Last month US Senator Claire McCaskill announced at a Senate hearing, that government contractor USIS conducted a background check on Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor suspected of treason. In 2011 USIS performed a background investigation on Mr. Snowden for a security clearance; the company is now under criminal investigation for systemic failure to adequately conduct background checks. By passing USIS’ background check, the 29 year old Snowden was given clearance that granted him access to classified documents he later leaked to the media, divulging secret surveillance by the National Security Agency.
USIS is the largest commercial provider of background investigations for the federal government. The Office of Personnel Management paid the company more than $200 million last year for its services. It’s estimated that 75% of all background investigations are contracted out by the federal government and 65% of those contracts are held by USIS.
Senator McCaskill and her constituents grilled federal officials about how the government screens employees and contractors who have access to the country’s most valuable and sensitive information. “Federal agencies, like the Defense Department, rely on the background investigations to make assessments of whether people should be trust with our nation’s most sensitive information; it appears that this trust has been broken.”
Inspector General Patrick McFarland testified that since 2007 at least 18 investigators have been convicted of fabricating background checks, casting doubt about previous security clearances granted. It is estimated that nearly 5 million people have been granted security clearances by the US government; 1.4 million have ‘top secret’ clearances.