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Originally published January 22, 2014 at 11:39 PM | Page modified January 23, 2014 at 5:49 AM

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Suit targets firm that cleared Snowden, Navy Yard shooter

The government said U.S. Investigations Services defrauded the government of millions of dollars by submitting more than 650,000 security investigations that had not been completed.

The New York Times

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The company that conducted a background investigation on contractor Edward Snowden fraudulently signed off on hundreds of thousands of incomplete security checks in recent years, the Justice Department said Wednesday.

The government uses those reports to help make hiring decisions and decide who gets access to national-security secrets.

In addition to Snowden, the company performed the background check for Aaron Alexis, 34, a military contractor who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last year. Alexis, who died in a shootout with the police, left behind documents saying the government had been tormenting him with low-frequency radio waves.

The lawsuit highlights not just how reliant the government is on contractors to perform national-security functions but also how screening those contractors requires even more contractors. U.S. Investigations Service, now known as USIS, is the largest outside investigator for government security clearances. It is one of many companies that has found lucrative government work during the expansion of national security in the past decade.

From 2008 to 2012, about 40 percent of the company’s investigations were fraudulently submitted, the Justice Department said.

The government made the accusations in a 25-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Ala., where USIS has been the subject of a whistle-blower lawsuit since 2011. News that the government officially joined that case Wednesday was reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Government lawyers accused the company of releasing investigations that had not been complete, a practice referred to in court documents as “dumping.” The government quoted from internal company emails to argue that the practice was widespread.

“Have a bit of a backlog building, but fortunately, most people are off this week so no one will notice!” one USIS employee wrote in 2010.

The company has not responded to the lawsuit, and no lawyer is listed in the case.

In September, former and current USIS employees detailed how the company had an incentive to rush work because it was paid only after a file was marked “FF,” for fieldwork finished, and sent to the government. In the waning days of a month, investigations were closed to meet financial quotas, without a required review by the quality-control department, two former senior managers said at the time.

The federal Office of Personnel Management confirmed that it paid USIS on a piecework basis.

“The vendor is paid upon the delivery of a completed case,” the agency said in a statement shortly after the Navy yard shooting.

People familiar with the contract said it was intended to give the company an incentive to be efficient.

The 2007 background report done by USIS on Alexis showed that investigators learned he had been arrested three years earlier in Seattle, but the report did not include the crucial information that he had shot the tires of a construction worker’s car in what he told the police was an anger-fueled blackout.

Alexis was given a secret security clearance in 2008, which was still valid Sept. 16 when he stalked and killed a dozen victims at the Navy yard with a sawed-off shotgun before the police killed him. Investigators relied on an interview with Alexis, who claimed he had only deflated the construction worker’s tires, Merton W. Miller, an associate director for investigations in the personnel office, said in a statement.

USIS also conducted the most recent security investigation of Snowden, in 2011. Patrick McFarland, the inspector general of the personnel office, told a Senate hearing in June that “there may be some problems” with the Snowden investigation, but he declined to give details.

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