Edward Snowden’s background security check was grossly inadequate

posted at 9:01 pm on August 28, 2013 by Bruce McQuain

Apparently there’s a been an investigation into the background check Edward Snowden had undergone and it was found to be … “inadequate”.   I know, you’re shocked aren’t you?

The most recent background check of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden was so inadequate that too few people were interviewed and potential concerns weren’t pursued, according to a federal review following his leak of some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.

The background checkers failed to verify Mr. Snowden’s account of a past security violation and his work for the Central Intelligence Agency, they didn’t thoroughly probe an apparent trip to India that he had failed to report, and they didn’t get significant information from anyone who knew him beyond his mother and girlfriend, according to the review.

National Counterintelligence Executive Frank Montoya Jr., who led the review, said the 2011 background check by a private contractor “did not present a comprehensive picture of Mr. Snowden,” according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

None of the individual errors identified by Mr. Montoya, a senior official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, suggest the background check missed red flags, but together they depict an incomplete process that, if conducted properly, might have limited Mr. Snowden’s career ambitions.

If you’ve ever been through one of those background checks, you know that if they’re done correctly, they’re very detailed and cover just about all aspects of your past.  They also take some time. Yet, even with his background check incomplete, and as Montoya claims, inadequate, he was still somehow able to re-qualify for a high-level security clearance.

After the background check renewed Mr. Snowden’s high-level security clearance, he had access, through his job at Booz Allen Hamilton, to top secret documents about U.S. surveillance programs that he since has given to journalists.

Nice.  Well done.  How many other potential Snowdens are there with “inadequate” background checks thumbing through our nation’s most secret secrets?  We’ll likely never know … until they make headlines.

How “inadequate” was Snowden’s background check?  It is a litany of errors, oversights and omissions:

The office’s review found that those conducting the check failed to verify his past work for the CIA through personnel records or interviews. Mr. Snowden said he couldn’t provide names of people who could verify his employment because it was classified, according to the review.

The review said the background investigators didn’t make enough efforts to interview character witnesses who could have provided details about Mr. Snowden. The former NSA contractor stated he only had social contact with his mother and girlfriend, who was listed as a character reference and was interviewed by investigators, according to the report.

Mr. Montoya said the background checkers were unsuccessful in contacting a second person whom Mr. Snowden had listed as a reference, and they didn’t indicate whether they attempted to contact a third reference. The review also said those conducting the check fell short by failing to interview neighbors of Mr. Snowden during his residence in Japan.

[...]

An interview with Mr. Snowden included a discussion about a past security violation but the checkers didn’t independently verify his account, Mr. Montoya’s review found. The nature of Mr. Snowden’s violation wasn’t clear.

Also, the background interviewers learned from a work supervisor that Mr. Snowden had traveled to India, which Mr. Snowden hadn’t reported during the background-check process, but the final background report failed to clarify the purpose of the trip, according to Mr. Montoya’s review.

Overall, the background check contained limited information on Mr. Snowden beyond that obtained from the interviews with him, his mother and his girlfriend, according to the review. It said a recent supervisor and co-worker had infrequent contact with Mr. Snowden and were of little help.

While Mr. Snowden’s work in classified environments may have made it hard to track down some information, the background check “did not reflect attempts to independently verify Mr. Snowden’s claims,” said the Montoya review.

Essentially, given all the missing and incomplete information and unverified claims, Mr. Snowden should never have received his clearance.  It is as simple as that.  There is absolutely no excuse for such shoddy investigative work and there’s certainly no rush to hand out a security clearance without adequate verification.  But apparently, this is what passed for background checks, at least at the time Snowden came aboard.

You have to wonder … how can a government which can’t even do an adequate enough job to protect its own secrets claim it can protect us or our secrets?

~McQ

Blogging at QandO


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Comments

When you have that many employees, some things fall through the cracks.

myiq2xu on August 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Why is no one questioning the need of the US government to have so many classified programs?

Why is everything Uncle Sam does a gigantic secret?

Am I the only one who thinks thats strange?

BobMbx on August 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Oh good. Another article on Snowden rather than the NSA itself. Because Snowden’s the problem, not the NSA.

iwasbornwithit on August 28, 2013 at 9:05 PM

And once again all the focus is on the guy who provided the information instead of the information. I’m seriously baffled people aren’t storming Washington with pitchforks and torches. Everybody I know… on the extreme left and right are upset about it. Maybe we’re all just resigned. Too much has happened too fast to even keep up with what outrage is being perpetuated on us next.

Sarjex on August 28, 2013 at 9:05 PM

Does this not call for Capt. Renault?

a5minmajor on August 28, 2013 at 9:10 PM

Edward Snowden’s background security check was grossly inadequate

So Edward Snowden and Barack Obama have something in common?

sharrukin on August 28, 2013 at 9:10 PM

BobMbx on August 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM

Over-classification is a very significant part if the problem. It seems a lot of it is politically motivated CYA.

iwasbornwithit on August 28, 2013 at 9:11 PM

Say,…….did y’all ever figure out if this guy was a traitor or a hero yet?

Bmore on August 28, 2013 at 9:12 PM

Ignore the scandal, target the whistle-blower.

David Blue on August 28, 2013 at 9:12 PM

Nice. Well done. How many other potential Snowdens are there with “inadequate” background checks thumbing through our nation’s most secret secrets? We’ll likely never know … until they make headlines.

Sorry Bruce, my digital history is not a national security issue.

So, BobMbx, why is the NSA domestic spying program so highly classified?

Because they’re trying to hide the fact they are spying on us.

Once that sinks in, you’ll stop with this false sarcasm about Snowden and, hopefully, many others like him. Please notice he didn’t steal any nuclear data. He didn’t need to. The Clenis already gave that away for free. He’s not in jail, either.

BobMbx on August 28, 2013 at 9:13 PM

Why is everything Uncle Sam does a gigantic secret?

They want to free themselves from the constraint of public opinion.

Am I the only one who thinks thats strange?

BobMbx on August 28, 2013 at 9:04 PM

I wouldn’t use “strange,” but nope — you’re not alone.

Axe on August 28, 2013 at 9:13 PM

It’s a good thing that Barry Soetoro passed his background check …

Oh, wait!

ShainS on August 28, 2013 at 9:17 PM

they didn’t get significant information from anyone who knew him beyond his mother and girlfriend, according to the review.

Well, if his mom and pole dancing girlfriend said he was trustworthy…..

Seriously, in these investigations anything they find that you didn’t tell them is a huge flag. Trips overseas, for example. Definitely shoddy work.

Happy Nomad on August 28, 2013 at 9:19 PM

I suppose Bruce’s point is that the NSA should have ensured that Snowden’s first loyalty was to the NSA and the federal government rather than the Constitution and the American people.

iwasbornwithit on August 28, 2013 at 9:20 PM

https://www.google.com/

MLK or … ?

davidk on August 28, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Edward Snowden’s background security check was grossly inadequate

So Edward Snowden and Barack Obama have something in common?

sharrukin on August 28, 2013 at 9:10 PM
…one was the government…and the other was the media…oh….wait…sorry…no difference

KOOLAID2 on August 28, 2013 at 9:24 PM

Inadequate? Or criminal?

Bureaucratic bungling.

rukiddingme on August 28, 2013 at 9:24 PM

davidk on August 28, 2013 at 9:20 PM

Hey , you know everything is about the O.

Barred on August 28, 2013 at 9:26 PM

Back in the mid-90′s I received a call from a DOD official who was doing a background check on my neighbor — an Army Reservist being considered for a promotion.

After all the questioning (including blackmailable-offense-type topics like drugs, gambling, philandering, etc.), my first thought was that the present Commmander-In-Chief, ole Bubba, couldn’t have passed even that little scrutiny …

ShainS on August 28, 2013 at 9:28 PM

Who the eff cares about Snowden.

Like many other people have pointed out. Snowden isn’t the story.

Obama also couldn’t have passed a background check: Choom gang, Frank Marshall Davis, New Party, Bill Ayers…

tetriskid on August 28, 2013 at 9:30 PM

It is a litany of errors, oversights and omissions:

Oh sorry – I thought you were discussing my botched surgery under Obozocare.

KMC1 on August 28, 2013 at 9:30 PM

Edward Snowden’s background security check was grossly inadequate

All by design, IMHO.

A local sheltered workshop placed my autistic son in job for the GSA mailroom located inside the federal complex in KCMO.

But before he was accepted, my son was required to submit a 7 page questionaire about everything he’d done since he was born; list 4 references, and all their contact info; and was required to submit to an FBI background check.

Then we waited 4 months before receiving clearance to enter the building in order to be photographed for an I.D. badge. 3 weeks later my son started his part time job in the GSA mailroom.

Yup. Edward Snowden’s background security check was grossly inadequate – all by design, IMHO.

locomotivebreath1901 on August 28, 2013 at 9:31 PM

Oh I get it now. This is a way to smear Snowden’s credibility by suggesting he was less than forthcoming. Well played statist authoritarians, well played.

iwasbornwithit on August 28, 2013 at 9:34 PM

Classified information released about NSA shows they are spying on Amer… ohh look! A squirrel. Winter must be coming. I just love the sno………

Divert… deflect… sidetrack…

Do everything, everything to take the focus off the real story!

svar42 on August 28, 2013 at 9:37 PM

https://www.google.com/

MLK or … ?

davidk on August 28, 2013 at 9:20 PM

O, I get it. See, Obama is the fulfillment of –

Sorry. Had to vomit.

– Obama is the fulfillment of MLK’s “Dream.” Hence the deliberate ambiguity. Or maybe the artist thinks all black men look alike from the back. Or maybe you’re a racist who thinks all black men look alike from the back. I’m not sure a cartoonist would tell MLK with big ears, though, so I see Obama. But maybe I’m a racist that thinks all black men look like Obama from the back.

Anyway, weird.

Axe on August 28, 2013 at 9:43 PM

Where’s Mr. Allahpundit? Is he on another stay vacation?

Blake on August 28, 2013 at 9:49 PM

Edward Snowden’s background security check was grossly inadequate

As was Obama’s. And he pretens to be POTUS.

Snowden? Where’s the surprise? Where’s the beef?

Oh, right. It’s all fine. It’s OK. Go to sleep. Never mind.

Cody1991 on August 28, 2013 at 9:50 PM

I’m not sure that the inadequate background investigations was deliberate, but some heads should roll within the agency that was required to do the background investigation.

Back in the ’70′s when I was in the USMC stationed at Marine Barracks, 8th & I, I was required to have a Top Secrect Clearance with a Special Background Investigation (TS-SBI) for Presidential Support duties. It took 9 months to complete the investigation. They interviewed all of my nieghbors, all of my high school teachers, and every employer I worked for. And I was a lowly Lance Corporal. Once you had the clearance, you could lose it for any minor infraction.

Not sure if the breakdown is emblematic of the current administration, but it certainly doesn’t instill confidence that they care one iota about our national security.

GAlpha10 on August 28, 2013 at 9:50 PM

Edward Snowden’s background security check was grossly inadequate

Well at least he had one.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 9:53 PM

Axe on August 28, 2013 at 9:43 PM

…nice pics…but JugEars is a puke!

KOOLAID2 on August 28, 2013 at 9:53 PM

they didn’t thoroughly probe an apparent trip to India that he had failed to report

Maybe they confused India and Pakistan so they thought it was OK.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 9:55 PM

The review also said those conducting the check fell short by failing to interview neighbors of Mr. Snowden during his residence in Japan.

Seems the review was more hindsight than adequate also. Really? Send someone to Japan?

After moving projects I went from a secret clearance to a ‘public trust’ clearance. The latter was much more detail than the previous. It all depends on the job and who’s doing the check.

TfromV on August 28, 2013 at 9:55 PM

How many other potential Snowdens are there with “inadequate” background checks thumbing through our nation’s most secret secrets? We’ll likely never know … until they make headlines.

Some will only figure it out if one of them gets us into WWIII over Syria as apparently places like Oklahoma, Spokane and Pittsburgh, etc.. aren’t clue enough.

If you look at it in the right way this article is freaking hilarious, in a dark humor sort of way.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 10:00 PM

Once you had the clearance, you could lose it for any minor infraction.

GAlpha10 on August 28, 2013 at 9:50 PM

That’s you. For some minor and major infractions are an enhancement … … apparently.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 10:04 PM

Do everything, everything to take the focus off the real story!

svar42 on August 28, 2013 at 9:37 PM

Shouldn’t you be on the phone making more calls for them to monitor? At least send some emails. We can’t have those 250,000 employes of our very own Stais spending most of their time surfing the net for porn.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 10:07 PM

…nice pics…but JugEars is a puke!

KOOLAID2 on August 28, 2013 at 9:53 PM

If it popped up properly, did you notice where the split MLK/Obama linked back to? ABC News. :) Because, even if things have gone to scrap, and even if the damage is irreparable, we can all be very proud that we proved to other nations, by electing Barack Hussein Obama II, that America isn’t racist. Because we had something to prove to them. Apparently. And now we’ve proved it.

Boy, have we proved something.

Axe on August 28, 2013 at 10:09 PM

I suppose Bruce’s point is that the NSA should have ensured that Snowden’s first loyalty was to the NSA and the [Obama] federal government rather than the Constitution and the American people.

iwasbornwithit on August 28, 2013 at 9:20 PM

That’s right. That’s the way it works with our generals now.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 10:12 PM

I suppose Bruce’s point is that the NSA should have ensured that Snowden’s first loyalty was to the NSA and the [Obama] federal government rather than the Constitution and the American people.

iwasbornwithit on August 28, 2013 at 9:20 PM

That’s right. That’s the way it works with our generals now.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 10:12 PM

Our generals and more and more of hotgas.

VorDaj on August 28, 2013 at 10:14 PM

Bet my next retirement check that those ‘background checkers’ probably got an annual bonus for the number of checks successfully completed.

GarandFan on August 28, 2013 at 10:17 PM

Not checking the checkers? Fire them all.

AshleyTKing on August 28, 2013 at 10:19 PM

“We see here you read this foreign fellow, Fredrick von Hayek. Oh, Hi-yek. Sorry about that. So tell me more about him. Umm. Hmm. Well, thanks for interviewing with the NSA. Don’t expect to hear from us soon.”

AshleyTKing on August 28, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Sometimes we benefit from government incompetence.

EddieC on August 28, 2013 at 10:22 PM

Not checking the checkers? Fire them all.

AshleyTKing on August 28, 2013 at 10:19 PM

They can never be fired. The only way to get out of a government job is to commit treason.

lilacs on August 28, 2013 at 11:14 PM

And once again all the focus is on the guy who provided the information instead of the information. I’m seriously baffled people aren’t storming Washington with pitchforks and torches. Everybody I know… on the extreme left and right are upset about it. Maybe we’re all just resigned. Too much has happened too fast to even keep up with what outrage is being perpetuated on us next.

Sarjex on August 28, 2013 at 9:05 PM

There aren’t enough people, even on the extremes combined, who care enough about this issue. Snowden was a Captain Obvious whistleblower; everybody assumes little to no privacy on the WWW, making this a moot issue.

thebrokenrattle on August 29, 2013 at 12:39 AM

You have to wonder … how can a government which can’t even do an adequate enough job to protect its own secrets claim it can protect us or our secrets?

~McQ

Even if you agree that Snowden’s actions were laudatory, the incompetence of the Agency within its legitimate context remains a problem.

AesopFan on August 29, 2013 at 1:11 AM

Oh good. Another article on Snowden rather than the NSA itself. Because Snowden’s the problem, not the NSA.

iwasbornwithit on August 28, 2013 at 9:05 PM

Yes. The intelligence methods revealed by Mr. Snowden have indeed harmed the United States greatly.

Did the UN really need to know that we’d penetrated their phone system?

Did the Chinese need to know which servers we’d targeted and penetrated?

Did Al Qaeda really need to know about that secret British base?

These are not little things — these are big ones.

And the thought of what he’s revealed to the Russians scares the hell out of me — because we don’t know what it is, but Snowden is trying to find a new place to live and has the means to pay for that.

I don’t want him back here, and if he does come back here, I want him locked up for life. He’s a traitor and deserves the life of a traitor.

unclesmrgol on August 29, 2013 at 1:33 AM

The NSA is the institutional traitor. As are those who were just fine with what it’s been doing.

David Blue on August 29, 2013 at 5:28 AM

Wow talk about shifting BLAME.

Idiots. All of you.

This is why you have NO BUSINESS with my medical records.

TX-96 on August 29, 2013 at 6:16 AM

It really ticks me off.

A few years ago the newspaper I worked for also owned a full-service sheet-fed print shop which put in a bid to print postage stamps for the USPS. Once we got to a certain level of qualification in the process, everyone at the company was investigated. Secret Service interviewed old friends, college professors, checked credit histories, etc., to make sure no one who might possibly come into the plant’s secure areas had ever thought of stealing anything.

If they had talked to as many of Snowden’s friends and family and former coworkers as they did ours, he never would have been hired. And although all our employees passed the screening, we still didn’t win the contract!

Adjoran on August 29, 2013 at 7:19 AM

Back in the ’70′s when I was in the USMC stationed at Marine Barracks, 8th & I, I was required to have a Top Secrect Clearance with a Special Background Investigation (TS-SBI) for Presidential Support duties. It took 9 months to complete the investigation. They interviewed all of my nieghbors, all of my high school teachers, and every employer I worked for.

I’ve had a TS for a bit over 40 years now and SCI for most of that. What you describe is consistent with the investigations I have seen on me and my staff. One note. A good investigation doesn’t really focus on the people you put down on the form. Those should be friendly to the target. What the investigator does is ask friends and neighbors about “other people that know you”, e.g. the people you didn’t want the investigator to talk with…

that’s where the dirt is found.

the drill sgt on August 29, 2013 at 8:44 AM

when I joined army at 17 under delayed entry program since I was MP with nuke duties I had fbi/ss interviewing tons of people for the PRP program.
but if I were to run for office and won (fat chance) I would have more access with NO checks done.
you want to secure our secrets? run checks on the politicians before allowing them access.

dmacleo on August 29, 2013 at 8:59 AM

The company which did the clearance should be disbarred from further security work and should be sued for misfeasance. The persons involved in the clearance should be prosecuted for misfeasance. The government officials involved with hiring and monitoring that company should lose their jobs (ha fat chance).

burt on August 29, 2013 at 9:04 AM

I was interviewed by the FBI for a friends clearance. Friend was entering the nuclear college at the navy after undergrad. He was the president of the largest drug frat on campus.

As far as I know my friend was just a drinker. But he certainly lived a different lifestyle than I did as a Christian.

The FBI agent really wanted to just check off the boxes. Every question was a leading one. We finally got to “Your friend doesn’t do anything you consider morally wrong, right?” This guy was a good friend, but we certainly drew the lines in different places. Or maybe they were the same places and my friend just tended to cross them. At any rate I pressed the FBI agent on what exactly he wanted to know. He remained vague and just skipped to the next question.

After that experience I will forever wonder what good background checks could ever do. You would have to, like, make a trip to a banned travel location like Pakistan without your US passport to even get noticed.

TexasDan on August 29, 2013 at 9:25 AM

TexasDan on August 29, 2013 at 9:25 AM

All you had to do is say your friend was a drinker and that he associated with users of illegal drugs.

A nuclear officer in the navy is a less sensitive job than Snowden apparently had.

burt on August 29, 2013 at 12:33 PM

What we should have learned from Edward Snowden’s background checks is that there are undoubtedly dozens more just like him still employed and undiscovered.

dockywocky on August 29, 2013 at 1:46 PM

Another thing the Snowden affair taught us was that we still know more about Edward Snowden than we do about Obama.

dockywocky on August 29, 2013 at 1:50 PM