Background investigators have been caught falsifying the findings of their security clearance investigations in at least 350 instances, Reuters reported yesterday. The news agency scoured Department of Justice press releases and court documents on alleged violators from the years Dec. 2004 – March 2012 to reach this number.
The false statements were made, not by the applicants for a security clearance under examination, but rather the investigators themselves. Since agencies rely upon these reports to determine whether an applicant is suitable to handle classified information and information impacting national security, these breaches could have resulted in awarding security clearances to unfit individuals.
In one recent example, Ramon Davila, a background investigator under contract with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), claimed to have interviewed a source and reviewed a record regarding the subject of the investigation, when, in fact, he had not conducted the interviews or obtained the records. As part of his plea agreement, Davila was sentenced to four years of probation and required to pay $79,468 in restitution to the federal government.
Of the more than 350 cases Reuters identified, the violators were both special agents of OPM as well as background investigators from private firms. While federal employees at OPM conduct many investigations, the majority are contracted to private entities such as USIS and CACI, among others.
While the 350 number appears overwhelming, it is a fraction of the investigations conducted each year – OPM is appropriated enough for roughly two million. Likewise, it is unreported whether any of the false reports lead to material harm to agencies or national security.
Nevertheless, the potential implications of these breaches for US security are grave, and concern for the clearance process magnified after the recent events caused by two cleared individuals, NSA-leaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.
The Reuters exclusive caps a week of heightened scrutiny for clearance process, in which President Obama requested review of current procedures.