Background check firm that OK’d Snowden cleared Navy Yard shooter

posted at 8:41 am on September 20, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

While the debate on guns has fizzled after the Navy Yard shooting with the emergence of the actual facts about the weapons used in the crime, another question has remained.  How did a man who had admitted to police that he was hearing voices and who had a number of brushes with the law manage to get a clearance onto a military facility?  The clearance came from the same firm who also approved another high-profile embarrassment to the federal government:

USIS, the Falls Church government contractor that handled the background check for National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, said Thursday that it also vetted Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis for his ­secret-level clearance in 2007.

The company, which is under criminal investigation over whether it misled the government about the thoroughness of its background checks, said earlier this week that it had not handled Alexis’s case.

USIS spokesman Ray Howell said the company got new information Thursday.

“Today we were informed that in 2007, USIS conducted a background check of Aaron Alexis” for the Office of Personnel Management, Howell said in a statement. “We are contractually prohibited from retaining case information gathered as part of the background checks we conduct for OPM and therefore are unable to comment further on the nature or scope of this or any other background check.”

USIS, which was spun off from the federal government in the 1990s, has become the largest private provider of government background checks. With 7,000 employees, the company handles about 45 percent of all background checks for the OPM, congressional staffers say.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, who chairs the subcommittee that deals with federal contracting, blasted USIS and called for an overhaul of how security clearances are managed:

“From Edward Snowden to Aaron Alexis, what’s emerging is a pattern of failure on the part of this company, and a failure of this entire system, that risks nothing less than our national security and the lives of Americans. What’s most frightening is that USIS performs a majority of background checks for our government. We clearly need a top-to-bottom overhaul of how we vet those who have access to our country’s secrets and to our secure facilities.”

She noted that USIS does about two-thirds of background checks done by government contractors.

“That Alexis had a ‘secret’ security clearance and maintained it despite several violent episodes before and after the clearance was issued has reinvigorated lawmakers’ calls for a review of how security clearances are issued,” Reuters observes.

USIS is already under investigation and faces possible criminal charges for misleading the government on its performance, the Washington Post reported in June:

Federal investigators have told lawmakers they have evidence that USIS, the contractor that screened Edward Snowden for his top-secret clearance, repeatedly misled the government about the thoroughness of its background checks, according to people familiar with the matter.

The alleged transgressions are so serious that a federal watchdog indicated he plans to recommend that the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees most background checks, end ties with USIS unless it can show it is performing responsibly, the people said.

This point in particular might have application to the Navy Yard shooting:

After conducting an initial background check of a candidate for employment, USIS was required to perform a second review to make sure no important details had been missed. From 2008 through 2011, USIS allegedly skipped this second review in up to 50 percent of the cases. But it conveyed to federal officials that these reviews had, in fact, been performed.

The shortcut made it appear that USIS was more efficient than it actually was and may have triggered incentive awards for the company, the people briefed on the matter said. Investigators, who have briefed lawmakers on the allegations, think the strategy may have originated with senior executives, the people said.

Did that second review take place with Aaron Alexis?  Due to the requirement to destroy records, we will probably never know, but this looks like it fits the pattern, at the very least.

The Post rightly noted in its June report that cutting off USIS would create a logistical headache for OPM that could last for years.  That looks more like a necessity than an option now.


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While the debate on guns has fizzled

What? They’re just getting started.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 8:46 AM

Well liberals see what funding cuts do with the military? Have to contract this kind of stuff out instead of keeping it in house…good job liberals keep cutting!

All kidding aside, time for a new contractor?

watertown on September 20, 2013 at 8:47 AM

RWM vindicated. As usual.

davidk on September 20, 2013 at 8:48 AM

I can tell you from personal experience, these guys only run a Credit Check and a NICS (the same thing someone who buys a gun goes through) check on anyone needing a Secret or below. Currently those are the only requirements for a Secret clearance. No background checks, interviews or anything of that sort unless something pops on either the Credit report or a positive NICS check.

Johnnyreb on September 20, 2013 at 8:50 AM

Did that second review take place with Aaron Alexis? Due to the requirement to destroy records, we will probably never know, but this looks like it fits the pattern, at the very least.

It seems as if USIS is getting a bum rap here when it comes to the Navy Yard shooter. The shooter wasn’t convicted of anything. If interviews were done, he clearly had a different personality when he was in Fort Worth. In short, security clearance investigations can’t pick up on the fact that the guy was hearing voices in his head.

Snowden is another matter because he was cleared for a much higher level and, apparently the only interviews they conducted were with his mom and pole-dancing girlfriend.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:52 AM

While the debate on guns has fizzled

I agree with:

While the debate on guns has fizzled

What? They’re just getting started.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 8:46 AM

But they may slow down a bit with this in gun-controlled Chi-town:

13 people, including 3-year-old boy, shot at South Side park

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-multiple-people-including-3yearold-shot-in-south-side-attack-20130919,0,352520.story

davidk on September 20, 2013 at 8:53 AM

When I received my top secret clearance in the 80′s the FBI did the investigating.

Grunt on September 20, 2013 at 8:54 AM

All kidding aside, time for a new contractor?

watertown on September 20, 2013 at 8:47 AM

No, because here is what would happen. A new company gets the contract. They immediately hire all the individuals who worked for USIS because they are the ones with the experience in doing the job.

After the announced security clearance process review is completed, the next step is to determine just how many people really require the clearances they have and pare down the workload in maintaining security clearances.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 8:56 AM

How did a man who had admitted to police that he was hearing voices and who had a number of brushes with the law manage to get a clearance onto a military facility?

I’m cutting USIS some slack here.
1) Was there any indication in Snowden’s past that would indicate he’d pull his stunt? I haven’t heard anything, maybe someone could do some investigative journalism and talk to his family and friends. Eric may not have been qualified, but that’s on the hiring agency, in this case the NSA, not on someone doing background into his past.

2) Aaron shot out a couple of car tires and into a neighbor’s apartment. That’s a failure of law enforcement and prosecution for not following up. The base was alerted to his mental instability WRT the Rhode Island incident, which took place in the last couple of months. They did nothing. Or was it higher-ups who told them to stand down (which seems to be order of the day these days.) If there is no record of the guy’s mental instability before the background check then how can they deny him? And if there are incidences after the background check, then it’s on his supervisors not the checker, who’s job is over.

rbj on September 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM

When I received my top secret clearance in the 80′s the FBI did the investigating.

Grunt on September 20, 2013 at 8:54 AM

Me too, but this guy didn’t have a TS.

The bottom line is that this guy passed a Clearance investigation that he was required to have to gain access to the NAVSEA building and work there. The company that conducted the check did so in compliance with the regulations and directives that DOD mandates they use. They didn’t find anything because there was nothing to find. Simply being arrested for something is not a conviction and arrest records are not reported to NICS, only convictions. And his General Discharge won’t show up because it is not punitive discharge. This guys record was clean. I don’t see why people are pushing to have the contractor fired, they did their job they was the government told them to do it.

Johnnyreb on September 20, 2013 at 9:03 AM

davidk on September 20, 2013 at 8:53 AM

Sorry there, bigot, shootings in Chicago are in response to the existing Big Whitey power structure and its history of slavery and institutionalized marginalization of negr0 culture.

And the guns themselves were brought into black neighborhoods by a program created under Reagan who wanted to control blacks by facilitating their ability to kill another and keep the population numbers down.

Why do I have to explain everything around here.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 9:03 AM

I can tell you from personal experience, these guys only run a Credit Check and a NICS (the same thing someone who buys a gun goes through) check on anyone needing a Secret or below. Currently those are the only requirements for a Secret clearance. No background checks, interviews or anything of that sort unless something pops on either the Credit report or a positive NICS check.

Johnnyreb on September 20, 2013 at 8:50 AM

USIS doesn’t “clear” anyone; they just report the findings of their investigation. So, while USIS may have failed to update Alexis’ background check, it’s the employer who determines whether information in the USIS report disqualifies someone.

Syzygy on September 20, 2013 at 9:04 AM

While the debate on guns has fizzled

What? They’re just getting started.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 8:46 AM

They never stopped. Liberals are incrementalists. They look at a mass shooting like Monday’s atrocity and do the math as to just what they can get out of it- even before the blood has dried or the bodies have been identified. They were absolutely giddy with delight at the Brady Campaign when 20 children were slaughtered.

IMO, the current plan is to go out after guns through “mental health” provisions in background checks for the purchase of firearms or ammunition. Not that it will prevent mass killing.

Remember Bath, MI?

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 9:04 AM

USIS, the Falls Church government contractor…. With 7,000 employees,…

Look for shorter lines at the Falls Church Starbucks, Whole Foods (or it is Wegmens out there?) and the latest Cupcake franchise.

/heads should roll.

egmont on September 20, 2013 at 9:07 AM

When I received my top secret clearance in the 80′s the FBI did the investigating.

Grunt on September 20, 2013 at 8:54 AM

for nuke prp in 86 I had fbi and secret service checking me.

dmacleo on September 20, 2013 at 9:09 AM

When I received my top secret clearance in the 80′s the FBI did the investigating.

Grunt on September 20, 2013 at 8:54 AM

for nuke prp in 86 I had fbi and secret service checking me.

dmacleo on September 20, 2013 at 9:09 AM

Doesn’t the FBI do checks for everyone entering the service? I had an agent sniffing around our hood when I joined the Navy way back when, though now that I think about it maybe it was because I had volunteered for sub duty and needed a secret level clearance.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 9:12 AM

davidk on September 20, 2013 at 8:53 AM

Sorry there, bigot, shootings in Chicago are in response to the existing Big Whitey power structure and its history of slavery and institutionalized marginalization of negr0 culture.

And the guns themselves were brought into black neighborhoods by a program created under Reagan who wanted to control blacks by facilitating their ability to kill another and keep the population numbers down.

Why do I have to explain everything around here.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Sarcasm works best when it touches truth.

Your sarcasm works.

davidk on September 20, 2013 at 9:14 AM

It is not their fault. USIS did (with the possible exception of the follow-up checks) their job. That they do so many means that they would happen to be the ones who investigated two high profile security problems. Embarrassing, but almost inevitable if you think about it. It’s up to the organization they send their data to to decide to grant the clearance.

They also do more than just pro-forma database checks. I’ve been through this process three times, for a Secret clearance for the Navy (most recently for work in that very building). There is a long, detailed form that has to be filled out by the applicant (SF-86) that requests data for the last 7 years. All of that data is verified, from addresses to employment to references, and interviews are occasionally performed with those references as well. It will also reach out further than 7 years if warranted – i.e something that happened prior to the window that had an effect on events in the window. The send an investigator to interview you (and possibly others) to try to clear any discrepancies, or find issues. My last one had us discussing things that happened 20 years prior.

My personal dealings with them (anecdotal, yes) have been professional and thorough.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 9:16 AM

I agree with:

While the debate on guns has fizzled

What? They’re just getting started.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 8:46 AM

But they may slow down a bit with this in gun-controlled Chi-town:

13 people, including 3-year-old boy, shot at South Side park

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-multiple-people-including-3yearold-shot-in-south-side-attack-20130919,0,352520.story

davidk on September 20, 2013 at 8:53 AM

If anything I thought that would have made the screaming worse when I saw it on the news this morning, but it doesn’t look like they are making a big deal about it online, so you may be correct.

MobileVideoEngineer on September 20, 2013 at 9:16 AM

Remember Bath, MI?

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 9:04 AM,

Happened about 15 miles from where I’m sitting right now. Literally, in my back yard.

GAlpha10 on September 20, 2013 at 9:26 AM

[rbj on September 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM]

Yeah, it may be or may not be that USIS is not doing their jobs, but that is another matter entirely. Unless the government can show that USIS should have caught them by providing evidence that there were steps in the process that should have provided a different result and USIS missed them, then this is nothing less than looking for a scapegoat.

The failure here with Alexis is appears to be, somewhat clearly now, that governmental authorities fumbled the ball numerous times with Alexis with the most egregious being their gun free zone policy and their responses to the actual shooting.

Dusty on September 20, 2013 at 9:28 AM

The number of jobs requiring a security clearance is incredible. Perhaps a re-evaluation of what those jobs are is in order. If the number of investigations were cut down the quality of the invstigations would go up.

Changing projects within my company I went from a secret clearance to a ‘public trust’ clearance. The investigation for the ‘public trust’ was much more thorough than what I remember for the higher clearance.

TerryW on September 20, 2013 at 9:30 AM

[Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 9:16 AM]

Can you give us a time frame for this? Times change and things done 20 years ago may have been a lot different than 5 years ago.

Dusty on September 20, 2013 at 9:37 AM

Two things in play here:

One, really thorough background checks would preclude too many people from government jobs – to suit the left. So, the standards for clearances have likely been relaxed; sort of like the qualifications for food stamps. In fact, these two issues are probably similar in some ways, at least in how they serve the larger goal of big government.

The other is some ridiculous expectation that everything remains static in peoples’ lives. We know there were incidents reported about this guy that should have precluded him from obtaining any level of security clearance. But many others could be perfect candidates up until the time they’re investigated and then had life-changing -but still private events that would make them unworthy after the fact. Background investigations are an imperfect science. Witnesses can lie. HIPPA can play a role. Etc.

Look for the left to use this and Snowden as an example why electronic patient records accessible to the IRS and FBI are so vital to national security.

BKeyser on September 20, 2013 at 9:37 AM

Happened about 15 miles from where I’m sitting right now. Literally, in my back yard.

GAlpha10 on September 20, 2013 at 9:26 AM

Lucky you. I still miss living in GR.

Happy Nomad on September 20, 2013 at 9:40 AM

Well liberals see what funding cuts do with the military? Have to contract this kind of stuff out instead of keeping it in house…good job liberals keep cutting! [...]

watertown on September 20, 2013 at 8:47 AM

Liberals? You must not know that all budget cuts that result in something bad were initiated by Rethuglicans. Ref.: Sequester — that wasn’t Dear Leader’s idea — it was a conservative plan to fire policemen & murder puppies! /lib

KS Rex on September 20, 2013 at 9:45 AM

….But many others could be perfect candidates up until the time they’re investigated and then had life-changing -but still private events that would make them unworthy after the fact….

BKeyser on September 20, 2013 at 9:37 AM

A crash in creditworthiness can get your clearance removed. One of my
Sailors nearly lost his over that. We had to appeal and give a rescue plan to keep it, that was a lot of hard work. Another Sailor (not mine) straight up lost his over it and had to change his Navy job (rating) from Information Systems Technician (IT) to Boatswain’s Mate (BM) to be able to stay in. That’s a huge deal. Many just separate from the service altogether.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 9:49 AM

My last clearance review was 2011, we discussed things from 1991.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Dusty on September 20, 2013 at 9:37 AM

My last clearance review was 2011, we discussed things from 1991.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Oh, sorry about the odd double post.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 9:52 AM

I agree with:

While the debate on guns has fizzled

What? They’re just getting started.

Bishop on September 20, 2013 at 8:46 AM

But they may slow down a bit with this in gun-controlled Chi-town:

13 people, including 3-year-old boy, shot at South Side park

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-multiple-people-including-3yearold-shot-in-south-side-attack-20130919,0,352520.story

davidk on September 20, 2013 at 8:53 AM

If anything I thought that would have made the screaming worse when I saw it on the news this morning, but it doesn’t look like they are making a big deal about it online, so you may be correct.

MobileVideoEngineer on September 20, 2013 at 9:16 AM

The MSM won’t even mention it, because Chicago is The Messiah’s home turf, and a gun-free paradise.

The narrative must be saved at all cost.

clear ether

eon

eon on September 20, 2013 at 9:56 AM

I can see the questionnaire now:

1. Are you a criminal? YES/NO

2. Are you sure? Like REALLY sure? YES/NO

3. 4. Are you crazy? YES/NO

4. Did the talking gumball machine tell you the answer to #3? YES/NO

5. How much money do you want to get paid? (fill in) $_______.

Gatsu on September 20, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Ho-hum. Once upon a time we didn’t do background checks for most positions. In the late 90s under Clinton they started ramping up the security requirements to where even mechanics needed a security check. Stop thinking that somehow the background check is a silver bullet. The main concern deals with spying and passing sensitive info to enemies. As long as we continue to invite jihadiis to join the cia, military and other govt agencies, the system will never be secure let alone safe from wackos. Gee.

AH_C on September 20, 2013 at 10:10 AM

It’d be interesting to see where this outfit’s political donations have gone.

CurtZHP on September 20, 2013 at 10:21 AM

The Post rightly noted in its June report that cutting off USIS would create a logistical headache for OPM that could last for years.

It’s either fire them or settle for half-assed reviews and suffer the consequences.

GarandFan on September 20, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Gatsu on September 20, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Actually, here’s the form, all 127 pages:

http://www.opm.gov/forms/pdf_fill/SF86.pdf

It’s a PITA, especially if you don’t remember your previous address ZIP codes. The automated form will reject your application if you get it wrong, but not tell you what the right one is. I merely have to whisper “SF-86″ in one of my guys ear to get him to go on a rant.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 10:35 AM

The BI includes a check into your medical records. If you develop (or present) issues after you’re cleared, it won’t show up until the next BI – 10 years for a Secret clearance. Unless your unit brings it up or it otherwise comes to attention.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 10:38 AM

“It is not their fault. USIS did (with the possible exception of the follow-up checks) their job”

I think it’s pretty clear that their “job” consists of doing a DMV online license check (which takes about 5 minutes) and then pulling out a big rubber stamp and saying “S’All Good, Bro!”, and then charging a couple thousand dollars for all of the “work” they supposedly did.

Yeah, government contracts, that’s how you make your money. Pretend to do what you say, rake in the cash, and pay off as many protectors as you need to in order to keep the gravy train rolling.

Who’s ever going to notice? Well, besides the murdered personell in the Navy Yard and their families?

Here’s an idea – make the CEO and every employee involved PERSONALLY and CRIMINALLY liable for any damages that result from a botched investigation. That’d get their attention quick.

Tom Servo on September 20, 2013 at 10:58 AM

So, no Tea Party affiliations in either of their backgrounds? Is that what I’m reading?

Fallon on September 20, 2013 at 11:03 AM

Tom Servo on September 20, 2013 at 10:58 AM

Um, no. Look at the PDF I linked. They have to verify all that information. They will dig – they did for me, twice over the same incident (DUI in 1994). They will dig more for a TS and a bit less for a Secret, but they do try to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 11:47 AM

It seems to me that a security clearance is just a formality so you can be in the “IN crowd” in Washington… it doesn’t have anything to do with if you can be trusted. Or if you can do the job.

The answer to the problem seems very obvious. But I bet it is really a puzzle to the government… they can’t figure out anything.

How did the stupidest people in the country end up running it?

petunia on September 20, 2013 at 12:07 PM

USIS doesn’t “clear” anyone; they just report the findings of their investigation. So, while USIS may have failed to update Alexis’ background check, it’s the employer who determines whether information in the USIS report disqualifies someone.

Syzygy on September 20, 2013 at 9:04 AM

However, the employer has to believe in the credibility of the report to make appropriate decisions; that’s what the main post takes issue with.

Kind of like the state that discovered its forensic pathologists had botched investigations for years, which called hundreds of verdicts into question.

Jeff Weiner has given lots of good information above, which kind of supports the USIS, but it only takes a few bad departments or execs to create a climate of sliding over the details to ruin the process.

Kind of like NSA officials lying to the FISA courts, or the IRS and DOJ lying to Congress.

Most of the time, most of the employees are going to be competent and honest, but once you find out there are others who aren’t, then how do you decide who you can believe?

This year makes me think our government seal ought to be changed to the old Reading Rainbow motto: Don’t just take my word for it.

AesopFan on September 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

AesopFan on September 20, 2013 at 12:24 PM

True. I can only testify to my experience with them.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 12:35 PM

Frankly, this was a really lousy time for something like this to happen. It will take weeks before the building (197) will be open again. This is the end of the Federal fiscal year, and all of their documents are in that building and unavailable while they try to find new workspaces. Most of the folks that work there got their cars back just yesterday.

Yes, I have friends that work there. I used to work in that building until about a year ago.

Jeff Weimer on September 20, 2013 at 12:45 PM

USIS doesn’t “clear” anyone; they just report the findings of their investigation. So, while USIS may have failed to update Alexis’ background check, it’s the employer who determines whether information in the USIS report disqualifies someone.

Syzygy on September 20, 2013 at 9:04 AM

Exactly, so if the employer (their HR office that is) did their part of the work, as in going through his past references, maybe contacting one or tewo of his former co-wokers or supervisors, or bet him getter at the interview phase, chances are that they’d have found out more ‘interesting’ stuff about this guy’s strange behaviour, past ot present…it’s impossible that peoplem who worked with him in the past didn’t notice anything out of sorts with this dude. Blaming it all on USIS is ridiculous, it’s not ike they take the guy and give him a psychological examination or something, at least tthis is not what DoD require of them.

jimver on September 20, 2013 at 12:51 PM

vet him better at the interview, that is…

jimver on September 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM

PC and incompetence will kill all. Hopefully the PC promoters go first.

Schadenfreude on September 20, 2013 at 12:59 PM

http://www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2013/09/hillsboro_screener_eid_passpor.html#incart_river

I was directed to The Oregonian via Drudge for an article on Clarence Thomas. While reading “The Zero’s” online newspaper I happened on the above article. Eid is a Muslim holiday. I find it interesting that a company that does Navy security clearances is named Eid Passport.
Hey how about hiring a company called Good Friday Passport company?

ORconservative on September 20, 2013 at 1:05 PM