Government's Top Security Clearance Firm Accused of Fraud

Thursday, 23 Jan 2014 12:10 PM

By Courtney Coren

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The government contractor that cleared the security credentials for Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis has been accused by the Justice Department of approving at least 665,000 incomplete background checks and defrauding the government of millions.

The Justice Department leveled the allegations Wednesday in a 25-page civil complaint joining a whistleblower lawsuit against US Investigations Services LLC (USIS) that has been underway in an Alabama federal court since 2011. The Justice brief alleges that the security firm systematically submitted background checks that were incomplete or not properly reviewed, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The company conducts about 45 percent of the background checks for employees working in several federal agencies, including the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as the National Security Agency.

According to the Justice Department, at least 665,000 incomplete background checks were passed on fraudulently by the firm from 2008 to 2012, including the security checks on former NSA contractor Snowden and Alexis, who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in a mass shooting last September.

The Justice complaint said USIS would report its findings to the government before it had completed the required quality-control reviews. Former and current employees have said that they were encouraged to push through checks in a process called "flushing" or "dumping" so the company could meet monthly financial goals, the claim noted.

According to The New York Times, USIS was paid only after a file had been labeled "FF" for field work finished, and then sent along to the government's Office of Personnel Management.

"Have a bit of a backlog building, but fortunately, most people are off this week so no one will notice," one employee wrote in an email in December 2010.

In its claim, Justice officials said USIS tried to hide the case "dumping" and even stopped the practice in 2011, when the firm was audited by federal investigators, the Journal reported.

For its part, USIS executives said the problems were first brought to their attention in early 2012, when it was informed that a whistleblower had disclosed the faulty practices that were taking place there.

"Since first learning of these allegations nearly two years ago, we have acted decisively to reinforce our processes and management to ensure the quality of our work," the company said in a statement. "We appointed a new leadership team, enhanced oversight procedures, and improved control protocols."

Additional attention was focused on USIS in September 2013 following the Navy Yard shooting when lawmakers learned that the firm was responsible for conducting the security clearance checks for both Snowden and Alexis.

"From Edward Snowden to Aaron Alexis, what's emerging is a pattern of failure on the part of this company, and a failure of this entire system, that risks nothing less than our national security and the lives of Americans," Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said at the time.

"What's most frightening is that USIS performs a majority of background checks for our government," she added. "We clearly need a top-to-bottom overhaul of how we vet those who have access to our country's secrets and to our secure facilities."

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn also observed last fall that the current security clearance system is "obviously broken." He said that the government should be clearing fewer people, and "we need to create the expectation that you are going to be randomly checked to see if, in fact, you still deserve to have that clearance."

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