Wexton, Speier Urge Tighter Security Clearance Protocols to Screen for Ties to White Supremacist Groups
Washington, February 9, 2021
Washington, DC -- Today, U.S. Representatives Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines urging the adoption of new security clearance guidelines to prevent individuals who are involved in hate and violence-based extremist groups from accessing classified information. Wexton and Speier are asking the DNI to update current guidelines to directly screen for threats from white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other far-right extremists. Under current guidelines, individuals are not explicitly required to self-report involvement with extremist groups unless the organization professes to be a terrorist organization, seeks to overthrow the United States government, or uses violence.
“The ability of an individual to safeguard United States national security comes with a promise that they will protect all Americans and uphold our nation’s values,” said Wexton and Speier in their letter. “That ability is in doubt if there is reason to believe the individual supports or participates in activities that embrace hate, violent political ideologies, and far-right extremism.”
Wexton and Speier are concerned that the current background investigatory process does not adequately screen for ties to white supremacy and extremism and particularly emphasized the online ecosystem in which current far-right groups have been able to organize and spread their violent ideology. They cite recent examples of individuals with access to classified information who were uncovered to be active members of hate-based groups, including one of those who rioted at the Capitol on January 6th, and a Loudoun County man who attended the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and headed a regional white nationalist group.
In July 2020, Wexton authored an amendment to the House of Representatives’ FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would close gaps in the security clearance process to prevent those involved with hate and violence based extremist groups from accessing sensitive intelligence. Wexton is making a renewed push for reforms in the wake of the January 6th attack which resulted in five deaths, hundreds of injuries, and left lasting scars on the National Capital Region.
The full text of the letter can be found here and below.
February 9, 2021
The Honorable Avril Haines
Dear Director Haines:
We write regarding the immediate importance of safeguarding classified and sensitive information from individuals who are involved in hate and violence-based extremist groups. The United States faces a growing domestic terror threat comprised of white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and other right-wing violent extremists who have become further emboldened by conspiracy theories and false narratives.
Over the last several years numerous individuals involved with hate and violence-based extremist groups have been granted access to classified information. At the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Virginia, a government contractor with a security clearance was identified as a member of a violent white supremacist group. In 2019, a State Department employee holding a Top-Secret clearance was covertly running a Washington-area chapter of a white nationalist group. Also, in 2019, a Coast Guard Lieutenant with a Secret clearance was sentenced to 13 years prison for planning a domestic terror attack on the basis of white supremacist beliefs. And most recently, a United States Navy contractor, Army reservist, and apparent white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer with a Secret clearance was arrested for participating in the deadly attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.
As you are aware, the domestic terror landscape has shifted dramatically to the online ecosystem where white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and far-right extremists are free to organize and share their violent ideology with little oversight or accountability. We are concerned that the current background investigatory process does not adequately screen for these activities.
The current adjudicative guidelines were last updated in 2016 and became effective in 2017. We believe that the existing guidelines are not sufficient to address this evolving threat of domestic violent extremism. We ask that you work to address this national security threat by issuing new adjudicative guidelines that would disqualify individuals from obtaining a security clearance if there is evidence that they are involved with or have participated in activities that advocate hate, violence, or a violent political ideology. This would also include the publishing or distributing of information in any medium, including online, in which the primary purpose of the content is to support extremist activities. The guideline should apply to all government employees, contractors, and military personnel in national security positions.
The ability of an individual to safeguard United States national security comes with a promise that they will protect all Americans and uphold our nation’s values. That ability is in doubt if there is reason to believe the individual supports or participates in activities that embrace hate, violent political ideologies, and far-right extremism. We thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to working with you to address this threat.