Watchdog details fraud in security clearance vetting
By Kevin Liptak
Extensive fraud has been committed by investigators responsible for conducting background checks used in granting security clearances to national security employees, a government watchdog will tell lawmakers on Thursday.
Patrick McFarland, the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management, will tell a joint hearing of Senate subcommittees on homeland security that his office doesn't have the resources it needs to ensure the checks - which were required of the millions of Americans with clearances - are not falsified.
So-called "fabrication cases" occur when background investigators "report interviews that never occurred, record answers to questions that were never asked, and document records checks that were never conducted," McFarland will say, according to prepared testimony.
In one case, a woman responsible for conducting credit checks was found to have fabricated 1,600 different reports. In an ironic twist, the background check used to hire her was also found to be false.
In all, 18 employees have been criminally convicted of falsifying background checks, McFarland will say in his testimony.
Another investigator pleaded guilty to background check fraud last month, and yet another is expected to enter a similar plea this week.
"One of these individuals not only falsified his background investigations reports, but also attempted to tamper with witnesses after his fraud was discovered," McFarland's testimony reads.
A report in January from the Director of National Intelligence showed nearly five million people hold United States security clearances.
They are broken into confidential, secret, and top secret classifications based on the sensitivity of the information a person is allowed to view.
The bulk of clearances - about 80% - are distributed by the Department of Defense, according to the Senate panel holding Thursday's hearing.
Issuing clearances has come under recent scrutiny after a National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden - who held a top secret clearance - admittedly leaked documents this month detailing two surveillance programs.
Lawmakers want to know more details on clearance distribution and vetting.
McFarland will tell senators Thursday his agency doesn't have enough money to conduct proper oversight of its employees, some of whom work for contractors rather than directly for the government.
The Office of Personnel Management bills each agency requesting a background check, but the price includes only the cost of the check itself, giving proper oversight little funding.
"Our resources remain woefully inadequate, preventing us from performing the level of oversight that such an important program requires," he'll say.
While his testimony does not detail any specific cases where national security was jeopardized as a result of a fraudulent background check, McFarland will underscore the importance of his office to the safety and security of Americans.
"I cannot emphasize enough how important the Federal Investigative Services is to protecting the nation's security and the public trust," McFarland will say. "Consequently, it is vital that there is effective, independent oversight of this program."
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