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An image from the USIS website: 'Ensuring a Safer Future Today (R)'
Congratulations, you are SO fired. (USIS website)
Looks like somebody is going to have to hire one of those "fixers" to repair their company image:
The same federal contractor that vetted Edward Snowden, who leaked information about classified U.S. spying programs, also performed a background check that let the Washington Navy Yard shooter obtain a security clearance.

Now the contractor, USIS, is drawing fire from a U.S. senator asking how Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis slipped through the cracks.

Being implicated in two of the biggest security eff-ups of the last year probably requires some "we're sorry" ads, maybe a new Twitter campaign, and possibly a change even to the company name (is Blackwater available, or did someone else call dibs on that one?)

There's a caveat, however. The federal contractor was responsible for background checks in these two cases primarily because USIS is responsible for the majority of all background checks, period.

No company does more U.S. government background checks for clearances than USIS, which was awarded $253 million by the Office of Personnel Management last year. The company did about two-thirds of background investigations done by contractors, and more than half of all those performed by the U.S. personnel office, according to Senator Claire McCaskill’s office.
Background checks of course have limited prognostication abilities—exploring a person's past is not fully predictive of their future motivations, after all, though you might want to know if the person you are about to give "secret" clearance to has a history of instability and waving guns around—but privatizing security checks and turning them into a for-profit industry seems to have its own problems. USIS was formed as a privatized offshoot of the Office of Personnel Management during the Clinton administration, back during one of the previous rounds of privatizing things for the sake of privatizing them. Recent events have caused some, like Sen. McCaskill, to wonder whether or not there is a fundamental flaw in the current arrangement, though I doubt "perhaps this should not be done by outside companies at all" is going to come up much.

Originally posted to Hunter on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 12:46 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  So many meanings of the word (10+ / 0-)


  •  ZOMG CT! Black(water) Helos and, and....TinFoil (13+ / 0-)

    Russian transit lounges

    back during one of the previous rounds of privatizing things for the sake of privatizing them
    In 1996, OFI, which conducted background investigations for civil service personnel, was privatized. The 700 government employees of OFI became employee-owners as part of USIS. In January 2003, the New York investment firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson, and Stowe, described by a Carlyle insider as a virtual shadow operation for The Carlyle Group, bought USIS for $545 million. With 5000 current and former employees of USIS sharing $500 million, the deal made them wealthy with the stroke of a pen. However, upper management within USIS became much wealthier than the rank-and-file. Insiders report that the twelve top managers at USIS became multimillionaires as a result of their cashing in of their Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). Many of these instant millionaires already had a close relationship with The Carlyle Group.

    Carlyle had been a shareholder in USIS since 1999 and with the buy-out deal via the Welsh, Carson, Anderson, and Stowe deal, Carlyle became the major shareholder.

    USIS continues to have a virtual exclusivity deal to perform background security investigations for OPM. The company bills itself as "one of the largest Intelligence and Security Services companies in North America."

    Carlyle has been profiled in two notable documentaries, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 and William Karel's The World According to Bush.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 12:58:26 PM PDT

  •  Because duh. (9+ / 0-)

    Of course outsourcing the job of conducting background checks for security clearance based on which private company can cut the biggest campaign checks... er, do the best job... er, do the job for the lowest price is a great idea.

    29, white male, TX-07 (current), TN-09 (born), TN-08 (where parents live now)

    by TDDVandy on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 12:59:33 PM PDT

  •  But profit motive gives incentives to private... (10+ / 0-) to fuck things up better, faster and more efficiently.  

    Think of all the money we saved!

  •  Somewhat unrelated, (6+ / 0-)

    but background checks are also very, very expensive--they can run several tens of thousands of dollars apiece and even more for the highest clearances.  I don't know if this was the case before USIS came into being but it sounds totally out of whack.

    Perhaps there's something I'm missing as to why they cost so much.

    •  When my dad got his security clearance... (14+ / 0-)

      ...they sent FBI agents to interview his elementary and high school teachers.  They interviewed his friends, every girl he'd ever dated, neighbors, college professors, former roommates...

      that's on top of the records checks.  

      It took six months for his clearance to be delivered.  For that time, he worked at the "Leper Colony," which was a place for all the people awaiting clearance to work on non-classified things.  Sometimes, there was not enough work to be done, so they'd all just sit there all day drinking coffee, reading, etc.  

      So factor in the cost of an FBI agent per hour (wages, benefits, travel expenses etc), and all the hours it takes to do these things and you can quickly see how the costs add up in a hurry.  


    •  Yes, very expensive (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      That is why if you have a TS/SCI-poly you can go just about anywhere in DC.  I have heard estimates of upwards of $20-30k for one of those.  It is very detailed and they track down lots of people for it.  What you enter on the SF86 is only the starting point for that clearance level.   The lower level secret clearance is nothing compared to that...I got an interim secret within six weeks of submitting my SF86 form.  At the secret level they really care mostly about the "Three D's": Debt, Drugs, and Drinking.  If you have foreign connections a TS can take longer to process.  For the top level clearance within the IC, you have to even report foreign connections on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc).  When getting the TS/SCI-poly for the IC, if you are married to a foreign national, the spouse must agree to become a US citizen and must also take the counter intelligence polygraph.  I don't think they have to take the lifestyle portion of the poly.  That is the only time a spouse is required to also undergo the poly.

      I went into science for the money and the sex. Imagine my surprise.

      by Mote Dai on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:47:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Was there anything about Snowden (13+ / 0-)

    ... they missed? If it's a case of someone distressed and/or radicalized by what they learn after getting the security clearance, that would be exceedingly difficult to pre-screen for. I haven't been watching closely on this story - steering clear of the pie fights &c - but I don't recall there was anything from Snowden's past that looked problematic.

    In other words, was there anything they missed that was relevant? Clearly there was in the case of Alexis. In cases like his, and domestic violence cases, they often let marginal cases go "with a warning."

    What if it went like this: Alexis shoots up the guys' tires, or through the neighbor's floor. Have a mechanism where a deal can be struck. We don't press charges, but if and only if you voluntarily enter a "No Buy" list for guns. A little more public safety is the result, without having to have a felony conviction or being ruled insane by a court.

    Mark Twain: It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.

    by Land of Enchantment on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:06:50 PM PDT

    •  I think it likely (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Aunt Pat, Eyesbright

      that most of they did was a records search, with interviews only for primary contacts.  Interviewing people he only knew tangentially costs money, and rarely reinforces the ideas they get from the primary interviews.  And these people tend to develop a narrative or profile early, and only to do research that supports it.

      I used to get in hot water occasionally for going on tangents, but got out because those tangents paid off more often than not.  But there are a lot of 'in the box' thinkers doing this kind of work.

      I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

      by trumpeter on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 02:43:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Yes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      In other words, was there anything they missed that was relevant?
      What they missed was that, if we believe Snowden and not a later statement from his father, Snowden took the job intending to release secrets, "after getting the security clearance" has no relevance (per Snowden, as opposed to Snowden pere).  Linky here.

      In other words, from Hunter @ top:

      Background checks of course have limited prognostication abilities—exploring a person's past is not fully predictive of their future motivations, after all,
      This is true. But if a background check can't even tell us something about a person's present motivations, then why are we as taxpayers paying for them?
      •  They can't read minds yet (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Be thankful that Minority Report is just a movie.

        There's none so blind as those that will not see. --Jonathan Swift

        by chuckvw on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:46:20 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Huh? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          david78209, vcmvo2

          I've been through the process before it was outsourced, as others above said they have. It took many months, often well over a year, references were interviewed, neighbors and former neighbors were interviewed, it was an extremely extensive process.

          Apparently it is now outsourced. As taxpayers we're clearly getting less. Are we paying less? Or are we getting screwed? Seems like a simple enough question.

          •  Huh? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I'm not sure how you have construed anything in my comment to be in disagreement.

            I was addressing the point about Snowden. If a person harbors a secret intention and tells no one about it, all things being equal, the process could drill down to interpreting kindergarten finger paintings and still not find anything amiss.

            I completely agree about privatization of this function and so many others...

            There's none so blind as those that will not see. --Jonathan Swift

            by chuckvw on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 07:06:23 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  OK... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              but that seems to assume he told absolutely nobody about it whatever. That would be an odd thing to assume, he has a girlfriend and is seeking a job but says nothing about why? Family? Friends? None of this makes them suspicious? He seeks to uncover secrets but never says anything that makes anyone around him suspicious? I actually heard from lots of people who had been interviewed when I went through the process.

              And, other point, if you're saying nothing can be discerned about intention from a, say, 18 month long background investigation, then what's the purpose of the investigation. In the past when such investigations failed to uncover something that was plainly there it was seen as a failure of the process.

          •  There is a difference between a TS (0+ / 0-)

            and a secret.

    •  Yes, for Snowden (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      vcmvo2, Wynter

      From what I remember, the investigation did uncover some discrepancies in his forms and answers.  Some of the them were education related.  Booz, probably under the gun to put a body in the slot, then ignored the red flags and hired him any way.  That is what is missing in this story...what Booz knew and why they still hired him.  In some contracts, there is tremendous amount of pressure to get a billable body into the slot and the management doesn't want to wait weeks or months...and they don't want to hear excuses.  So if some manager got someone with a couple of minor red flags, he or she would still likely hire the person because of the pressure from above to bill, bill, bill.

      Of course, if someone took a position solely to get information and leak it, then it is probably hard to catch them before hand.

      I went into science for the money and the sex. Imagine my surprise.

      by Mote Dai on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:57:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Like so many of the Wall Street companies (12+ / 0-)

    that own the firms doing business we used to do as a public (education, war, security), the owner of this company, Providence Equity Partners, is a multi-billion dollar equity firm focused on returns, not performance. They mostly deal in entertainment. Recently they partnered with the NFL on a $300 million project. Someone 'splain to me how the f*ck the NFL retains "nonprofit" status!

    stay together / learn the flowers / go light - Gary Snyder

    by Mother Mags on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:15:55 PM PDT

  •  only government is incompetent (11+ / 0-)

    privatizing leads to better outcomes and saves money.

    Right wing lies.   Profits.

  •  So, do they vet candidates running (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wilderness voice, Aunt Pat

    for major governmental positions as well? Looks like it considering the results ...

    "It's what you do, not what you say, that makes your nation" - some dude

    by mimi on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:33:44 PM PDT

  •  This is what happens when (11+ / 0-)

    you privatize what are truly governmental functions.

    With the Decision Points Theater, the George W. Bush Presidential Library becomes the very first Presidential Library to feature a Fiction Section.

    by Its the Supreme Court Stupid on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:37:10 PM PDT

  •  One more question to add to the ... (3+ / 0-)

    National Instant Criminal Background Check System when you buy a gun:

    Do you have a National Security Clearance, and do plan on shooting anyone?

    Failing this, we should hire The Psychic Network to screen potential employees so that we don't have to rely on the past, but can look forward to the future, a future free of gun violence.

    If life weren’t so damn hard, we’d have no need for fabric softeners. - UID 16382

    by glb3 on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 01:39:48 PM PDT

    •  The Psychic Network's the thing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Ordinary investigations can only find what's already happened.  That, clearly, is not enough for Americans who need to know what you're going to do every minute for the rest of your life.

      "Injustice wears ever the same harsh face wherever it shows itself." - Ralph Ellison

      by KateCrashes on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:11:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  So? (5+ / 0-)

    Snowden is an American hero.

    The shooter is a heinous criminal.

    Not sure what you think they have in common, really.

  •  Sigh (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AoT, Aunt Pat, FG, Eyesbright, chuckvw

    Not all background checks are the same.  I work for the VA and only supervisors and HR go through advanced checks because of the handling of employees SSNs and DOBs.  Everyone else gets a fingerprint and a bare bones check where scan tron questionaires are sent to the new employees references by the Office of Personnel Management.  If the employee has not been arrested and formally charged with a crime, nothing will show up.

    •  I would (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AoT, Aunt Pat, FG, chuckvw

      Have to see what clearnance the Navy Yard Shooter required.  It's also important to remember he used someone else's ID to gain acccess to certain areas.  

      Snowden would not have raised any red flags, because there was no indication he was planning to do what he did.  These investigators are not clairvoiant.  

  •  Please help me get shooting victims heainsurance (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock, chickeee, War on Error

    Please sign my petition to try to get any person who is a victim of a terrorist attack or mass shooting health insurance coverage under Congress' plan as special dependents.


  •  You're being totally unfair. (0+ / 0-)

    Well over 99% of the people vetted by USIS don't go on to commit mass murder.  

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:10:36 PM PDT

  •  They do how many checks a year? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    businessdem, War on Error

    Was there an error rate?

    Some readers may also agree with me that the checks might well have found that Snowden was a heroic American patriot who would sacrifice much of his life for the good of his country, and that is exactly what he did.

    Of course, we do not hear much about the people who were denied a clearance, or whether it was justified. People who were fine when they were checked and had issues later are also a  challenge.

    Restore the Fourth! Save America!

    by phillies on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:12:52 PM PDT

  •  this pisses me off (4+ / 0-)

    comparing a guy sacrificing his ife trying to warn you the government is creating a secret totalitarian state and an insane guy who hears voices and murders random strangers.

    its like comparing hitler and orwell because they both wrote a book.

    drones are a cost effective way of generating enough new terrorists that calls to cut military spending will fail.

    by just want to comment on Fri Sep 20, 2013 at 06:14:05 PM PDT

  •  privatizing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    things the govt should do is a fast tract to a corporate fascist state in the name of profit over accountability, some services need to be controlled by govt no matter the capitalists objections.

  •  8 USIS bckgrnd checkers convicted or pleaded... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    guilty  to falsifying records since 2006...

    ...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...

    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...

    In a twist that hints at how widespread the fabrications in the background check system may be , the investigator who had vetted Smith was convicted in a separate falsification case...

    The most recent case involved Ramon Davila...a former worker for contractors including USIS...

    Davila pleaded guilty last month to submitting documents that contained false reports about interviews he had never conducted and records he had never obtained...

    When will the govt. fix this?
    ...There may be “considerably more” botched background investigations, Patrick McFarland, Inspector General for the OPM told senators at the hearing. “I don’t believe that we’ve caught it all by any stretch,” he said.

    McFarland said his office doesn’t have the funds needed to conduct thorough probes...

  •  A cleaner? (0+ / 0-)

  •  Who did the background check (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nailbanger, chuckvw, OleHippieChick

    on the guys who tortured people at Abu Ghraib? Who checked John Yoo, David Addington? Who checked Richard Perle? Who checked the guys who are killing civilians in the videos released by Manning? Who checked the snoops who worked alongside Snowden but who had no concerns about what they were doing? Hell, who checked Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney?

    Whoever gave Snowden clearance should get a bonus.. and Senator McCaskill should choose a better example if she wants to illustrate a trend in the failure of background checks.

  •  Fault lies with lack of imagination (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OleHippieChick, Panbanisha

    I'd like to see what the original mandate was because I heard that the point of these background checks is to weed out people who are easy to blackmail.

    The problems seem to be structural in that even if they didn't catch these men on background checks . . . . .what the men did should not have been possible to do by anyone.

    I'm still shaking my head sadly about how the navy Yard shooter was left alone by himself after asking the police for help because of the voices he was hearing. No human being should be assumed to be OK if they are troubled by voices.

  •  So, a few years ago when we went to some (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Lincpass system (that we still don't use) the contractor who processed these Lincpass ID cards was maybe 21 years old, talked on her cell phone the whole time she was processing my card about some party she had gone to.  She then went to our Susanville office and proceeded to make a reputation for herself in the local bars.  Yes, she had access to all of our private information.

    Then, there was the private contractor who they hired to update our information another time.  You know, making sure we hadn't been arrested, etc.  I got to chatting with him and it turns out his is Canadian. Nice kid. Not that I have anything against Canadians, mind you, but I thought it was interesting that the federal government would hire a company to access all of our personal information and they sent us someone who wasn't a citizen.

    Yep, that's how we roll in the government.

  •  Better & Cheaper = Privatized (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    It's a self-serving LIE that the Party of Stupid loves to use to justify outsourcing government functions to their GREEDmongering cronies.

  •  Can't have it both ways... (0+ / 0-)

    Not too up to speed on the Navy Yard incident. (Been in an information blackout you could say)... But as far as Snowden was concerned I had not heard if there was anything in his closet that would have caused a red flag on his clearance. Of course, if you are a potential safety risk due to a recent run in with the law dealing with gun violence or some diagnosed mental instability you might find yourself losing your access temporarily.

    Clearances are like when your parent's ground you for getting caught doing something. They are only as foolproof as the level of information being shared with the agency involved. If no one shares their medical opinion with the employer or if someone doesn't press charges then Uncle Sam might never know the risks it is taking. Privacy has a lot to do with this. We can't have the government knowing everything about cleared personnel and still legally maintain our personal privacy for it's citizens as well. There is a large information gap which results from this.  

    We can't have it both ways.

    "I think it's the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately." -- George Carlin, Satirical Comic,(1937-2008)

    by Wynter on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 03:11:24 AM PDT

  •  Just wonder (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Who in the gov has monetary connections to the company that does the background checks?  You know some lobby paid off the members who hired them.  Wonder who

  •  work at home...> (0+ / 0-)

    I'm making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do...

    --->> W­W­W.C­N­N­1­3.ℂ­O­M

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