Legislative Snowden Reaction Begins as Jackson Lee Looks to Limit Contractor Intel Work

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), a senior member of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, said today she'll introduce legislation to limit the use of civilian contractors in gathering intelligence.

“The disclosure of leaked and highly sensitive classified information to the Washington Post and the Guardian raises several very important and disturbing issues. How is possible that a twenty-something high-school dropout and part-time security guard can be hired by the CIA and the NSA and given, or able to gain, access to some of the government’s most sensitive and secret information?" Jackson Lee said.

"Obviously, something went very wrong in the conduct of this individual’s security clearance background investigation, which is troubling enough in itself but particularly alarming given that more than 3 million persons hold similar top secret security clearances."

Edward Snowden, like more than 483,000 other contractors, had top secret clearance. Another 582,000 contractors have confidential or secret clearance, according to a 2012 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The remainder of clearances in the number Jackson Lee cites belong to government employees and others, such as politicians or staff.

“Congress must hold oversight hearings to identify and repair deficiencies in the security clearance system. At the same time, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community should be review its internal processes and procedures to assess vulnerabilities in the current system, which by the way relies too much on the use of outside contractors in intelligence gathering," Jackson Lee said. "That is why I am offering an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 requiring the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the use of private contractors to conduct intelligence gathering and analysis activities."

About 2,000 private companies do top-secret work for the U.S. government, spread out among contracts with 45 agencies.

Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden was employed for less than three months, reaped about $1.3 billion in revenue from intelligence contracts last year.

UPDATE: Jackson Lee said her amendment specifically calls for reducing by 25 percent the number of DoD contractors with top-secret security clearances.