extremism within its own ranks, and The Intercept said in May it had discovered documents outlining a DOD pilot program to investigate social media activity Search extremist content, a report the Pentagon denies.

Main critic

Manning – whose sentence was commuted by Obama in 2017 – warned more than five years ago that the federal government’s focus on “inside threats” could intimidate whistleblowers. In a 2016 op-ed in The guard, Manning called the insider threat program a “blank check for surveillance”.

further reading

Pentagon Begins “continuous screening” of all troops for inside threats and extremism; Social Media Could Be Next (Defense One)

Chelsea Manning: Government Anti-Leak Program A “Blank Check For Surveillance” (The Guardian)

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