Sen. Warner: Intelligence community feels ‘under assault’

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is not happy with how the intelligence community is being treated. The vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said inappropriate political pressures are taking their toll on morale, though thus far the IC is holding firm in resisting them.

“Being the local guy, I hear from members of the community, I hear from recently retired members of the community on a regular basis, and they say that they do feel under assault,” Warner said on Agency in Focus: Intelligence Community. “I’ve not seen to date any evidence that anyone has bowed down to that pressure or that there’s been any attempt to cook the books. And for that, I’m grateful for people like Gina Haspel with the CIA and Gen. [Paul] Nakasone at [the National Security Agency]. … There’s a number of good folks who I think are doing a good job protecting the people.”

Unfortunately, Warner said, the ones above those people don’t appear to fully appreciate the work of the intelligence community.

“The intelligence community has been under this administration, unfortunately, the victim of a lot of abuse. A lot of disrespect,” Warner said. “I’ve never heard a president be so cavalier about the product of the intelligence community, and for that matter not having, I think, the appropriate respect for the men and women who keep our nation safe. They do it in a different way than perhaps our folks in uniform. But they absolutely put their lives on the line, many of them on a regular basis, keeping our nation safe.”

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But the current political maelstrom swirling around the intelligence community is not the only challenge it faces. The security clearance process has been taking too long, making it difficult for the IC to attract new talent and onboard them in anything resembling a reasonable amount of time.

“When the clearance backlog had got to 740,000, when new CIA agents were waiting two years to get a security clearance, when contractors would move from one [Department of Homeland Security] contract to another and have to wait over 100 days — even though it’s within the same agency — to get their clearances renewed for another contract, that is both inefficient, and makes us less secure as a nation,” Warner said.

Now the backlog is down to around 300,000, thanks to a new embrace of technology and a concerted effort to hire more investigators. But Warner wants to go even further to make the system work better for the IC and its employees. Toward that end, Warner said there’s a few provisions in the intelligence authorization bills that he hopes will be passed.

“We’ve put in place an ability to say we should do what’s called continuous evaluation, so that you don’t simply review somebody secure again every five years regardless. You do it on a more ongoing basis, and you put the more folks in higher priority positions to get more scrutiny than ones that maybe in other positions. And then we’re working towards — this is really important – reciprocity,” Warner said. “So that if you get a DHS clearance for the most part, maybe that should also work at the NSA or that should work at [the National Reconnaissance Office]. There are obviously certain areas where a higher level of clearance will be required. There may not be full reciprocity, but the notion that we have each of these agencies and departments having slightly different sets of security criteria is really a 20th century mindset and way old school and, frankly, some of the things that are still happening where you still got retired FBI agents literally traveling to another jurisdiction to check the college records or to check the then the legal records to make somebody’s sure nobody’s been arrested. I mean, we should be able to do that much more efficiently online than kind of the old school way that we go through this process.”

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