Dem lawmaker presses Biden to give military more authority to monitor service members’ social media

A California Democrat is pressing President Joe Biden to use executive authority to grant the U.S. military more authority to police service members’ social media accounts as part of background investigations following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

In a letter sent to Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier appeared to suggest there is a widening problem involving military members’ involvement with “white supremacy” groups and other “domestic terrorists.”

“President Biden, I call on you to issue an Executive Order identifying white supremacy and violent extremism as a critical threat that must be considered as part of the security clearance,” the California Democrat wrote, according to Just the News.

“Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Gab, Parler, and 4Chan, are frequently used by domestic terrorist groups to recruit members and plan violent attacks, including in some of the above cases involving military service members,” Speier continued.

“These platforms were crucial for planning the January 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the U.S. Capitol and the Congress of the United States. Yet social media is not reviewed during the military’s accessions process or even as part of the background investigation process for security clearances,” Speier claimed.

Just the News reported that there have been no confirmed reports that any of the Capitol rioters were active-duty military members. Some alleged rioters arrested thus far did have ties to extremist groups, however.

In her letter, Speier cited a number of recent incidents of violence involving service members who purportedly had ties to extremist groups. Her examples included an incident last year involving an Air Force sergeant who has been charged in connection to the murder of a federal security officer in Oakland during a riot last year.

More than 27,000 National Guard troops, many of them armed, were hastily deployed to secure the Capitol Building and portions of Washington, D.C., ahead of Biden’s inauguration. And while no violence occurred during the event, thousands of Guard troops remain deployed in the nation’s capital and are expected to remain there for months.

As for Speier’s letter, some may perceive it as largely political.

Writing in the Military Times, attorney Mathew B. Tully, who represents military members and federal government employees, noted that then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper authorized Defense Department personnel investigating candidates for security clearances to examine their social media accounts and take posts into consideration before granting the clearance.

Clapper “signed Security Executive Agent Directive 5 in May that allows investigators to analyze information posted publicly on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as part of security clearance background checks,” Tully wrote in a July 2016 post in response to a question: “Can my security clearance be revoked or denied because of what I post on social media?”

“Directive 5 allows investigators to collect and use publicly available social media information to aid them in deciding whether to issue an initial security clearance or grant continued eligibility for security clearance,” Tully added, noting that the directive did not “require” investigators to do so.

“Information gathered from an applicant’s public social media presence will not be used individually to make a decision but will rather be used in conjunction with Standard Form 86 when deciding whether to grant, deny or revoke a security clearance,” he wrote, referencing SF-86, the military’s security clearance form. “Public social media accounts can, however, reveal if an applicant lied when answering the questions on the SF86.”

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Jon Dougherty

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