Shooting Revives Snowden Questions About Contracting Out Security Clearance Checks

In what's likely going to be the most bipartisan legislative fallout from Monday's Navy Yard shooting, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Congress is going to investigate who's cutting what corners on background checks for security clearances.

Shooter Aaron Alexis had a security clearance from his time in the Navy reserves that he took into the private sector as an IT contractor. The Hewlett-Packard subcontractor Alexis worked for, The Experts, said a background check by another contractor turned up just a traffic violation -- not any of Alexis' gun-related arrests.

"It appears that there was insufficient vetting by the contractor, but if it had been done would have revealed many of the red flags -- the arrests, the trouble with police, the trouble in the Navy -- that should have led to this individual being denied a security clearance altogether," Collins said on CNN this morning.

She noted that for many year the Office of Personnel Management conducted background checks for security clearances.

"It's contracted out primarily because OPM had a huge backlog that it was not working through, but I think we need to ask some very serious questions about whether contractors are taking shortcuts that have led to people with criminal records, with serious mental illness, or who are otherwise unsuited for security clearances, nevertheless being granted them, and being granted them for a period as long as five to 10 years," the senator said.

The Navy's apparent inaction on an Aug. 7 Newport, R.I., police report about Alexis' paranoid delusions is "truly inexplicable," she added.

"For the Navy to have received a call that indicates that an individual with unfettered access to a Navy base clearly is suffering from a serious mental illness and not immediately revoke his security clearance until they can assure that he does not pose a threat to others and himself, is simply inexcusable," Collins said.

"I'm confident that Congress is going to put the security of those individuals who work at military installations and our national security first. I don't think that private contractors are going to be able to stop necessary reforms. And, indeed, I think that most private companies want to ensure that the employees they are hiring are suitable and do not pose a threat to our national security or to other employees of the firm."

The first step, Collins said, is a "thorough congressional investigation."

"I'm hopeful that the Intelligence Committee will expand the work that we're already doing to learn how Edward Snowden was able to get such a high security clearance, and I've also talked to the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Office of Personnel Management, and encouraged that committee to take a look at whether too much of this work is being contracted out," she said.