WASHINGTON - The US government suspects that individuals with connections to al-Qaeda and other hostile groups have repeatedly sought to obtain jobs in the intelligence community, the Washington Post reported Monday.
According to a classified document, the intelligence agencies reinvestigate thousands of employees a year to reduce the threat that one of its own may be trying to compromise closely held secrets.
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The CIA found that among a subset of job seekers whose backgrounds raised questions, roughly one out of every five had "significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections," according to the document, which was provided to the Washington Post by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The groups cited most often were Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda and its affiliates, but the nature of the connections was not described in the document.
So sharp is the fear of threats from within that last year the NSA planned to launch at least 4,000 probes of potentially suspicious or abnormal staff activity after scrutinizing trillions of employee keystrokes at work. The anomalous behavior that sent up red flags could include staffers downloading multiple documents or accessing classified databases they do not normally use for their work.
"Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA's total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues," one official said in response to questions. "During this period, one in five of that small subset was found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups."
The intelligence community's dramatic emphasis on insider threats came in the wake of disclosures by WikiLeaks in 2010, which caused much embarrassment to the intelligence community.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines said the investigations are part of an effort to try to reduce risks, not investigate known threats.
"In FY 2013, NSA planned to initiate 4,000 re-investigations on civilian employees to reduce the potential of an insider compromise of sensitive information and missions," Vines said in a statement. "Periodic re-investigations are conducted as one due-diligence component of our multifaceted insider threat program."
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