In 2011, the government contractor USIS performed a background check on Edward Snowden, the whistleblower on the NSA scandal. It was presumably this background check that gave Snowden high-level clearance. According to its website, “USIS is the leader in providing background investigations to the federal government. With our highly experienced team of investigators, we mitigate risk with accurate in-depth investigations in a range of areas.”
Bloomberg news reports that USIS has been under investigation since 2011 for various fraud related issues. But at a senate hearing following the leak, when Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) asked whether there were any concerns about the USIS’s background check on Snowden, Patrick Mcfarland, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general, replied, “yes, we do believe that there may be some problems.”
This kind of breach of duty by both he Office of Personnell and USIS is especially disconcerting with recent reports that the NSA has been authorized to keep copies of intercepted communications from or about US citizens if the material contains significant intelligence or evidence of crimes. So despite the Obama’s reassurance that this intelligence will not be used against US citizens, it seems likely that it can and will be used against US citizens if it hasn’t already been.
To sum it up, we’re left with a government that is storing and collecting mass quantities of information that can potentially be used against US citizens, and is accessible by approximately 500,000 contractors who might not have been given the most thorough background checks. With the amount of classified material that the government currently holds, this should concern even those who support the NSA’s surveillance programs.
Alison Frimmel, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research