On September 25, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters reported alarming statistics that hundreds of U.S. security clearance records have been falsified over the past few years. According to the report, prosecutors have documented at least 350 improperly performed background investigations conducted by private contractors and special agents from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. In some of these cases, the investigators falsely claimed to have interviewed potential witnesses essential for a clearance determination, and also falsely claimed to have reviewed essential records.
In a particularly egregious example, a private contractor investigator claimed to have interviewed a person who had died more than a decade earlier. While most of the cases appear to have involved OPM special agents, at least seven involved employees of USIS, the Virginia-based company that conducted background investigations of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis. In part as a result of USIS' work, Snowden received a Top Secret clearance, while Alexis received a Secret clearance. In 2012, there were approximately 3.5 million federal employees and 1.1 million contractors who held either a "secret" or "top secret" clearance. According to the report, it costs approximately $1 billion annually to conduct the background investigations on these individuals.
Those individuals privileged to be granted security clearances also carry a heavy burden in ensuring that they respect the clearances. They have access to our country's most closely guarded secrets, and also physical access to our most restricted government facilities. That is why it is essential that those entities responsible for conducting background investigations on those nominated for security clearances do a thorough and effective investigation on each applicant.