The number of persons holding security clearances for access to classified information decreased by more than 635,000 (or 12.3 percent) last year, according to a new report to Congress from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
It was the first reported drop in the total security-cleared population since the government began systematically collecting statistics on security clearances in 2010.
The majority of the reductions involved persons who had been cleared for access to classified information but did not in fact have such access. Still, at the end of FY 2014, there were 164,000 fewer individuals with access to classified information than at the beginning of the year, the ODNI report said. Most of the reductions occurred within the Department of Defense, which reported a 15% decrease in clearances (Secrecy News, March 26).
Altogether, there were 4.5 million cleared persons as of October 1, 2014, down from 5.1 million cleared persons a year earlier. Top Secret clearance holders, including government employees and contractors, numbered 1.4 million persons, down from 1.5 million the year before.
What makes the new reductions particularly interesting is that they were not simply a statistical blip or an artifact of changes in the budget. Rather, they were purposefully achieved through a “concerted effort” by agencies seeking to reduce the number of security clearances.
“These decreases were the result of efforts across the USG to review and validate whether an employee or contractor still requires access to classified information,” the ODNI report said.
The implication is that the national security bureaucracy, including the national security classification system, is susceptible to deliberate regulation and is not, as sometimes appears, an autonomous entity driven obscurely by its own internal dynamic. It follows that additional changes in the size and structure of the national security system may be achievable.
The new ODNI report also noted:
* There was a 14.4% reduction in new and renewed security clearances.
* The National Security Agency had the highest reported rate of security clearance denials (9.2%), while the FBI had the lowest reported rate (0.1%). The CIA reported a denial rate of 6.5% and a revocation rate of 0.6%.
The ODNI report cautioned, however, that different agency denial rates may not be comparable due to differences in reporting practices.
The unclassified annual report on security clearances was required by Congress in the FY 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act.