Contractors Providing Background Checks For NSA Caught Falsifying Reports, Interviewing The Dead

from the the-talking-dead dept

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.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:06am


    There was just one snag: A person he claimed to have interviewed had been dead for more than a decade.


    Well it's as they say, the competition is stiff

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:09am

    They have the capability of scrutinizing dead and imaginary people too?

    PRISM really has gone too far.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:12am

    if these practices weren't going on, there would be no need to 'just trust them' (or anyone else) would there?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:13am

    Tons of oversight often equals lots of reports, with people reporting what their manager wishes to hear. Therefore the higher up the chain of command and oversight a person is, the less any reports have to do with reality. In short large bureaucracies end up lying to themselves.

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 11:31am

      Re:

      Sad but true. When you go from analysis of single cases to status reports on the program a huge amount of silverlining is lost. When status data on different programs are made into a state of the union report, a lot more data is cut. When the people in charge recieve a recommandation report all data are gone and only recommandations based on shortened reports, based on shortened reports, based on shortened reports remain...
      That is the definition of bureaucratic overload. Since most of the tiers of workers will claim that they are essential and since the tiers around them do not want extra administrative burdens, rolling back bureaucracy takes heavy restructuring if it is possible at all.

       

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      Aerilus, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 2:35pm

      Re:

      I would like to see an experiment where a bunch of people turned in a reports where only the abstract and conclusion were real and the rest was lorem ipsum and see how long they kept their jobs. Id place my money on there being a statistically significant difference between government and private sector jobs.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 2:48pm

        Re: Re:

        I would like a comparison between people who reported the truth, and those who reported what management wanted to hear. I did note in one job that presentation counted more than content.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:14am

    Well, of course they had to interview dead people!

    Don't you know dead people like Gertrude Walton and Ray Scantlebury can download music? They're a threat to national security, economy and entertainment! Masnick is obviously fudding things up as usual, bawk!

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:30am

      Re:

      "Masnick is obviously fudding things up as usual, bawk!"

      No idea what you're trying to say, so I'm going to assume that you meant to say pudding instead...which, while not making your comment any more relevant or coherent, at least makes me think of pudding.


      hmmmm...pudding...*drools*

       

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    •  
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      AC Unknown (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 1:38pm

      Re:

      Not sure if troll or sarcasm.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:21am

    So let me get this straight: they have the capabilities to spy on anyone, and they don't use it to look into the people they are hiring?
    Always knew the NSA were idiots.

     

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    Chris ODonnell (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:23am

    I've been interviewed many times about my neighbor when they are up for or renewing a security clearance. It's one of the hazards of living in the DC area. The interviews are a joke. The interviewers are usually kids fresh out of college working for a government contractor. The questions are are very boilerplate - asking if if I see strange cars visiting late at night, does he throw lots of parties, have I ever heard him talk about being in debt, etc. They seem kind of pointless really.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 9:57am

    Power generates corruption.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 10:08am

    The joy of contractors...

    Step 1: Get a senior position at a government agency. Preach the "efficiency" of using contractors to do what used to be in-house.
    Step 2: Violate the law, abandon the principles you claim to defend, be negligent as to your responsibilities all you want.
    Step 3: When it all blows up, blame it all on the contractor and duck out the side door. The contractor CEO cashes out, closes the firm and "re-brands". You wait 3 months, take your cushy job at the "new" contract company. The poor slob who just wanted to keep his/her job gets 18 months and a Federal felony record.

    'Merica!

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 10:24am

      Re: The joy of contractors...

      When it all blows up, blame it all on the contractor


      That's not unique to the government, either. I spent a stretch of time doing contract work as a software engineer, and I quickly learned that a common reason to hire a contractor is specifically so you have a scapegoat for a project that is already doomed. It's one of the reasons I charged a lot for contract work.

      On the flip side, it gave me a kind of freedom that I never had as an employee: I could speak unvarnished truth without fear for impact on my career.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 10:16am

    Got to say, more than a little ad-libbing in the article where Snowden 'claimed' to take the position with the clear intent to leak sensitive information. From the article:

    "My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked," he told the Post on June 12. "That is why I accepted that position about three months ago."

    Now, to anyone that replies, please don't make the mistake and assume I'm defending him, I'm merely pointing out the inconsistencies with his statements and the article from the South China Morning Post.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      I agree. Most people don't know how the contractor game works - and this isn't just government but all over corporate America as well. You have huge ongoing projects that have to constantly be upgraded and maintained. Firms bid on contracts to provide people to work on those projects say yearly. When a new company wins the bid, some new people may come in and some people may leave but a lot of the people that were previously working on the project for the previous contract holder simply switch "employers" and continue working the same job or at least a very similar job related to the project. He only started working for Booz Allen Hamilton 3 months prior, but he had been a system administrator working for the NSA a lot longer than that. It's likely that the position with BAH added access to additional information which is what he was referring to. However, it is clear he didn't just walk in of the street 3 months earlier to take this position which is how the media is making it sound.

       

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    madasahatter (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 10:20am

    more legislation

    More legislation is not answer. The problem is two fold; excessive document classification and excessively broad (and almost certainly illegal) programs that require large numbers of vetted personnel. Both are corrosive problems ultimately destroying trust in the government. Whether true or not, it appears much of what was classified was done so to protect "staff" from criminal charges because it is very difficult to prosecute someone on suspicion.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 10:32am

    funny how they swear our data is safe , soon the NSA will get hacked or a software problem will occur and all of our data will end up on the interwebs

     

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    Dan S (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 10:54am

    "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. "

    8/10
    80/100
    but
    90/100 of the checks

    Suggests they are actually ABOVE average, no?

     

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    Sunhawk, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 11:10am

    "[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."

    ... so who vetted McFarland? We gotta see how many layers deep this amusing train goes... ^_^

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 11:25am

      Re:

      Maybe the public should have access information from a thorough background check of Alexander to decide if he should be allowed to be in his position.

       

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    identicon
    Chris Brand, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 11:32am

    The proposed solution...

    ...is to give the NSA *more money* ? Unbelievable. surely it would be better to force them to scale back what they are doing to the point where they *can* properly monitor it.

    It should be very simple - "you didn't monitor this program properly, therefore this program is now cancelled."

     

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    Ima Fish (profile), Jul 10th, 2013 @ 11:42am

    Needed to be said...

    So, do you watch yourself or do you have your own watcher? But then who watches him... Is there a never-ending chain of watchers watching other watchers? I suppose having other watchers watch the same other watchers could in theory break the chain...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 12:29pm

    The background checks, conducted correctly, will select people with personal integrity and devotion to the Constitution. Later, they'll make the best whistleblowers.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 5:04pm

    Remember the 2008 NSA phone sex story?

    This is on a par for the level of professionalism you expect from an organization with this many people. There will always be some incompetents and pockets of unprofessional behaviour.

    Remember when NSA employees got caught passing around recordings of the good phone sex calls home from the US military members in the Green Zone? Sound familiar?

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2008/10/we-snooped-on-i/

     

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    identicon
    Jake, Jul 11th, 2013 @ 6:09am

    Well, what d'you expect when you outsource to the low bidder?

     

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    jsf (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 7:12am

    Contractors? Really?

    One of the problems this shows is that the government has turned too much over to outside contractors. Who really thinks it is a good idea to have a for profit company doing security checks? Not to mention allowing a company that does security checks to vet their own employees.

    Almost makes you long for the cold war days when the intelligence organizations actually took this stuff seriously. Probably too seriously back then, but at least it wasn't about profits.

     

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      tqk (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 6:52pm

      Re: Contractors? Really?

      Who really thinks it is a good idea to have a for profit company doing security checks?

      I do, and I think that's a silly question. Would you rather all of public commerce was nationalized and made a gov't monopoly? I think that would be ridiculous, and it wouldn't solve anything.

      I'd like to know what's happening with these sluggards' managers. Did they do anything to verify their employees were actually doing what they were expected to do? This is management failure above all else. I've never had a job where my boss spent all his time on the golf course and just trusted us to not goof or slack off.

       

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    DeLightFuL, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:14am

    USIS NSA USA UK

    WhaTs the saYing?: The good oL boys Club!
    It's a who knows who world & the Internet has SPREDDD if like Fire!!! No one wants to put into the system, everyone expects to take out. Our country concentrates SO HIGHLY on our past mistakes & inqualities that we hv forgotten to lock the Flood gaTes:{~
    These things are ok in some ways because there is opportunity for the ones who's life has a much harder, higher & some ghetto gun fire-- hill to climb, BUTT BUT WHAT COMES WHEN EVERYONE'S LISTENING, whom speaks has the power!!!!

     

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      DeLightFuL, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:19am

      Re: USIS NSA USA UK

      Try that again. weirdly, it cut out the Middle & Jumped to the end oF my poinT.. kinda make a difference donT it:)

      FWD:
      WhaTs the saYing?: The good oL boys Club!
      It's a who knows who world & the Internet has SPREDDD if like Fire!!! No one wants to put into the system, everyone expects to take out. Our country concentrates SO HIGHLY on our past mistakes & inqualities that we hv forgotten to lock the Flood gaTes//:
      These things are ok in some ways because there is opportunity for the ones who's life has a much harder, higher & some ghetto gun fire-- hill to climb, BUTT I say CUZ the eLiTe these days are very skilled, talented or even smart in the slightest. Then they bring their even dumber friend and his girlfriend who has a friend and her brother is an EviL mother-$kher!!! Next thing you know this isn't a 007 episode, its those lazy-boys and their toys PUSH'N paperwork through for an overSeas gov. whom may still think USA so great, I mean rich.
      Nope IT'S RICK JAMES BIT$#$ ;)
      kidding! super serious bout being married to an Axe Murderer tho. This right here is how its done... & one day you might find that

       

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    identicon
    DeLightFuL, Jul 15th, 2013 @ 5:26am

    USIS NSA USA UK

    JASUS H. literrally!! heres the rest mY point that weirdly cut-off, so i can ShuT-up! & get OuT yo face!!!!

    FWD:
    .....ThaT far away problem has reached your own children & wish you could actually trust the system! OR EVEN ITS PEOPLE!!!!!
    The big picture soon becomes even larger as that WiLDFiRe iZspReADInG now!!!!! not tomorrow. So with hesitation, I dare say' there's a Reason that THE ~all mighty.Book~ was created?!?!! It was there to give us direction, MORALSSS & standards! Give us hope, will, love, peace & understanding/::()> BUT WHAT COMES WHEN EVERYONE'S LISTENING, whom speaks has the power!!!!

     

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    Aplus, Aug 14th, 2013 @ 9:49am

    Trust

    So basically this is saying who can we really trust?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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