from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2018, Issue No. 58
September 25, 2018

Secrecy News Blog:


After years of cumulative and seemingly irreversible growth, the backlog of pending security clearance investigations declined in the last three months in response to new policy guidance.

Since June, the National Background Investigation Bureau has reduced its background investigation inventory from 725,000 cases to 657,000 cases, according to a new quarterly report on security clearance policy. "Reductions are expected to continue as policy changes are further implemented."

The backlog of pending investigations had increased from about 190,000 in August 2014 to more than 710,000 in February 2018. As recently as last March, the Government Accounting Office said that "NBIB leadership has not developed a plan to reduce the backlog to a manageable level."

But that was then. Now, the new quarterly report says, background investigations are on track to be reduced to "a steady and sustainable state" by March 2021.

The decline is attributed to "thoughtful, risk-based modifications to the background investigation process" as well as to a significant increase in the number of investigators. "NBIB increased the capacity of its investigative workforce from 5,843 Federal and contractor investigators on October 1, 2016 to over 8,400 Federal and contractor investigators today," according to a new NBIB report obtained by

Much remains to be done. A June 2018 deadline for producing "updated standards for denying, suspending, and revoking Federal credentials" was missed, the quarterly report said.

An efficient and judicious security clearance system excludes persons who might pose a threat to national security. But an inefficient and backlogged system excludes qualified persons who cannot wait a year or longer for a clearance. In this way, a poorly performing clearance system may itself pose a threat to national security.


A new report from the Congressional Research Service examines how and why the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn one of its own rulings interpreting the Constitution. There are at least 141 cases where such rulings have in fact been overturned, including three in the Court's latest term, and these are tabulated in an appendix to the report. See The Supreme Court's Overruling of Constitutional Precedent, September 24, 2018:

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Supreme Court October Term 2017: A Review of Selected Major Rulings, September 19, 2018:

International Law and Agreements: Their Effect Upon U.S. Law, updated September 19, 2018:

Intellectual Property Law: A Brief Introduction, CRS In Focus, September 19, 2018:

Can a Foreign Employee of a Foreign Company be Federally Prosecuted for Foreign Bribery?, CRS Legal Sidebar, September 19, 2018:

Expedited Removal of Aliens: Legal Framework, September 19, 2018:

WTO Disciplines on U.S. Domestic Support for Agriculture, CRS In Focus, September 19, 2018:

Conflict in Mali, CRS In Focus, updated September 19, 2018:

The Palestinians: Overview and Key Issues for U.S. Policy, CRS In Focus, updated September 18, 2018:

NAFTA and the Preliminary U.S.-Mexico Agreement, CRS Insight, September 19, 2018:

China's Engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, CRS In Focus, September 18, 2018:

U.S.-China Relations, CRS In Focus, updated September 18, 2018:

American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics, updated September 14, 2018:


The role of U.S. intelligence agencies in helping to protect U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel abroad is highlighted in a recently revised Intelligence Community Directive.

The directive does not specifically cite the reported sonic attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Havana, but those mysterious events seem to fall within its scope, which include implementing Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM) and TEMPEST programs (shielding electromagnetic emissions and preventing penetrations).

See Counterintelligence and Security Support to U.S. Diplomatic Facilities Abroad, Intelligence Community Directive 707, amended August 21, 2018.


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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