News / Americas

    Hundreds of US Security Clearance Records Falsified, Federal Cases Show

    A Navy Yard personnel approaches a security checkpoint as he returns to work two days after a gunman killed 12 people before police shot him dead, in Washington, Sept. 18, 2013.
    A Navy Yard personnel approaches a security checkpoint as he returns to work two days after a gunman killed 12 people before police shot him dead, in Washington, Sept. 18, 2013.
    Reuters
    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.

    Alexis, Snowden clearances

    In a statement last week after 13 people died in shootings at the Navy Yard, including shooter Alexis, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said, "In light of recent events, we plan to step up our efforts to investigate and prosecute the individuals and companies who risk our security by cutting corners and falsifying information in background checks."

    In pressing the cases, prosecutors have required defendants to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution to the U.S. government to recover the costs of redoing improper background investigations.

    The screening process for security clearances has came under heightened scrutiny this year since Snowden, working as a contract employee assigned to the National Security Agency, used his "top-secret" clearance to access documents on the agency's  electronic eavesdropping that he later gave to the news media.

    The issue resurfaced last week with reports that Alexis held a "secret" security clearance despite violent episodes before and after he received it.

    A secret clearance generally lasts 10 years. Ongoing checks are needed because "in five to 10 years stuff happens and people change," a Senate aide said on condition of anonymity.

    OPM contracts out for most of the background check work. But the decision to grant security clearances rests with the government agency that intends to employ the individual.

    USIS conducts about 65 percent of the background checks done by private contractors, and more than half of all the investigations conducted by the OPM, according to a statement issued last week by the office of Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is a co-sponsor of legislation aimed at boosting oversight of the security clearance process.

    Investigators for other government contractors, including CACI International Inc, were also convicted of making false statements in reports for security clearance background checks. CACI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    A Senate aide said the USIS investigation by OPM's inspector general revolves around systemic problems in the company's procedures and does not focus on individual investigators.

    The inspector general also is investigating the background check done for Alexis before he received clearance to work for the Navy.

    In 2012, there were 3.5 million federal employees and 1.1 million contractors who held a "secret" or "top secret" clearance and OPM's security clearance and background investigations cost about $1 billion, McCaskill's office said.

    The OPM inspector general's office told Reuters it has 68 open cases related to OPM's background investigations program. It did not say how many of those involve report falsifications.

    The inspector general's office said it has referred 22 former background investigators for debarment, but no decisions have been reached by OPM. A debarment is usually for a specific time period and means the person cannot contract with another federal agency.

    The Senate Homeland Security Committee has scheduled an Oct. 1 hearing on government clearances and background checks.

    You May Like

    Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain

    Turkish sources say North Caucasus militants involved in bombing at Ataturk airport, but name of at least one alleged attacker raises doubts

    With Johnson Out, Can a New ‘Margaret Thatcher’ Save Britain?

    Contest to replace David Cameron as Britain’s prime minister started in earnest Thursday with top candidates outlining strategy to deal with Brexit fallout

    US Finds Progress Slow Against Human Trafficking in Africa

    Africa continues to be a major source and destination for human trafficking of all kinds -- from forced labor to sexual slavery, says State Department report

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Eitheri
    X
    Jim Malone
    June 29, 2016 6:16 PM
    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora

    More Americas News

    Smugglers Use Uber-registered Drivers to Move Migrants to US Border

    Vehicles carrying 34 Central American migrants apprehended in June between northern Mexican states of Zacatecas and Coahuila, official says

    Cuban Hip Hop Group Orishas Reunite With Ode to Island

    Reuniting after a seven-year hiatus, emigre group also returning to their roots with new single celebrating their 'Cuba Isla Bella,' and say they hope to launch fourth studio album within a year

    Amid Cuts, Rio Police Ask for Handouts Ahead of Olympics

    Just weeks ahead of the Games, helicopters are grounded, patrol cars are parked, security forces so pressed for funds that some have to beg for donations of pens, cleaning supplies, even toilet paper

    UN: Drought-hit Central America Must Help Farmers Withstand Climate Change

    Aid groups and governments must boost resilience of communities and ‘not settle for simply mounting a humanitarian response every time an emergency situation occurs,’ official says

    Argentine Police Search Ex-president’s Properties

    Investigators seek documents as part of probe into possible corruption by Cristina Fernandez

    Verdict in Trial of Brazil's Rousseff Due after Olympics, O Globo Newspaper Reports

    First Olympic Games to be held in South America are due to open Aug. 5 amid political turmoil, concern about the Zika virus and Brazil's deepest recession since the 1930s