- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Defense Department this week officially launched its new and expanded “continuous vetting” program for all troops, civilian employees and defense contractors, replacing the traditional system of periodic background checks with more in-depth monitoring that relies heavily on technology to flag suspicious behavior.

Pentagon officials said at a news conference Tuesday that they’ll also consider eventually monitoring social media activity for all 3.6 million people directly employed by the Defense Department or working as contractors. For now, however, the automated system will search for illegal or other suspicious activity within the military workforce and flag it for review.

The revamped vetting system could ultimately give more fuel to critics who fear the Pentagon is looking to police political and social stances among its employees, especially conservatives. 

But Defense Department leaders say the updated system is simply more efficient and will allow any potential red flags to be discovered much sooner.

“We developed that in order to provide that initial version of continuous vetting, focusing on high-value data sources through automated record checks. Those continuous record checks that are turned on right now mean that issues of potential risk to an individual’s trustworthiness that may have taken years to discover in the past are now identified and addressed in very near real-time data,” Heather Green, assistant director of vetting risk operations at the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DSCA), told reporters Tuesday.

Right now, the DSCA gets automated records from government and commercial sources and then uses an automated system to scan for criminal or suspicious activity. As the system evolves, officials said, suspicious financial activity and foreign travel also will be monitored.

Social media activity also may be looked at in the future, officials said.

The system is highly reliant on technology, but Ms. Green said the human component remains crucial.

“Self-reporting is a critical piece of continuous vetting and we prefer to have already known about the incident prior to an alert being generated in the system,” she said.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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