Exclusive: Hundreds of U.S. Security Clearances Seen Falsified
WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors have documented at least 350 instances of faulty background investigations done by private contractors and special agents for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in recent years, illustrating what some lawmakers call systemic weaknesses in the granting of federal security clearances.
Reuters calculated the total by reviewing court documents and press releases from prosecutors for 21 cases resulting in convictions that involved the making of false statements from December 2004 to March 2012.
These are the cases government officials have cited to assert that action is taken against investigators who falsely claim to have reviewed records or done interviews for background checks submitted to OPM. Not all the cases identified a specific number of fabrications.
The 350 falsified reports represent only a small percentage of the number of background investigations conducted each year, either by OPM’s own investigators or a handful of private contractors it uses for most of the work. The Government Accountability Office testified to a congressional committee in June that OPM received over $1 billion to conduct more than 2 million background investigations for government employees in fiscal 2011.
But the details of the cases show how cracks in the system may allow employees to obtain clearances without proper vetting. In one case, a private contractor investigator, who pleaded guilty to making a false statement, reported interviewing a person who had died more than a decade earlier. Another investigator was found guilty of making false statements in checks for applicants seeking “top secret” clearances for jobs in the Air Force, Army, Navy and U.S. Treasury.
The highest number of convictions, 11, involved special agents for OPM. Another seven convictions were of employees of USIS, a Virginia-based company that has come under scrutiny for its role in vetting former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and more recently, Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. Two of those USIS investigators had the highest number – more than four dozen each – of flawed background check reports sent to OPM, court documents showed.
USIS faces an ongoing investigation by OPM’s inspector general. The company declined to comment for this story and OPM’s inspector general’s office would not comment on its probe. The most severe punishment was given to an investigator who did not take a plea agreement and instead went to trial. This investigator was found guilty of six counts of making false statements and sentenced to 27 months in prison. Those who entered plea agreements generally received sentences of probation and community service, courts records show. (Reuters)