“Company allegedly misled government about security clearance checks”

June 28, 2013

The Washington Post on June 27, 2013 released the following:

By Tom Hamburger and Zachary A. Goldfarb

“Federal investigators have told lawmakers they have evidence that USIS, the contractor that screened Edward Snowden for his top-secret clearance, repeatedly misled the government about the thoroughness of its background checks, according to people familiar with the matter.

The alleged transgressions are so serious that a federal watchdog indicated he plans to recommend that the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees most background checks, end ties with USIS unless it can show it is performing responsibly, the people said.

Cutting off USIS could present a major logistical quagmire for the nation’s already-jammed security clearance process. The federal government relies heavily on contractors to approve workers for some of its most sensitive jobs in defense and intelligence. Falls Church-based USIS is the largest single private provider for government background checks.

The inspector general of OPM, working with the Justice Department, is examining whether USIS failed to meet a contractual obligation that it would conduct reviews of all background checks the company performed on behalf of government agencies, the people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation has not yet been resolved.

After conducting an initial background check of a candidate for employment, USIS was required to perform a second review to make sure no important details had been missed. From 2008 through 2011, USIS allegedly skipped this second review in up to 50 percent of the cases. But it conveyed to federal officials that these reviews had, in fact, been performed.

The shortcut made it appear that USIS was more efficient than it actually was and may have triggered incentive awards for the company, the people briefed on the matter said. Investigators, who have briefed lawmakers on the allegations, think the strategy may have originated with senior executives, the people said.

Ray Howell, director of corporate communications at USIS, declined to comment on Thursday.

In a statement last week, USIS said it received a subpoena from the inspector general of OPM in January 2012. “USIS complied with that subpoena and has cooperated fully with the government’s civil investigative efforts,” the statement said. The company would not comment on the Snowden case.

It is not known whether USIS did anything improper on its 2011 background check of Snowden, the 30-year-old who leaked documents about the inner workings of the NSA and is now the subject of a global drama. He gained access to those documents after he was cleared to work at NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Last week, Patrick E. McFarland, the inspector general of OPM, said he has concerns about Snowden’s background check. “We do believe that there may be some problems,” he said.

The broader concerns about background checks are not limited to USIS. McFarland’s office has 47 open investigations into alleged wrongdoing by individuals in the background checks industry, according to a statement from the inspector general’s office. Separately, since 2006, the watchdog has won convictions in 18 cases in which employees claimed to have verified information that ultimately turned out to be false or not even checked.

“There is an alarmingly insufficient level of oversight of the federal investigative-services program,” McFarland said last week in congressional testimony. “A lack of independent verification of the organization that conducts these important background investigations is a clear threat to national security.”

McFarland’s office declined to comment on the details of the investigation. “We have never indicated whether the case was criminal, civil, or administrative,” a statement from the office said.

Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said USIS is the subject of a criminal probe as a result of a “systematic failure” to conduct background checks. She did not elaborate. A spokesperson said Thursday that the senator stands by her statement.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who chairs a Homeland Security subcommittee, said he plans to introduce legislation within two weeks to increase oversight of the security clearance process, including giving inspectors general more power to audit funding and other aspects of the massive effort to provide 4.9 million Americans with authorized access to classified and other sensitive government information.

“I cannot believe that this is handled in such a shoddy and cavalier manner,” Tester said in an interview Thursday. “I personally believe that if you are under criminal investigation, you should be suspended from the process until it is resolved.”

Tester added: “We have spent hundreds of billions in this country trying to keep classified information classified and to keep people from outside coming in. And what we see here is that we have a problem from the inside.”

USIS, which was spun off from the federal government in the 1990s, has become the dominant player in the background checks business. It does about 45 percent of all background checks for OPM, according to congressional staffers. USIS has 7,000 employees.

USIS has been under financial pressure in recent years because of federal cutbacks and less generous contracts from the government, according to financial analysts working at Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The firm’s parent company, Altegrity, is owned by Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm. USIS has two main competitors, KeyPoint Government Solutions and CACI.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


New FBI Probe of Bomb Plot Highlights Administration’s Tough Stance on Leaks

May 18, 2012

National Journal on May 16, 2012 released the following:

“By Yochi J. Dreazen and Olga Belogolova

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the Associated Press had first reported that a recent bomb plot had been foiled by an undercover Saudi Arabian intelligence operative. That was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

The FBI has launched a criminal probe designed to identify the government officials who leaked key details of a foiled al-Qaida bomb plot, the latest indication of the Obama administration’s unrelenting push to find and punish those sharing classified information with the media.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, said that the agency was trying to identify which officials had spoken to reporters about the foiled attack, helping the Associated Press report that the scheme was part of an al-Qaida plot to down a U.S.-bound airliner with an sophisticated underwear bomb. The agency is also looking for who told media outlets that the plot was broken up with the help of an undercover agent working for the Saudi Arabian intelligence service, a detail first reported by The Los Angeles Times.

The Saudi assistance doubtlessly saved significant numbers of American lives, and Mueller — like other Obama administration officials — warned that future cooperation could be hampered by the disclosure of the Saudi role.

“Leaks such as this threaten ongoing operations, puts at risk the lives of sources, makes it much more difficult to recruit sources, and damages our relationships with our foreign partners,” Mueller said. “And consequently, a leak like this is taken exceptionally seriously, and we will investigate thoroughly.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, pressed Mueller on whether the information had been leaked by the administration for political gain, likening the details on the bomb plot to what he described as the “authorized leaks from the White House about the operation to kill Osama bin Laden.” The FBI director declined to answer the question.

The hearing offered an unusually vivid illustration of the Obama administration’s hard-line approach to the news media.

The administration took office with a promise of unprecedented transparency, including – in a sharp change from the Bush administration — posting the names of those visiting the White House onto its website. The White House also offered strong support for a so-called shield law preventing reporters working national-security stories from being forced to identify confidential sources.

But those moves have been increasingly outweighed by the administration’s aggressive effort to crack down on those responsible for sharing classified information with the news media.

The White House’s main tool has been the Espionage Act, a 1917 law passed during the height of World War I as a way of finding and punishing officials passing useful information to enemy countries. The legislation had been used to bring cases against suspected leakers a grand total of three times in the previous 91 years; the Obama administration has invoked it to prosecute six such cases in the past three years alone. If the FBI believes it has found the official or officials who spoke to the AP, that tally will increase to seven.

The first case brought under the Espionage Act targeted Thomas Drake, a whistle blower from the National Security Agency who was indicated for giving a reporter information detailing massive waste, fraud, and inefficiencies at the secretive agency. The Justice Department’s case against Drake fell apart days before the trial was set to begin last summer, highlighting the difficulties of winning convictions in such cases.

That hasn’t stopped the administration from trying. In January, the Justice Department indicted John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer accused of providing classified information about waterboarding and other controversial interrogation methods to journalists and misleading the agency while trying to get permission to publish a memoir about his time there. The case is ongoing.

The others facing potential prison time for their dealings with the media are former FBI translator Shamai Leibowitz, State Department contractor and analyst Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of leaking thousands of classified military and State Department documents to online whistle-blower WikiLeaks. Leibowitz was sentenced to 20 months in prison in 2010 for leaking classified information to a blogger regarding Israel’s efforts to influence Congress and public opinion; the other cases are continuing.

The new investigation began earlier this month when news leaked that the CIA had helped to foil a Yemeni-based attempt to use a sophisticated underwear bomb to bring down a Western airliner. The Los Angeles Times soon reported that an undercover Saudi agent had penetrated the al-Qaida affiliate there, volunteered for the supposed suicide mission, and then secreted the bomb safely into the hands of other intelligence operatives.

The leak infuriated the Saudis, who said it put the agent at risk and endangered other undercover operatives elsewhere in the field. The unnamed agent and his family were subsequently placed into protective custody. The anger was felt just as fiercely in Washington, where an array of powerful lawmakers warned that disclosing the source and method of the information would make the Saudis less likely to work with the U.S. in the future and make it harder to foil new plots.

The AP has defended its reporting, with spokesman Paul Colford saying in a written statement that the news service “acted carefully and with extreme deliberation in its reporting on the underwear bomb plot and its subsequent decision to publish.”

That argument fell on deaf ears on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, with Mueller saying that he didn’t want to say the leak would have a “devastating” impact on U.S. intelligence gathering efforts — but then effectively saying just that.

“The relationship with your counterparts overseas are damaged and which means that an inhibition in the willingness of others to share information with us where they don’t think that information will remain secure,” he said. “So it also has some long-term effects which is why it is so important to make certain that the persons who are responsible for the leak are brought to justice.”

Those who leaked the new information may or may not be caught. But the ferocity of Mueller’s comments mean that the administration’s war against those who disclose such information won’t wind down anytime soon.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Criminal probe sought in GSA case

April 16, 2012

The Washington Post on April 13, 2012 released the following:

“By Lisa Rein

The inspector general for the General Services Administration this week asked the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation into the activities of the senior official at the center of the Las Vegas spending scandal, officials said.

Jeffrey E. Neely, a career senior executive who hosted a four-day training conference for 300 managers and staff members that cost $823,000, took various electronic items for his personal use from a GSA storeroom, congressional and other officials familiar with the referral said.

Inspector General Brian D. Miller also has asked prosecutors to review possible contracting improprieties and other violations in connection with the conference, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the referral is not public.

Neely allegedly took gifts purchased for an employee rewards program in the San Francisco-based Pacific Rim region, where he has been placed on administrative leave from his role as acting regional commissioner. The gifts included an iPod and speakers, a Global Positioning System, camera and Sony eReader, according to government sources.

Miller has turned over to prosecutors what he says is evidence that Neely, 57, and his staff approved numerous contracts that were not competitively bid, as federal rules require, officials said. The sole-source deals were services that included, according to a recent inspector general’s report, $59,000 to an audio-visual firm, a $12,500 commission to an outside event planner and $75,000 to a company that led GSA staff members in a bike-building event.

The inspector general’s staff met with Justice Department officials several times this week to discuss the evidence, according to government sources.

Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney declined to comment on the referral. The inspector general’s office could not be reached.

Neely’s attorney, Preston Burton, called him “a good man who has been a dedicated government employee for over three decades.”

In the 11 days since Miller documented how a tradition in GSA’s Public Buildings Service, the so-called the Western Regions conference, apparently spun out of control with little oversight from Washington, the scandal has become an election-year lightning rod on the issue of government spending.

The criminal referral comes as documents the inspector general provided to Congress show that GSA officials knew about the conference spending at the four-star M Resort and Casino months before the final details became public. Former administrator Martha Johnson and her staff members received a briefing from Miller’s staff in May that laid out most of what appeared in the final report, according to a 15-page presentation titled an “Interim Alert Report.” The Washington Post has obtained a copy of the report.

Former Public Buildings Service commissioner Robert Peck gave Neely a reprimand last summer, calling the mistakes a “managerial lapse.”

A deputy administrator at GSA later questioned the level of discipline, writing in an e-mail to Peck: “Sorry, but your letter is not even a slap on the wrist.”

One of the concerns raised by deputy administrator Susan Brita in her e-mail was how the situation would look in the media.

Peck and a top adviser to Johnson were fired hours before the inspector general’s report was released; Johnson resigned.

Peck, Brita and Johnson are among those called to testify before Congress next week, when four back-to-back hearings have been scheduled by lawmakers in both parties.

Neely, one of four regional commissioners placed on administrative leave, has been subpoenaed by at least one congressional committee and plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, his lawyer told Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in a letter Friday.

“Witnesses were invited with the expectation that they will deliver testimony at Monday’s hearing,” said Frederick Hill, communications director for the committee, which has scheduled a hearing Monday.

The employee recognition, or “Hats Off,” program was the subject of a separate investigation last year by Miller’s office, which found rampant abuse of the program. Investigators found an inadequate inventory system, poor security, theft and misuse of government purchasing cards used to buy the gifts. The awards also exceeded GSA’s $99-per-item limit on gifts.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys Videos:

Federal Crimes – Be Careful

Federal Crimes – Be Proactive

Federal Crimes – Federal Indictment

————————————————————–

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.