The fallout from Ed Snowden’s leaks has taken many forms, one of which is the NSA taking a long look at its contractors’ hiring processes. Snowden claims to have taken the job solely to gathering damning info. This revelation, combined with some inconsistencies in his educational history, have placed the companies who perform background and credit checks under the microscope.
What these agencies are now discovering can’t be making them happy, including the news that one contractor’s investigative work apparently involved a seance.
Anthony J. Domico, a former contractor hired to check the backgrounds of U.S. government workers, filed a 2006 report with the results of an investigation.
There was just one snag: A person he claimed to have interviewed had been dead for more than a decade. Domico, who had worked for contractors CACI International Inc. (CACI) and Systems Application & Technologies Inc., found himself the subject of a federal probe.
It’s not as if Domico’s case is an anomaly.
Domico is among 20 investigators who have pleaded guilty or have been convicted of falsifying such reports since 2006. Half of them worked for companies such as Altegrity Inc., which performed a background check on national-security contractor Edward Snowden. The cases may represent a fraction of the fabrications in a government vetting process with little oversight, according to lawmakers and U.S. watchdog officials.
Who watches the watchers’ watchers? It appears as if that crucial link in the chain has been ignored. Give any number of people a job to do and, no matter how important that position is, a certain percentage will cut so many corners their cubicles will start resembling spheres.
These are the people entrusted to help ensure our nation’s harvested data remains in safe hands, or at least, less abusive ones. Those defending the NSA claim this data is well-protected and surrounded by safeguards against abuse. Those claims were always a tad hollow, but this information shows them to be complete artifice. The NSA, along with several other government agencies, cannot positively say that they have taken the proper steps vetting their personnel.
USIS, the contractor who vetted Ed Snowden, openly admits there were “shortcomings” in its investigation of the whistleblower. Perhaps Snowden’s background check was a little off, but overall, calling the USIS’ problems “shortcomings” is an understatement.
Among the 10 background-check workers employed by contractors who have been convicted or pleaded guilty to falsifying records since 2006, eight of them had worked for USIS, according to the inspector general for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The personnel agency is responsible for about 90 percent of the government’s background checks.
In one case, Kayla M. Smith, a former investigative specialist for USIS, submitted some 1,600 falsified credit reports, according to the inspector general’s office.
Smith spent 18 months turning in these falsified reports, which accounted for a third of her total output. One might wonder how someone like Smith ends up working for a background check contractor. The answer? This problem isn’t confined to one level.
[T]he investigator who had vetted Smith was convicted in a separate falsification case, Patrick McFarland, inspector general for the personnel office, said at a June 20 hearing held by two Senate panel.
Will it get better? USIS is already ceding market share to other contractors but it’s impossible to say whether its competitors will be more trustworthy. McFarland says his office doesn’t have enough funding to perform thorough probes, which indicates what’s been caught so far is just skimming the surface. These agencies harvesting our data (and their defenders) all expect Americans (and others around the world) to simply trust them. Meanwhile, the reasons why we shouldn’t continue to mount unabated.
A couple of senators are hoping their new piece of oversight legislation will fix the problem. It would provide McFarland’s office with more investigation funding, but simply adding more “oversight” isn’t going to make the problem go away. The NSA’s mouthpieces continue to insist that everything it does is subject to tons and tons of “oversight,” but that has done very little to improve its standing in the “trustworthy” department. There are systemic issues that need to be addressed, both in these agencies and the contractors they hire and expecting to paper over the cracks with a little legislation will only result in more revelations of wrongdoing, rather than fewer occurrences.
by Tim Cushing
Wed, Jul 10th 2013 8:49am