Top-se­cret gov­ern­ment clear­ance checks fal­si­fied

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Fed­eral authorities re­spon­si­ble for grant­ing se­cu­rity clear­ances to gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees and con­trac­tors are spend­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in­ves­ti­gat­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Gov­ern­ment in­spec­tors say they have un­der­taken a broader cam­paign in re­cent years to root out fraud in back­ground checks as more na­tional se­cu­rity clear­ances are be­ing sought than ever be­fore.

Over­all, court records re­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times show at least 170 con­firmed fal­si­fi­ca­tions of in­ter­views or record checks and more than 1,000 oth­ers that couldn’t be ver­i­fied. The back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tors, whose work helps de­ter­mine who gets top-se­cret se­cu­rity clear­ance, were sub­mit­ting forms say­ing they con­ducted in­ter­views or ver­i­fied of­fi­cial doc­u­ments when they never did.

“The mon­e­tary loss sus­tained by the gov­ern­ment does not, nor can­not, rep­re­sent the cost associated with po­ten­tial com­pro­mise of our nation’s se­cu­rity and the trust of the Amer­i­can peo­ple in its gov­ern­ment’s work­force,” Kathy L. Dil­la­man, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor in charge of in­ves­ti­ga­tions at the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment, wrote in a vic­tim-im­pact state­ment for a re­cent court case in­volv­ing a con­victed in­ves­ti­ga­tor.

Dou­glas Shontz, a na­tional se- cu­rity re­searcher at the Rand Corp. who had con­ducted back­ground checks at the De­fense Depart­ment, said back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions used to be the purview of re­tired FBI agents and po­lice de­tec­tives.

That has changed as more and more con­trac­tors and em­ploy­ees re­quire se­cu­rity clear­ances. Many of the back­ground checks are now out­sourced.

“You have a huge push to get peo­ple in the door,” he said.

Mr. Shontz said that, in gen­eral, back­ground in­ter­views with neigh­bors, for­mer em­ploy­ers, as­so­ciates and oth­ers help de­ter­mine whether some­one could be more vul­ner­a­ble to tak­ing bribes or likely to talk too freely about sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion.

“They can high­light po­ten­tial is­sues for fol­low-up,” he said.

The OPM’s of­fice of in­spec­tor gen­eral has an ini­tia­tive “fo­cused on fab­ri­ca­tion cases in­volv­ing OPM Fed­eral In­ves­tiga­tive Ser­vices back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tors,” said Michelle Sch­mitz, as­sis­tant in­spec­tor gen­eral for in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

OPM han­dles back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions for most fed­eral agen­cies. Over­all, OPM pro­cesses about 2 mil­lion back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions per year.

Dur­ing the past three years, court records show, seven in­ves­ti­ga­tors and two records check­ers have been con­victed of fed­eral crimes in Wash­ing­ton in­volv­ing fal­si­fi­ca­tion of records.

There is no in­di­ca­tion in any of the cases that the peo­ple who got the se­cu­rity clear­ances even­tu­ally were de­ter­mined to be un­suit­able.

Still, in­ves­ti­ga­tors were forced to re­open old cases, and one fal­si­fied in­ter­view or doc­u­ment check can raise doubts about en­tire in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“In ad­di­tion to the po­ten­tial dam­age to OPM’s rep­u­ta­tion as the pri­mary provider of fed­eral back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the cost of in­ves­ti­gat­ing and cor­rect­ing the case is sub­stan­tial both in time and money,” Ms. Dil­la­man wrote in a vic­tim-im­pact state­ment for a re­cent court case.

Those con­victed of ly­ing about back­ground checks have faced

Over­all, court records re­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times show at least 170 con­firmed fal­si­fi­ca­tions of in­ter views or record checks and more than 1,000 oth­ers that couldn’t be ver­i­fied. The back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tors, whose work helps de­ter­mine who gets top-se­cret se­cu­rity clear­ance, were sub­mit­ting forms say­ing they con­ducted in­ter views or ver­i­fied of­fi­cial doc­u­ments when they never did.

sen­tences rang­ing from pro­ba­tion to more than two years in fed­eral prison, court records show.

The U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in Wash­ing­ton this month an­nounced a 90-day prison sen­tence given to a for­mer gov­ern­ment back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Thomas Fitzger­ald, for fal­si­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion in more than two dozen in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports from March 2005 to May 2006. He was or­dered to pay more than $100,000 to OPM’s in­ves­tiga­tive ser­vices branch for the cost of re­open­ing nu­mer­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions that were as­signed to him.

An­other in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Cather­ine Webb, faces up to 18 months in prison at her sched­uled sen­tenc­ing next month in fed­eral court.

She has pleaded guilty and has agreed to pay nearly $75,000 in resti­tu­tion.

In 2009, a for­mer con­tract in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Ge­orge Abra­ham, was sen­tenced to more than two years in fed­eral prison af­ter he was con­victed on six counts of mak­ing a false state­ment in his back­ground re­ports.

Authorities said sub­jects in Abra­ham’s back­ground in­ves­ti­ga­tions were seek­ing top-se­cret clear­ances for po­si­tions in the Air Force, the Army, the Navy and the Trea­sury Depart­ment.

In sev­eral cases, de­fense at­tor­neys sug­gested in sen­tenc­ing memos that the in­ves­ti­ga­tors started to cut corners be­cause of stress and in­creas­ing work de­mands.

But se­cu­rity con­sul­tant Chris McGoey, based in Los An­ge­les, said that’s no ex­cuse for in­ves­ti­ga­tors say­ing that they in­ter­viewed peo­ple or checked doc­u­ments when they did not.

“If I get so busy, I just have to tell the client I can’t do it,” he said. “But you don’t say that you did it and charge the fees. That’s fraud.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.