Thousands of security clearances performed by the Defence Security Authority in Brisbane and cleared by the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation may need to be rechecked following systematic failures in the agency’s vetting process.
Documents processed by the office were riddled with so-called “workarounds” in which staff would fill in blank fields on clearance forms with bogus details.
That process was known to Defence and approved by ASIO but problems arose because instances of workarounds were not documented and therefore untraceable.
“Well I think it'll certainly be hundreds and almost certainly be thousands [of rechecks],” Defence Minister Stephen Smith told Lateline.
Workarounds were first flagged by Defence to a Senate committee in May but the department at the time found no problem in the ad-hoc process.
Deputy secretary of Defence Stephen Merchant told the committee workarounds were required to “overcome the inflexibility of computer applications”.
It believed erroneously at the time that the process was “documented and managed”.
The number of workarounds was unclear and ASIO was unable to pinpoint which clearances contained false information.
Shadow Defence Minister David Johnston told the program the vetting failures could endanger national security.
“This is really over the top. We've got embassies, we have got bases, we've even probably got ministerial security compromised, not to mention the flow through to ASIO which the minister has indirectly flagged,” Johnston said.
An investigation by the inspector general of Intelligence and Security will be completed next month.