The Defense Department has completed a mandatory review of all international military students attending training in the U.S., but officials declined to say whether any of the heightened background checks have turned up information related to the Dec. 6 shooting by a Saudi Arabian national at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.
No immediate threats were discovered, director for defense intelligence Garry Reid told reporters in a phone interview Thursday, but officials did not elaborate on whether the checks uncovered any information related to the shooting.
“The intent of this review is to determine where we can modify the current process, to improve collaboration and sharing of IMS security-related information, from the initial point of IMS nomination through arrival in the United States, enrollment in the training program, gaining access to U.S. military bases and across the entire IMS training cycle,” Reid said.
Following the tragedy, Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist released a memo giving DoD 10 days to review its screening process, with an eye toward getting the procedures in line with the same background checks and ongoing insider threat protection that U.S. citizens are subject to when joining the military or visiting bases regularly.
The Pentagon screened all current international students using an expedited process that includes checks on government and commercial databases, as well as publicly available activity, like social media accounts.
Those checks will continue for all current IMS students and for those who have been approved but haven’t reported for instruction yet, Reid added.
“Within the federal government, we are in the midst of the most significant reform of the background investigation process in decades, adopting new technologies and improving our awareness of personnel security threats,” he said.
Going forward, according to a senior defense official who spoke on background because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation around the shooting, DoD will take a more active role in screening international students. Previously, the State Department has taken the lead, as the agency responsible for issuing visas, along with the Homeland Security Department.
“We will recommend adding additional measures that we apply to other groups, including our own personnel,” the official said.
More than 300 Saudi trainees at Pensacola have been grounded since the shooting. While they have been allowed to continue classroom training, they are not yet allowed to fly again, as the review has been ongoing.
“Given the holiday break, I would be surprised if that happens in the next week or so,” the official said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT