U.S. accuses firm that vetted Snowden of fraud

Jan. 23, 2014 at 1:35 AM
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MONTGOMERY, Ala., Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The Justice Department accused the firm that conducted a background check of U.S. secrets leaker Edward Snowden of defrauding the nation of millions of dollars.

US Investigations Services LLC of Falls Church, Va., methodically filed more than 660,000 flawed background investigations in an alleged "dumping" practice that became the subject of internal jokes, prosecutors said in a civil complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Ala.

"Flushed everything like a dead goldfish," the complaint, cited by the Wall Street Journal, quoted a USIS official as writing to two top USIS quality control officials in 2010.

The firm -- whose website tagline is "ensuring a safer future today" -- is the largest private firm conducting security-clearance background checks for the federal government. The company, with 6,000 employees, handles 45 percent of federal background checks used by the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and more than 100 other federal agencies.

USIS also conducted the security-clearance check for government contractor Aaron Alexis, who shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard Sept. 16, 2013.

The Justice Department's 25-page civil complaint joins a whistle-blower's lawsuit against USIS filed by former longtime USIS employee Blake Percival under the whistle-blower provisions of the 1863 False Claims Act.

Percival accuses USIS of rushing improperly reviewed background checks through the system and hiding the dumping practice from the federal Office of Personnel Management, which oversees most of those investigations.

The Justice Department adds to the case, accusing top USIS executives who have since left the company of directing the alleged fraudulent scheme to secure nearly $12 million in bonuses from the federal government, which thought the company was providing checks that had gone through the full review process.

USIS said in a statement "integrity and excellence are core values" at the company.

"The alleged conduct referenced in the civil complaint is contrary to our values and commitment to exceptional service," USIS said. "These allegations relate to a small group of individuals over a specific period of time and are inconsistent with the strong service record we have earned since our inception in 1996."

USIS has provided security background checks since the Clinton administration privatized the operation in 1996.

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