June 20th, 2013
04:03 PM ET
10 years ago

Senator: Firm that vetted Snowden under criminal investigation

(CNN) – The private firm that vetted Edward Snowden in 2011 is under criminal investigation for routine failures in properly investigating the backgrounds of people in line for security clearances, Sen. Claire McCaskill said during a Senate hearing Thursday.

Additionally, a government watchdog told lawmakers his agency believes the check into Snowden's background conducted by USIS, a Virginia-based government contractor, may have been faulty.

Snowden, who held a top secret clearance, admittedly leaked documents this month detailing two government surveillance programs. At the time of the leaks, he was an employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, didn't specify Thursday whether the criminal probe into USIS was prompted by Snowden's leaks. She was heading a hearing into the process of obtaining security clearances, which has come under scrutiny since Snowden's identity was made public nearly two weeks ago.

One of the witnesses before the lawmakers was Robert McFarland, the inspector general for the federal Office of Personnel Management, who in a statement to the committee detailed extensive fraud committed by investigators charged with vetting people before they're granted security clearances.

Asked Thursday by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, whether USIS's look into Snowden's background "may not have been conducted in an appropriate or thorough manner," McFarland said there was reason for concern.

"Yes, we do believe there may be some problems," McFarland said.

In a statement, USIS said they could not comment on whether they conducted an investigation into Snowden, and added they have "never been informed [USIS] is under criminal investigation."

"USIS conducts thousands of background investigations annually for OPM and other government agencies. These investigations are confidential and USIS does not comment on them," the firm said.

Speaking before the committee, McFarland said the department that conducts background checks currently has a dangerously low level of supervision.

"The lack of independent verification of the organization that conducts these important background investigations is a clear threat to national security," McFarland said.

In his statement to the Senate panel, McFarland detailed so-called "fabrication cases," which occur when background investigators "report interviews that never occurred, record answers to questions that were never asked, and document records checks that were never conducted."

In one case, a woman responsible for conducting credit checks was found to have fabricated 1,600 different reports. In an ironic twist, the background check used to hire her was also found to be false.

In all, 18 employees have been criminally convicted of falsifying background checks, according to McFarland's statement.

Another investigator pleaded guilty to background check fraud last month, and yet another is expected to enter a similar plea this week.

A report in January from the Director of National Intelligence showed nearly five million people hold United States security clearances. They are broken into confidential, secret, and top secret classifications based on the sensitivity of the information a person is allowed to view.

Filed under: Congress
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Guess

    Ya think?

    June 20, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  2. Rudy NYC

    The Snowden kid is supposed to be a neo-Libertarian and Rand Paul supporter. Somehow the right wing is going to turn this into another targeting scandal. They're that good at it, folks.

    June 20, 2013 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  3. Guess

    What about palin, that was a fiasco at best, epic fail is more like it

    June 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  4. Malory Archer

    Both USIS & Booz Allen Hamilton should be forced out of business over this mess, the feds should seize ALL of their assets and the owners & CEOs imprisoned. Make an example of them so government contractors learn that they are responsible for their employees.

    June 20, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  5. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    If I were a part of that firm who vetted Snowden, then I would be looking for a new job.

    June 20, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  6. Thomas Antel

    Iraq. In the spring of 2004, USIS was given a $200 million contract by the US military's Civilian Police Assistance Training Team.
    Sep 20, 2007 – The contract to provide commando training in Iraq was a departure for USIS, which had no previous involvement in security training.

    The USIS Government Affairs Office is led by Vice President of Government Affairs Barry Levy.
    Contact Us Today

    For more information about our business solutions and capabilities, please contact us today.

    June 20, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  7. Brrrrr

    Poor USIS, there was probably nothing in Snowden's record of janitorial service to indicate he might be a security risk.

    June 20, 2013 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  8. don in albuquerque

    This is the same guy that outted Great Britain also, right? Wonder who he might out next. Looking very hard for the slot beside Jimmy Hoffa. Hero???? Hardly.

    June 20, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  9. Booger

    It is a mystery

    June 20, 2013 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  10. Doc1

    A white boy who slipped through the cracks. Happens all the time.

    June 20, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  11. Steveo

    @Rudy NYC

    The Snowden kid is supposed to be a neo-Libertarian and Rand Paul supporter. Somehow the right wing is going to turn this into another targeting scandal. They're that good at it, folks.
    You think so? I think Just like Rep King of the GOP, many others in the GOP believes he is a traitor, as I do. You are slipping in a huge way! Another one of your FACTS, huh?

    June 20, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  12. Dave

    How's that privatizing working out for you?

    June 20, 2013 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  13. Hamilton

    "USIS was established in 1996 as a result of a privatization of the investigative branch of the Office of Personnel Management, OPM, a government agency. " Right off of USIS' web page. Interesting.

    June 20, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  14. Landru

    Why does blame have to go beyond Snowden. Seriously folks, just what is it they could have found under more scrutiny. Why must everyone cast blame in as many different directions as possible.

    June 20, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  15. mnahra

    This is what happens when the government sub-contracts their responsibilities to the lowest bidder. Maybe we could save some money by contracting out the FBI, ATF, and other federal law enforcement to private companies.

    June 20, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  16. Rexiter

    It amazes me how some feel the people who teach our children are overpaid at an average 50k per year but a contractor can pay a high schoo graduate 122k to be a 'system administrator' and no one complains.

    When a founding father stated that the wealth from someone who earns it should not be taken and given to one who doesn't was not talking about the poor but rather the very wealthy. ie, royalty. Have you ever noticed how the blue-bloods in this country wet all over themselves when so called 'royalty' comes to town? Its embarassing. My father once told me "We are Americans, we bow to no one." Instead of acting like America is a failed experiment, we should start acting like we jare just getting started.

    June 20, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  17. GaryOwen27

    Ahh, the Red Neck Right and the business buddies the Belt Way Bandits, sell out the good old USA once again.

    June 20, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  18. pat

    Well, when you call all federal workers slobs andglorify anything done by private contractors and inherently better, more efficient and more effective than the same work done by a federal employee....then this is what you get. A civil servant can take the time to do a job....like vetting a janitor for a security clearance properly ... without the fear of losing their jobs if they ask too many questions or fail to clear enough contractors. The much touted efficiency of contractos only proves that you can get a job done cheaper and quicker if you don't do it right. No suprise in that.

    June 20, 2013 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  19. Bryan


    What's a neo-libertarian?

    June 20, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    No wonder college graduates can't find a job. Why on earth hire a crazy punk high school drop out that washed out of the army. I guess security clearance standards are really low if this is the best they can find.

    June 20, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  21. Clearly

    It is because he looks like a person you can trust right? Glasses, professional haircut, oh and he just happens to be Caucasian. I bet others were scrutinized way harder than he was, maybe the problem is in how we all perceive the "type" of people who we trust and do not trust. But, hey he does look smart right?

    June 20, 2013 05:36 pm at 5:36 pm |
  22. John

    I like how CNN hasn't done any investigating of their own on this matter. They just post government propaganda to get eveyone to be complacent.

    June 20, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  23. Jason

    1) Snowden need Oliver Poope to get him out of this scandal

    2) blaming he USIS is worthless. If you review all the clearance granted over the pass 5 years I'm sure anyone can uncover flaws. Hell maybe we should review the cases of all the contractors task with conducting background investigations. This extend to military, defense contractors, and government investigations.

    June 20, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  24. 1984ish

    I love how the focus of this is we need people who can keep their mouths shut .

    Imagine the next foe of the "government" that wants to speak out. Lets just call up your cell phone and email accounts and see who you communicate with ? Could extorsion,or black mail be applied, or maybe physical threats to silence them?
    The gestapo would have loved a tool like this. Not sure these Senators need to remain in office after this term is up.

    June 20, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  25. Marie MD

    This guy thinks lite paul rocks.
    Federal workers are NOT all lazy bums. They work very hard and long hours and have had no pay increase in the last 3 years while the contractors keep making money off US.
    Find this snowden traitor, try him in court and throw away the key. Going to China while saying he did what he did (ala lite paul and the texas cross) because our government, blah, blah, would have worked better in his favor (not really) if he hadn't run to China! Talk about a country who controls its people.

    June 20, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
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