/ October 1, 2021
The Pentagon’s decision to make it easier for political appointees and congressional staffers to gain access to the Defense Department’s most secretive programs is being criticized as a major policy shift with consequences for U.S. interests.
“This is absolutely a threat to national security,” said retired Navy Capt. James E. Fanell, a former intelligence director for the Pacific Fleet.
Capt. Fanell said the new rule appears to be part of a Biden administration effort that is “systematically destroying one of the most sensitive and effective programs in our national tool kit,” according to a report by security correspondent Bill Gertz.
“This decision is not only unprecedented and presents a grave threat to U.S. national security, and it should be rescinded immediately,” Fanell said.
A Pentagon official said the rule change could be “devastating” to the protection of highly sensitive programs.
Security officials “see this as a front-door … that will invite leaks, as previous measures affording proper protection of highly protected information are eliminated,” the official said, according to the Sept. 27 Washington Times report.
Special access programs are classified above the top-secret level and are reserved to protect the most sensitive information.
As secretary of state in the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton was blasted for putting information from a special access program on her private email server, according to government documents related to a subsequent investigation. The sensitive information involved criteria to authorize drone strikes on terrorists.
In a memorandum to senior Pentagon officials on Sept. 20, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks stated that filling out a counterintelligence questionnaire is no longer required to gain access to special access programs. Known as SAPs, these are the most secret activities and programs within the department.
The eased rules specifically allow Senate-confirmed political appointees, members of the House and Senate, the professional staff of the congressional defense and intelligence oversight committees and senior White House officials access to the programs without filling out a prescreening questionnaire as required for all other officials in the Pentagon’s Special Access Security Manual: Personnel Security.
Also exempted from the prescreening questionnaire are national security advisers to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
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