back to article Biz that OK'd Edward Snowden for security clearance is fined $30m for obvious reasons

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) will pocket $30m (£19.14m) from the company tasked with screening, among others, whistleblower Edward Snowden. The DoJ announced on Wednesday that US Investigations Services (USIS) will give up a $30m (£19.14m) payment in exchange for settling charges that it violated the US False Claims Act …

  1. Mephistro Silver badge

    "...submitted incomplete background check reports to the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM)"

    So, the guys who hacked the OPM were given lots of false data thanks to USIS. It's clear that USIS deserves praise and not a fine! ;-)

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Ironic twist?

      In other news OPM is sued for $31m by discredited security check firm for breach of NDA relating to background checks shared with the OPM.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems like a symbolic fine

    They have to hold someone accountable, and have some other things they can ding this company for where they screwed up, but arguing that clearing Snowden was negligent would be pretty ridiculous.

    He'd be on the top of any list of people you'd clear. His grandfather was a rear admiral in the Coast Guard and later worked for the FBI, his father was an officer in the Coast Guard, his mother and sister worked in the US judicial system, and prior to contracting for the CIA he himself was employed by them.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Government always needs a scapegoat.

      You're right.. he was a prime candidate. But.. see title... someone had to be blamed.

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: Government always needs a scapegoat.

        Yes, but in this case Snowden was entirely the wrong target. The people who should not have been hired were the arse-covering managers who refused to listen when he tried to report security failings to them.

        Dunno about Aaron Alexis: was USIS supposed to be screening for homicidal maniacs as well as doing security checks?

        And, who should take the rap for outsourcing security to a private company? It sounds like such a stupid thing to do.

      2. Pliny the Whiner

        Re: Government always needs a scapegoat.

        Listen, you goddamned assholes asked us for -- and I quote here -- "[a] sickly, nerdy little twerp of questionable hygiene and sexual orientation." And exactly on what point did we fail to fulfill your requirements?

        Some 15 years ago, I remember Subway Sandwiches asked us for "[a] quirky, twitchy little twerp who reminds you of your hefty pedophile uncle." I haven't heard any complaints on that hire, either.

    2. skeptical i

      Re: Seems like a symbolic fine

      Thank you, DougS, for the details on Snowden's background. I figured this was some kind of back-handed smear campaign against Snowden, to imply that there was something bad in his background that should have disqualified him if USIS had done their job and since they did not, well, we saw what happened. Because there's no way on this green earth anyone truly qualified would ever say bad things about the gubmint, izzere.

    3. veti Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a symbolic fine

      Regardless of his background, there's a procedure they should have followed - talking to certain people, making certain efforts to track and find certain people, making certain efforts to conduct face-to-face interviews rather than phone or email... And if they can be shown to have skipped some of those steps or faked the numbers, then they're squarely in the frame for screwing up.

      Really, the blame belongs to whoever in government decided to contract out this job on a commercial basis. They're the ones who created the incentive to cut costs, and converted "an obligation to national security" into "a quantifiable, rationally assessable business risk for a limited-liability company".

      And then they cry foul when it turns out that the lowest qualifying bidder - probably shouldn't have qualified.


    4. DanielN

      Re: Seems like a symbolic fine

      The CIA did have some adverse information about him but it was not forwarded.

      1. Bob Dole (tm)

        Re: Seems like a symbolic fine

        >>The CIA did have some adverse information about him but it was not forwarded.

        So, standard operating procedure then? Collect data, but don't hand it out to the people that need it most until well after the fact. To be fair it's probably just that they collect so much there's a backlog on the filing systems.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seems like a symbolic fine

      Err, why is his grandfather's occupation relevant?

      The list of his relatives reads like one of the justifications Britain used to dole out. "But he's one of us, you see. Eton and Trinity. Father played for Middlesex. Mother was one of the Herefordshire Breakspears. His grandfather fought at Khartoum doncha know. Of course we thought he would be reliable. Humming the Red Flag all the time and calling his dog Lenin were just his little jokes. We had no idea he was passing all our secrets across. Poor show all round. If you can't trust an MCC man who can you trust, eh?"

      The only important point is that he used to work for the CIA. If they were happy with him why shouldn't he be cleared?

      1. Triggerfish

        Re: Seems like a symbolic fine


        Because as you get further and further into security clearance, they tend to go further back and dig deeper, send people round to question your old college friends stuff like that. At least in the UK as far as I am aware they do.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          CIA had "adverse information"?

          I doubt it. Bet they're making it up, so they can preserve the illusion that a background check will sniff out bad actors. Because if they want to claim Snowden's actions were near the top of the most treasonous acts ever committed against the US government, and he's as squeaky clean as his record indicates, they're basically admitting that it is impossible to know for sure if someone is looking to do the US harm no matter what how deeply you look at his record.

          So they've invented a fiction where they had a record of some adverse information, that somehow didn't terminate his CIA employment in a bad way that would have left him unable to contract for them, and was "accidentally" not put in his permanent record that would be referred to during the clearance process. They may outsource the data gathering part of it, but there is still government involvement and the government maintains their own records where this information would have been filed so this whole idea that they had adverse information on him looks pretty shaky to me.

  3. Mike Flugennock
    Thumb Up

    You had one job, US Investigations Services…

    And thankfully -- for the US and the world -- you whizzed it.

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge


    ...they are being fined for not being precog enough?

    "Yes, Mr. Anderson. It seems your department's work has not been up to the usual standards lately .... give money plox!"

    Does their insurance cover that sort of event?

    And do they screen animals like Cheney, Hillary and "Inspector Surge" Petraeus?

    1. Velv Silver badge

      Re: So...

      They are being fined for not completing the task they were asked to complete. It's not that they couldnt precog the later actions of screened people, it's that they did not complete the screening in the first place.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: So...

      ...they are being fined for not being precog enough?

      Yes they failed to learn from HH2G and borrow Doc Brown's DeLorean, travelled forward in time to discover if a candidate did anything to invalidate their security clearance, return to the present day and refuse to grant that candidate a security clearance...

      By the way that's not a coat, but a towel!

  5. petur


    Contractors (*) are not part of your organisation. They come, do the job and are gone. If you have a good one, all is well. If you hit a bad one, bad luck for you.

    Lesson to learn: need critical stuff done? Don't assign it to a contractor. Just don't.

    (*) and that's me speaking as contractor...

  6. Ole Juul

    And the buck stops where?

    So who gave clearance to USIS?

  7. Craig 2

    So the failings of USIS were exposed by a whistleblower who was thanked by the DoJ. If only there were more whisleblowers exposing corrupt organizations....

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Add to that.... "and would like to move to sunny, friendly Russia."

  8. YARR

    "Obvious reasons" ?

    Did Snowden have a history of whistleblowing then?

    1. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: "Obvious reasons" ?

      >Did Snowden have a history of whistleblowing then?

      No, the "obvious reasons" refer to why USIS was fined:

      1) "the government" is never to blame

      2) someone must be blamed

      3) We need to keep focus on other people's failings, not the government's failings.

      4) We need to further legitimise the pursuit of Snowden by having already convicted someone of something.

      Perhaps we should have a whip-round to help USIS out.

  9. MrT

    As I see this...

    ...a guy from the US says what use is USIS. Ah, US, you sez you use USIS for uses to vet forces and that use is not useless vis-a-vis crises with groups like ISIS.

    But now, the US says it must assess this use of assessors like USIS for assessment of assistants, and seize this role back and cease this, what's more to see fit to do this at no cost if US can assess USIS as useless.

    With a huge nod to Charlie Brooker

  10. Javapapa

    No one works in Washington except contractors

    The bureaucrats simply approve invoices. Outsourcing went into high gear under Reagan and the feds started buying COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf) hardware. You would be amazed by the amount of whitebox computers purchased, some even assembled in the suburbs.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: No one works in Washington except contractors

      We are still living with the consequence of Ronnie Raygun and Thatcher.

  11. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Fined for incomplete background checks

    " So...they are being fined for not being precog enough?"

    To me, it sounds like USIS was fined for vetting people they did not do a complete background check on. Of course the feds will use this opportunity to imply there was dirt to be dug up on Snowden, but ultimately (whether these background checks would have affected anything or not) they are being fined for not doing what they were being paid to do.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did someone say ISIS?

    Close enough...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Did someone say ISIS?

      USIS, ISIS, we all SIS for ISIS!

  13. Paul Smith


    "Shortcuts taken by any company that we have entrusted to conduct background investigations of future and current federal employees are unacceptable,"

    Isn't outsourcing back-ground checks just another shortcut?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Ironic?

      How dare you point out facts and hypocrisy, sir!

  14. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge


    As a grammar pendant, I have to say they're not "shortcuts"; they're efficiency savings. Please use the correct term.

  15. Stevie Silver badge


    No doubt they had to wait until the OPM information was made available by Sino-Soviet hackers before they could confirm the forms were incomplete.

  16. ecofeco Silver badge

    Uhm, hang on...

    "USIS failed to properly screen federal security clearance applicants and, in some cases, submitted incomplete background check reports to the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM)."

    ...who accepted them?

    Case dismissed.

  17. AbeSapian

    Ah, The Joys of Privatization

    Which of these phrases best summarizes the situation:

    1. You get what you pay for.

    2. If you want a job done right ...

    3. A fool and his money ...

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