On Dec. 10, 2019, the Deputy Secretary of Defense tasked the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD(I)) to: A. Take immediate steps to strengthen personnel vetting for international military students (IMS); and B. To complete a review within 10 days of policies and procedures for screening foreign students and granting them access to our bases. These efforts will seek to more closely align IMS vetting procedures with those we apply to U.S. personnel. Today, I’d like to provide an update of our review process and give you an idea of the way forward.
With regard to the first task, we elected to screen all current IMS using a set of “expedited screening protocols” that were already developed within the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, or DCSA, as part of our personnel vetting transformation initiative. The term “expedited” refers to the application of automated checks of multiple data sets, including government data, commercial data and publicly available data. The results of these automated data checks are reviewed and validated by trained security analysts. The intent of this process is to determine if there is any information that could be an indicator of elevated risk that was not previously identified as part of the IMS applicant screening and approval process.
As of today, DCSA has completed screening of all current Saudi Arabian international military students. The analytic process is still underway, but we can report that no information indicating an immediate threat scenario was discovered. A summary of all relevant information has been provided to the sponsoring organizations, namely the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, or DSCA, and the military departments. We will continue the vetting for the remainder of all current international military students, and apply the same procedures to any inbound IMS while we work with our colleagues from State and Homeland Security on any permanent policy changes for vetting foreign students.
Regarding the 10-day review of policies and procedures, USD(I) established a vetting and security review led by a senior defense security policy official. The vetting and security review, or VSR, team is comprised of representatives from DSCA, DCSA, the military departments, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and our U.S. embassy team in Riyadh. This also includes the DOD general counsel and others from within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The team has collected all relevant policy and procedure information pertaining to screening and vetting of Saudi Arabian international military students, and will use this as a baseline reference for comparison to analogous procedures we use for U.S. personnel. The intent of this review is to determine where we can modify the current process to improve collaboration and sharing of IMS security-related information from the initial point of IMS nomination, through arrival in the United States, enrollment in a training program, gaining access to U.S. military bases, and across the entire IMS training cycle.
The vetting and security review team will provide a report of findings and recommendations to the Deputy Secretary of Defense on the required timeline. It is likely some portions of the report will contain classified information that we cannot release publicly. Our first priority will be to ensure that all of our components are informed and postured to adopt any new procedures that stem from the report recommendations
Looking ahead, we anticipate establishing an implementation group to oversee implementation of the recommendations, and to ensure we are revising or updating all relevant policies to sustain new methods and best security practices into the future.
It’s important to note that this work is not singularly focused on the tragic events that occurred at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Dec. 6, 2019. Protecting our personnel and our military bases is a top priority for the secretary. Across the department we are actively reinforcing our Insider Threat programs, improving base security, and strengthening our counterintelligence posture. Within the federal government, we are in the midst of the most significant reform of the background investigation process in decades, adopting new technologies and improving our awareness of personnel security threats. It was this ongoing work that enabled us to quickly adapt the IMS vetting process. We will continue to modernize our vetting and security enterprises.
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