Backlog of scrutiny could increase national security risks, lawmakers warn


A selection committee of parliamentarians said “unacceptable delays” in security reviews of government officials may have increased national security risks.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released a report on Friday that it said the Cabinet Office had not “gotten on” the national security review (UKSV) since it took over in April 2020.

Increased demand and staffing shortages after the end of COVID-19 lockdowns meant UKSV teams were taking longer than expected to process many cases and managing workloads, the report said. Because of this, the re-examination of the staff had to be postponed.

PAC Labor Chairman Dame Meg Hillier accused the Cabinet Office of appearing “deaf” to concerns about risks and blocking UKDV’s attempts to reform.

The Cabinet Office denied the accusations and said it had “worked closely with UKSV” to reduce its backlog.

Security and counter-terrorism expert David Lowe told The Epoch Times that the backlog of scrutiny was a “major concern” because staffing issues and changes in the situation of existing staff could be overlooked. Told.

failed to meet performance targets

UKSV provides inspection services to all government departments, many public bodies and some private industries including the aviation industry where security permits are required for staff.

The most common clearance levels are Counter Terrorist Checks (CTC), Security Checks (SC), and Development Reviews (DV). This is the highest clearance level among the few posts requiring enhanced DV checks.

UKSV receives requests to process an average of 164,700 CTC and SC permits and 17,900 DV permits per year, but the team says it has not met its performance targets beyond 2021. report Based on an announcement by the National Audit Office in January, PAC report built.

The UKSV aims to complete 85 per cent of routine CTC/SC inspections within 25 days, but has not met that target each month since August 2021, according to the report. The worst performance was seen in September 2022, when only 15 percent of tests were completed. Complete within 25 days.

As for the more complex domestic violence clearance, the team is expected to complete 85 cases within 95 days, a goal that has not been met since May 2021. As of April 2022, only 7 percent of checks had been completed within the target period. flame.

Nearly a third (30%) of domestic violence arrests took longer than six months in 2022-23, compared to 4% in 2019-2020.

The service also fell short of its goals of completing priority cases in 23 out of 60 months for domestic violence and 30 out of 60 months for CTC/SC clearance, the report said.

Delays have been attributed to increased demand due to reasons such as the lifting of lockdowns, the war in Ukraine, the start of airman certification services, and understaffing due to underestimation of demand.

The PAC report said the Cabinet Office had “been blinded” to the service and had not assessed the impact caused by government officials not having the appropriate level of security clearance.

The ministry also said it should have anticipated increased demand, but relied too heavily on UKSV’s “customers” to forecast demand.

Delayed reexamination

UKSV’s performance has improved since the Cabinet Office introduced the Delivery Stabilization Plan in April 2022 and deployed additional personnel. By November 2022, his average processing time for DV clearance was 98 days, down from 177 days in April.

However, some of the outstanding reductions were achieved by delaying staff reexaminations that would have renewed DV permits after seven years.

The Cabinet Office Government Security Committee extended most DV renewal permits in 2018, 2019, and 2020, with the backlog of renewals contributing to the 2021-2022 numbers. For 2022-2023, the Government Security Steering Group has again instructed the UKSV to extend all renewals by one year, with high-risk exceptions.

The renewal case performance goal has also been extended to 200 days. By November 2022, the average DV renewal process took 255 days, up from 190 days in April.

The report said the UKSV had “thoroughly reviewed” the update “with known red flags” and argued that prioritizing new authorization was a “wise and risk-based decision”. , the PAC said member states remained concerned about the level of risk posed by authorization. Repeated deferrals of DV clearance renewals.

Law, a senior fellow at Leeds Beckett University Law School, said the review backlog was a “huge concern”.

“These tests are to keep us all safe and to ensure that we have people who are tested and can be trusted in terms of safety,” he said.

Citing his own experience renewing domestic violence permits as a police officer, Lowe said the police, the Department of Home Affairs, the Department of Defense, the security services and the military all have personnel who need permits and need to be renewed. Stated. Seven years later, things may change. ”

He said people could “change their minds about political and social views”, citing the example of a security guard at the British embassy in Berlin who was jailed in February on charges of Russian espionage.

“Also, people get married. You see who they marry, what kind of influence they have…and how broad it is. I’m looking into it,” he said.

“We’re looking at people with safe hands, but can you maintain safe hands while you’re doing the job?”

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “Security scrutiny is a key priority and we have been working closely with the UKSV to ensure we have the necessary resources to meet last year’s surge in demand.” Stated. As a result, the time required for the highest level of approval has been cut by more than half from He April 2022 to He April 2023.

“We continue to reform and improve our screening process while maintaining the procedures necessary for national and personnel security. This is the highest level of development review clearance achieved in a single year since the UKSV was created.”