Inspector General: Snowden Background Check Firm Misled Government

Friday, 28 Jun 2013 10:51 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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USIS, the federal contractor which screened National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden for top-secret clearance, has misled the government for years about how it performs background checks, federal investigators claim.

Now the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management is working with the Justice Department to determine if USIS failed to meet agreements to conduct thorough reviews of all investigations, reports The Washington Post.

The Virginia-based company was required to conduct an initial background check for candidates for employment, and then to do a second review to make sure no details were missed. However, the inspector general found that from 2008-2011, USIS may have skipped the second review in up to half the cases, even though it claimed to federal officials the reviews were made.

The allegations are serious enough that a federal watchdog plans to recommend OPM cut all ties with USIS unless it can prove it performs responsibly.

Because USIS is the largest private provider, this could present problems for government security clearances and result in a logjam, the Post reported.

Investigators said the USIS shortcut made the company appear to be even more efficient, and may have brought the company some incentive awards.

USIS last week said it got a subpoena from the inspector general in January 2012, and "has cooperated fully with the government's investigative effort." However, it has not commented on the Snowden case.

USIS says it has 100 contracts to provide services for at least 95 federal agencies, including the departments of Justice, State, Homeland Security, and Defense, along with about a dozen intelligence agencies, including NSA and the National Reconnaissance Office.

The company checked Snowden's background in 2011, and cleared him to work at NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that employed him when he obtained the agency's documents. Office of Personnel Management Inspector General Patrick McFarland said in a Congressional hearing on June 20 that he has concerns about Snowden's background check, and revealed an investigation was underway.

The concerns about background checks aren't only hitting USIS. McFarland's office reports it has 47 open investigations into several backgrounds checks providers.

Since 2006, the watchdog office has won convictions in 18 cases after employees said they verified information that turned out to be false or not checked at all, reports The Post.

"There is an alarmingly insufficient level of oversight of the federal investigative-services program," McFarland told the congressional hearing. "A lack of independent verification of the organization that conducts these important background investigations is a clear threat to national security."

Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has claimed USIS is under a criminal probe. Her spokesman said Thursday she is standing by that statement.

Meanwhile Democratic Sen. John Tester of Montana, the chair of a Homeland Security subcommittee plans to introduce legislation to increase oversight of the security clearance process.

"I cannot believe that this is handled in such a shoddy and cavalier manner," Tester said Thursday. "We have spent hundreds of billions in this country trying to keep classified information classified and to keep people from outside coming in. And what we see here is that we have a problem from the inside."

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