White House Orders Massive Review of Security Clearances

5 million people are currently cleared to see classified information

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The Obama administration has ordered a reassessment of the government’s process for granting security clearances and a top-to-bottom review of each of the nearly five million people who are currently authorized to see classified information in the United States.

In a memo dated Oct. 31, and cited at a Senate hearing Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper raised his concerns about the some 4.9 million security clearances currently active in the U.S., including 1.4 million “Top Secret” clearances, Politico reports. Clapper requested that heads of government agencies “conduct a comprehensive review validating that each government employee or contractor who has been granted a security clearance continues to require such eligibility for access to classified national security information in support of their current position or your agency’s mission.”

The directive did not come with a deadline, though an aide to Clapper told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee that agencies have until the end of January to complete their reviews.

Concerns have grown in recent years about the ballooning number of security clearances in the United States — as well as the increasing amount of information that is classified — in the wake of large-scale leaks of state secrets like those perpetrated by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. The cost of maintaining such a large stable of security clearances, estimated to be roughly $1 billion a year, is also of growing concern. Until a 2010 Washington Post investigation into the growing national security state, it was unknown how many security clearances were actually in existence.

“This review is long overdue,” Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, told TIME. “The security clearance system, like the classification system, has become bloated and inefficient. The goal should be to reduce secrecy and security clearances to the bare minimum. A lean and streamlined clearance system will also be more effective and affordable.”