Doesn’t this just give us all a warm fuzzy about national security?

As Edward Snowden prepares to defend himself in a worldwide webinar Thursday, the Justice Department is accusing the private contractor that vetted him and thousands of other intelligence workers of bilking U.S. taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars by conducting phony background checks.

USIS, the giant private contractor that conducted the background checks of both Snowden and Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis, is accused in a Justice Department lawsuit filed Wednesday night of conducting 665,000 fake background checks between 2008 and 2012.

“USIS management devised and executed a scheme to deliberately circumvent contractually required quality reviews of completed background investigations in order to increase the company’s revenues and profits,” said the Justice Department in its complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Alabama.

According to the indictment, 40% of all background check reports from USIS were fraudulent. First big surprise: We’ve either replaced or added more than 1.66 million people in the federal government who need security clearances over the four-plus years of this date range (March 2008 to September 2012). Why? That sounds like we have a pretty bad turnover problem, or have expanded classified access (and activities) significantly in that period, even though we were already dialing down the war in Iraq at the beginning of that period.

Second: The government apparently never thought to spot-check performance of the contractor who determined who got access to our nation’s most sensitive information.  The DoJ searched their e-mail and found plenty of indications of fraud; employees bragged about “dumping” or “flushing” cases so that they could clear their desks. USIS even had a computer program to assist in the effort called Blue Zone. It’s been more than 25 years since I worked for a government contractor, but I recall a much more robust effort in place to audit workplaces and make sure work was (a) getting done, and (b) charged properly. Even routine spot checks should have found some fraud if it occurred in 40% of all cases — meaning we could have found out before Snowden took a powder and Ansari shot up the Washington Navy Yard.

Someone was asleep at the switch … most likely, several someones.

Finally, this leaves us with a big question: Who else has access to sensitive materials that poses a threat to our national security? If we had 665,000 background checks blown off, I’m guessing the answer is more than one or two. Assuming the DoJ can prove its case, some USIS executives had better be doing hard time soon, and the federal government had better get cracking on re-checking its employees hired or promoted during that period of time. And maybe Congress will want to look into why we needed so many background checks in that short period of time, too.