September 19, 2013

Contractor that screened Snowden also vetted alleged Navy Yard shooter

The government contractor that screened Edward Snowden also was responsible for a background check that granted "secret" security clearance to Aaron Alexis, the alleged Navy Yard shooter.

USIS, a private company based in Falls Church, Va., said on Thursday that it had vetted Alexis in 2007.The security clearance he subsequently received in 2008 was good for ten years, until 2018.

A USIS spokesman declined to say what Alexis' background check revealed, although government officials have said it turned up a 2004 arrest in Seattle for malicious mischief.

"We are contractually prohibited from retaining case information gathered as part of the background checks we conduct for (the federal Office of Personnel Management) and therefore are unable to comment further on the nature or scope of this or any other background check," USIS spokesman Ray Howell said in a statement.

USIS recently came under scrutiny for performing a five-year “periodic reinvestigation” for Snowden’s security clearance in February 2011. The 30-year-old systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton later leaked documents to the media, revealing massive secret surveillance by the National Security Administration.

At a Senate hearing in June, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said USIS was under criminal investigation for systemic failure to adequately conduct background checks. McCaskill chairs a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight.

On Thursday, the senator said she's concerned about what she sees as "a pattern of failure on the part of this company, and a failure of this entire (security clearance) system."

At risk is nothing less than the country's national security and the lives of Americans, she said.

"What’s most frightening is that USIS performs a majority of background checks for our government," McCaskill said. "We clearly need a top-to-bottom overhaul of how we vet those who have access to our country’s secrets and to our secure facilities. I plan to pursue such an overhaul, and won’t rest until it’s achieved.”

The Office of Personnel Management has reviewed the file for the 2007 examination of Alexis' background and found it "complete and in compliance with all investigative standards," said Mert Miller, the agency's associate director for the Federal Investigative Services.

For a "Secret"-level security clearance, a background investigation consists of a questionnaire completed by the applicant and checks of federal records, credit history records and criminal history records.

While the Pentagon made the final decision whether to grant or deny the clearance or request further inquiry, it "did not ask OPM for any additional investigative actions after it received the completed background investigation" Miller said in a statement.

Greg Gordon contributed to this post.

September 17, 2013

Outlook for gun control still bleak after Navy Yard shootings

        The events at the Navy Yard have evoked some sympathy for revisiting the gun control debate--but it's still unlikely to go anywhere.

        "We're going to move this up as quickly as we can, but we've got to have the votes first. We don't have the votes. I hope we get them, but we don't have them now," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, told a news conference Tuesday.

          The Senate failed earlier this year to get enough votes to cut off debate on legislation beefing up background checks. Reid was asked Tuesday if he wound consider narrowing the scope of that measure.

            "We would hope it would have the votes. And I would be willing to do that. Anything we can do to focus attention on the senseless killings that take place," he said.

.            "We want to stop people who are felons from being able to purchase a gun. That's what that's all about."

September 16, 2013

Senate postpones votes, recesses until Tuesday

The Senate recessed Monday afternoon and postponed votes scheduled in the early evening.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, announced the decision as he opened the Senate Monday.

Here are his remarks:

"I was saddened to hear about the terrible events at the Washington Navy Yard this morning, and I have been closely following events as they unfold there. There are still few details on what led to this tragedy, or who the perpetrator or perpetrators may be. But according to early reports several people were killed and several more were injured, including a Washington Metropolitan Police officer and a military police officer.

"My sympathies are with the families of those who died. My thoughts are with those who were injured. And my best wishes go out to all those who work in the Navy Yard complex and the surrounding neighborhood.

"I commend the first responders who rushed to the scene for their professionalism. And my thanks go to all the brave law enforcement officials who are on the scene and who put their lives on the line to keep the city safe today.

"I urge everyone in the area to follow law enforcement direction for their own safety, whether that means sheltering in place or simply avoiding the Navy Yard area today.

"I will continue to follow this situation as it develops. And I will ensure that every federal resource is made available to support law enforcement and the military community and to bring those responsible for this terrible attack to justice.

"I’ve spoken with the Senate Sergeant at Arms as well as the Republican Leader, and in light of events at the Navy Yard we have decided to recess the Senate until Tuesday morning."

August 01, 2013

Boehner talks about Snowden

House Speaker John Boehner says it's up to President Barack Obama how to engage Russian President Vladmir Putin over the Edward Snowden matter.

Snowden, who leaked documents about secret American data gathering programs, was granted temporary asylum Thursday in Russia.

Here's the exchange with Boehner, R-Ohio, at his weekly news conference:

Q. Edward Snowden has left the Moscow airport.  Senator McCain put out a statement saying that it's a slap in the face of America (and) fundamentally changes our relationship with Russia.  What do you think? 

SPEAKER BOEHNER:  Mr. Snowden's actions have hurt the ability of our country to protect our citizens.  And I would hope that President Obama would engage President Putin on this issue and resolve it in a way that's satisfactory to the American people. 

Q:  Could you be more specific?  Engage in what way?  I mean, how?   

SPEAKER BOEHNER:  I'll let him decide -- I'll let him decide the best way to engage the president.

July 26, 2013

Pelosi, 153 House Democrats tell Obama of "lingering questions and concerns" about NSA programs

House of Representatives Democrats Friday night sent a letter to President Barack Obama raising questions about National Security Agency data gathering programs.

"Although some of us voted for and others against the amendment, we all agree that there are lingering questions and concerns about the current 215 collection program," said the letter signed by 153 Democrats and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The letter follows Wednesday's House vote to put new restrictions on the programs. The effort failed by a narrow margin, but did win bipartisan backing.

As a result, Pelosi began circulating the letter, which was sent Friday.

 "Congress must examine the various national security collection programs and consider amendments to the law.  We have been assured that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has embarked on a review of the collection programs done pursuant to FISA and the Patriot Act, and has agreed to review various legislative proposals." 

The letter's text:

Continue reading "Pelosi, 153 House Democrats tell Obama of "lingering questions and concerns" about NSA programs" »

July 25, 2013

Pelosi to Obama: "There are lingering questions and concerns" about NSA programs

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi Thursday began circulating a letter to President Barack Obama raising concerns about the National Security Agency's data collection programs.

Pelosi voted against curbs on the programs Wednesday, but said at her weekly press conference Thursday, she had a number of questions.

Here's part of her letter:

"Although some of us voted for and others against the amendment, we all agree that there are lingering questions and concerns about the current 215 collection program.  These include:

  • ·        Whether the bulk metadata telecommunications collection program sufficiently protects the privacy and civil liberties of Americans. 
  • ·        Whether the program could be tailored more narrowly to better ensure the protection of privacy and civil liberties.
  • ·        Whether the law is being implemented in a manner consistent with Congressional intent.
  • ·        How we can ensure greater transparency regarding FISA court operations, decision making, and issuance of orders. 
  • ·        Whether changes to the current FISA Court structure are needed.

Congress must examine the various national security collection programs and consider amendments to the law.  We have been assured that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has embarked on a review of the collection programs done pursuant to FISA and the Patriot Act, and has agreed to review various legislative proposals. 

 We look forward to working with you and Administration officials to address the concerns outlined above and to explore options which will preserve Americans’ privacy and civil liberties while protecting our national security."

Boehner spokesman hopes NSA vote will be "wake-up call to the White House"

In the wake of Wednesday's close vote to curb the National Security Agency's data collection programs, House Speaker John Boehner's office is warning the White House to be more forthcoming.

"Last night, the House defeated an amendment that would have gutted the president’s NSA surveillance program. It required a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Democrats," said press secretary Brendan Buck. "The Speaker opposed the amendment, but allowed a vote as part of his commitment to run a more open House.  We’re pleased the amendment failed, because – as the Speaker has said repeatedly – this program is important to our national security and saves American lives."

But Buck noted, "The vote was close. Closer than it should have been. That’s because the president continues to demonstrate a troubling reluctance to sufficiently defend this program.  Like it or not, it is the president’s responsibility to explain – regularly and repeatedly if needed – the program’s focus, scope, and necessity to the American people.

"Hopefully this vote will serve as a wake-up call to the White House. Hopefully the president will now consider making a real, consistent effort to explain what would be at risk if this type of national security program went away. This is an obligation the president has and one only he can fulfill. Hopefully he’s up to it."

July 23, 2013

Senate intelligence panel leaders urge House not to defund NSA programs

The Senate Intelligence Committee's top ranking members Tuesday warned the House of Representatives to resist an effort to defund certain domestic surveillance programs.

A vote could come as soon as Wednesday.

“The FISA business records program has contributed to disrupting numerous terrorist attacks against our nation. It has been reviewed and authorized by all three branches of government and is subject to strict controls," said Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., in a statement.

"Since the public disclosure of the business records program, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has explored how the program can be modified to add extra privacy protections without sacrificing its effectiveness. We believe this debate in the congressional Intelligence and Judiciary committees should conitnue and that any amendments to defund the program on appropriations bill would be unwise."

Reid: Take a look at NSA programs

The House of Representatives plans to vote on cutting off funds for certain National Security Agency domestic surveillance programs, perhaps as soon as Wednesday.

But the effort may not get far in the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, doesn't like the process--the defunding is part of a massive defense spending bill.

"What they're doing to defense is really very, very bad.  And they're talking about sending us a sequester number on the so-called CR (continuing resolution) they're going to send us," Reid told a news conference Tuesday.

"I will say this about NSA.  There's nothing wrong at all about taking a look at these programs.  We need as much transparency as possible -- but their real strange way of legislating, which means nothing happens the way they legislate," Reid said.

July 18, 2013

Rep, King, GOP moderate, tells ABC he's thinking of running for White House

Peter King for president?

The moderate New York Republican congressman would start as a very,very long shot, but he suggested to ABC News Thursday he's considering it.

"Anything can happen," the 11-term Long Island congressman said.

“I’m going to certainly give it thought. I’m going to see where it goes,” he told ABC News in an interview. “My concern right now is I don’t see anyone at the national level speaking enough on, to me, what’s important – national security, homeland security, counterterrorism.”

The party has not warmed to centrist presidential candidates in decades, and those considered early favoriates are all solid conservatives.

Here's the ABC News story:

Continue reading "Rep, King, GOP moderate, tells ABC he's thinking of running for White House" »


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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