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When passing a checkpoint with armed guards on a military installation, there’s an expectation that you’re safe. Access to these areas is privileged, protected and screened. These are highly sensitive areas where our nation’s critical assets are retained, our nation’s troops and their families live, and millions of civilian personnel, military contractors, vendors and visitors enter every day. Military bases are virtual mini-cities that need to be protected from foreign and domestic individuals whose objective is to do harm.
But nothing is absolute. Nothing is foolproof. Security must always be built in layers. The tragic shooting at the Washington Navy Yard prompted a national discussion about how best to improve security at U.S. military facilities. This discussion is long overdue. If we are to truly improve security and more thoroughly screen contractors, vendors and others accessing military facilities, we need to address the root problems, not just the symptoms.
Conducting meaningful and relevant screenings of each individual regardless of level — whether occasional visitors, regular vendors or people with high-level security clearances — is the key to improving security at these facilities. However, a critical challenge to conducting effective screenings is the inherent flaws in the available information. Today, criminal history information is maintained in a disconnected patchwork of databases, files and watch lists maintained by federal and state law enforcement agencies and the courts. These data repositories are only as good as the data they contain and need vast improvements. Currently there’s no single government clearinghouse that contains 100-percent-complete, reliable and up-to-date criminal history records.
The United States has about 19,000 incorporated areas but no affordable system for law enforcement in which to consistently upload arrests and convictions information. Keeping and searching for accurate records is nearly impossible because some data is only available offline, and county court records are stored inconsistently: A record could exist as hard copy, microfiche or electronic file. With some understaffed court and government agencies, conviction records get lost, while others may not even be reported or retrievable in government databases.
These very imperfect data resources are what the government and private sector alike are relying on for security screenings. And even if these resources were made perfect, the growing consensus is that criminal history background checks are not enough.
A bipartisan group of senators — Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. — has recently introduced much-needed legislation that would implement an ongoing, automated review of public records and databases for any information that might affect the security clearance status of individuals.
This is only a start. My company, Eid Passport Inc., does not issue security clearances, but our identity management program includes screenings of hundreds of thousands of vendors, suppliers and service providers who seek access to military bases. Conducting recurring screenings is something we have done for many years.