How porous is the process to get security clearance in the US? Let’s just say given the chance to look at the all names of the people who have been cleared for access to the United States’ top secrets, one shouldn’t be surprised if they saw names like Usama Bin Laden, or Vladimir Putin on the list. There is no evidence that these people are on the list, but the heading coming out of yesterday’s Senate Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce hearing yesterday is that only 13% of background checks are ever finished but people are given the clearance anyway.
The purpose of the hearing was to review how the federal government conducts investigations to determine whether federal employees and contractors are eligible for access to classified information. Obviously the hearing was set up in reaction to the NSA leaks made by Edward Snowden. And the committee wanted to figure out how someone like Snowden, could get access to some of the most secret information in the country. The answer they received was a resounding, Heck it’s easy!
While the committee didn’t find out about Snowden specifically it did learn that there were gaping holes in the clearance process
For example, there are NO strict guidelines on what makes someone eligible for clearance. And across agencies there is no consistent definition of what each level of clearance means. A top- secret clearance at one agency means something completely different at another.
But that shouldn’t be a major problem because 87% of background checks are never fully completed. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) simply uses the information it has to make a judgment on whether to approve these checks (Gee, I will approve that person because I like his/her face).
A private contractor, USIS conducts 65 percent of all U.S. government background checks. And even though they don’t finish those check they still get paid. OPM has already paid USIS $200 million this year. The $1-billion-dollar fund that OPM uses to pay for background checks has never been audited. Patrick E. McFarland , OPM’s IG said they have not been granted access to documentation on the fund. But there’s a good reason for that according to Merton W. Miller, Associate Director of Investigations, for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management the documentation doesn’t exist. Yes the OPM doesn’t keep documentation for how they spend a billion dollars (come on, it’s not like its real money)
We did learn that there are more than 10,000 private facilities in the United States that have security clearance, that 18 OPM investigators have been convicted of falsifying information contained in investigations they’ve conducted; 11 work for OPM, 7 work for private contractors.
At the present time 40 other investigators are currently being investigated for falsifying background checks and IG McFarland reports “I believe there may be considerably more. I don’t believe we’ve caught it all by any stretch.”
As Senator Claire McCaskill said in her opening statement: OPM is a “government agency where there is rampant fraud, limited accountability, and no respect for taxpayer dollars.”
And this is all happening with in an agency which is supposed to insure that only the most trustworthy people are being hired. With all we learned yesterday it is very surprising there isn’t an entire flock of Snowdens calling out our nations most confidential secrets.
H/T Financial Times