Too Many Security Clearances? DOD Protecting Itself From Its Own Employees and Contractors

By Susan Jones | March 19, 2014 | 5:55 AM EDT

An armed officer stands guard at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 17, 2013, one day after a deranged Navy contractor killed 12 people. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

( - Six months after a mentally deranged gunman killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday announced what his department will do to "close troubling gaps" in DOD's ability to prevent a government employee, a member of the military, or a contractor from inflicting harm on other Defense Department employees.

Much of the focus is on the 2.5 million individuals who currently hold active security clearances.

Hagel said the Defense Department will begin to continuously evaluate people with security clearances, setting up "automated reviews" that will continuously pull information from law enforcement and other government databases.

"This will help trigger an alert if derogatory information becomes available -- for example, if someone holding a security clearance is arrested," Hagel said.

The Defense Department also plans to set up an "inside threat management and analysis center" to quickly analyze the results of the new automated record checks.

Hagel said DOD also is considering a recommendation to reduce the number of personnel holding secret security clearances by at least 10 percent; and it will consider developing "more effective measures to screen recruits...and ensure the quality of mental health care within DOD."

"I think we all understand that open and free societies are always vulnerable. But together, we're going to do everything possible to provide our people as safe and secure a workplace as possible," Hagel said.

Paul Stockton, a former assistant secretary of Defense, conducted one of the reviews ordered by Hagel in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shooting.

Stockton told reporters on Tuesday that until now, the Defense Department "has approached security from a perimeter perspective. If we strengthen the perimeter, build our fences, if you will, against threats on the other side, we'll be secure. That approach is outmoded, it's broken, and the department needs to replace it," he said.

Today, the threats are "inside the perimeter," Stockton added. "What the Department of Defense should do is build security from within." That includes protection from cyber-threats, he said.

According to Stockton, "far too many people have security clearances." He noted that since the 9-11 terror attacks, the number of people eligible for security clearances at DOD has tripled. Stockton is urging the Defense Department to "reassess" who really needs those security clearances.

Stockton also concluded that "there is more that can be done to further destigmatize those in the Department of Defense who seek mental health care. We need to do everything we can to ensure that personnel who want such care get access to it and are not punished for it."

He also urged DOD to conduct its own background investigations for security clearances, rather than relying on the Office of Personnel Mangement to do them.