Federal investigators who conduct background checks for the Department of Defense have been asking whether DoD employees and prospective hires have had contact with the media, reports USA Today.
The questioning has alarmed good-government activists, who see it as an attempt to intimidate government officials from speaking with reporters. Meanwhile, the head of the agency that conducts background checks says there has been no directive issued to investigators on news-media contacts and that a few rogue investigators may be at fault. –USA Today
The practice is not standard operating procedure, however, according to Charles Phalen, director of the National Background Investigations Bureau.
“If this is happening routinely, I want to make sure we have a handle on it,” said Phalen, adding “This is not what were are instructing these people to do.”
“This is somebody not acting within the scope of what we’re asking them to do,” he said. “It’s outside of that scope. It’s that simple.”
In one case in recent weeks, a background investigator asked a person acting as a reference for a prospective Defense Department employee if that person had had contact with the news media, said the reference. Answering affirmatively, the reference was told, would delay and possibly prohibit the potential employee from receiving the security clearance.
The reference and the potential employee asked not to be identified out of concern that it could jeopardize employment. –USA Today
Government watchdogs are alarmed over the questioning, who see it as an attempt to intimidate government officials from speaking with reporters. Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight said: “The president himself is publicly targeting people who should lose clearances,” adding “That opens up the vast universe of people involved in the process to feel more at liberty to be aggressive about asking these questions.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance was yanked last Wednesday over “unfounded and outrageous allegations” in the media against the Trump administration in connection with the ongoing Russia probe.
Trump later told the Wall Street Journal his decision was connected to the ongoing federal probe into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegedly collusion by his presidential campaign.
“I call it the rigged witch hunt, (it) is a sham,” Trump said in an interview with the newspaper on Wednesday. “And these people led it.”
“It’s something that had to be done,” Trump added. –Reuters
National Security attorney Mark Zaid told USA Today that the question of contact with the news media should be strictly limited – though some agencies such as the CIA require contacts with reporters to be internally disclosed.
“I am far more concerned, especially in the D.C. area, that individuals will be stigmatized or even penalized simply because they have friends or contacts who are journalists,” Zaid said. “It is an inappropriate question unless there is a substantive basis to ask, or if the individual themselves raise it as a question.”
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Author: Tyler Durden