U.S. Charges with Fraud the Security Firm that Approved Snowden and Navy Yard Murderer

Friday, January 24, 2014
Bill Mixon, president and CEO of USIS from August 2008 to December 2011

The Obama administration has accused the contractor hired to conduct background checks for security clearances of committing fraud, resulting in hundreds of thousands of incomplete reviews.

 

Among the many investigations conducted by the firm, United States Investigations Services LLC (USIS), were those for National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden and Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.

 

The U.S. Department of Justice’s fraud accusation came while joining a whistleblower lawsuit filed in 2011 against USIS, which says the company failed to provide adequate background checks in at least 665,000 instances, going back to at least March 2008. The whistleblower, Blake Percival, is a former employee of USIS, whose sealed lawsuit was finally made public October 30, 2013.

 

Neither Snowden nor Alexis is named in the government’s complaint because their background investigations were not part of the faulty 665,000 reviews.

 

According to the lawsuit, USIS started “dumping” or “flushing” cases six years ago to boost profits. This action meant the company’s investigators never completed their reviews of security-clearance candidates, while telling the government that the work was finished.

 

The Justice Department included copies of company emails indicating USIS employees lied about their work.

 

“Shelves are as clean as they could get. Flushed everything like a dead goldfish,” one email read.

 

Another internal document quoted a worker as saying: “They will dump cases when word comes from above.”

 

Still another email, this one from the director of national quality assurance, stated: “Come EOM (end of month), if they’re going to tell us to just dump all those cases anyways without a proper review, which will only make that ugly baby even uglier.”

 

Investigations that were dumped impacted security clearance approvals for the departments of Defense, Justice, Treasury and Homeland Security, and other agencies.

 

USIS earned between $95 and $2,500 for each background investigation. It also received bonuses from 2008 to 2010 totaling $11.8 million for meeting certain performance goals.

 

A company spokeswoman, Ellen Davis of Sard Verbinnen & Co. in New York, downplayed the controversy by claiming the fraudulent work was the result of just a few employees.

 

“These allegations relate to a small group of individuals over a specific time period and are inconsistent with the strong service record we have earned since our inception in 1996,” Davis said in an emailed statement to Bloomberg. USIS has “fully cooperated” with the investigation, she added.

 

USIS was originally a unit within the Federal Investigations Division of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM). It began conducting background checks for the government in 1996, the year that it left OPM to go private. The firm eventually became the largest outside investigator for government security clearances.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

Security Firm Sued by U.S. Over Bad Background Checks (by Joe Schneider, Bloomberg)

Security Check Firm Said to Have Defrauded U.S. (by Matt Apuzzo, New York Times)

Security Clearance Lapses Stemmed from Washington’s Heedless Emphasis on Speed over Quality (by Rebecca LaFlure, Center for Public Integrity)

Does Privatization of Federal Employee Background Checks Lead to More Security Breaches? (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

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