Background Investigations

Investigators Falsified Security Clearance Investigations

The Washington Times is reporting that investigators have falsified hundreds of top secret security clearance investigations, claiming to have conducted research that never took place. Court records showed 170 falsified interviews and more than 1,000 that could not be verified.

Individuals quoted in the Washington Times story report that the push to adjudicate clearances as quickly as possible, as well as the increased outsourcing of investigation specialist positions, contributed to the falsification. Others cited simple greed on the part of investigators who over-promised and weren’t able to deliver completed investigations.

“The monetary loss sustained by the government does not, nor cannot, represent the cost associated with potential compromise of our nation’s security and the trust of the American people in its government’s workforce,” said Kathy L. Dillman, associate director in charge of investigations at the Office of Personnel Management.

Comment Archive

  1. Avatar

    Funny, how we keep saying outsourced. Half of the DoD is outsourced, but the public has no clue what this means. Falsification is a problem, but doesn’t seem like alot of cases to me that can be verified.

    The guy at Rand may have experience, but to think all FBI Agents and prior Detectives can do any better is non-sense. Some of the worst investigators I have met are prior LE types, of course, not me included 🙂

  2. Avatar

    We were discussing this story at my work today, and a couple of people indicated that investigators don’t have security clearances.

    Logically, if all they are doing is collecting subject information, then these people don’t need access to classified information. Ergo, no security clearances.

    But these people’s trustworthiness needs to be beyond reproach. They might not need clearances, but they need to go through the same SBI or SSBI or whatever whomever is calling it these days.

    This further erodes my trust in our national security apparatus. The People who the Government hires to determine my level of honesty and trustworthinesss, are dishonest and untrustworthy. The Irony is delicious. How far does this dishonestly go? In the interest of National Security, how about we lifestyle polygraph everybody in the chain? Sure the polygraph is pseudoscience, but it’s utility as an investigative tool is unquestioned. Any takers?

  3. Avatar

    It does not surprise me that there are so many falsification issues. Investigtors for my compnay are put under so much pressure to get things done as quickly as possible so our company can make revenue. A co-worker of mine was assigned 7 ESI’s this past Monday all with a deadline of next Wed. This is on top of the work load she already had which wa sa significant amount already. When she asked why such the short turn around she was told to just deal with it. It is how things are now. More and more investigators from my company are leaving or are actively looking for other employment because of the stress. Our fearless leaders say they understand but really don’t say how they are going to fix it. Heaven forbid they ask OPM to stop giving us work. Many of us hope our compnay looses some of the contract when it is renewed just so we can breathe a little easier and not be so stressed. I enjoy the personnel security field but what I do now is slowly killing me due to all of the stress.

  4. Avatar


    We do have a complete SSBI–no different than anyone else. As with anything, some people are good and some are not. Sounds like you may be a little disgruntled. Honesty and dishonesty is human nature. No amount of background checks can cure the ills of dishonest people. There is no way they could poly the inv’s, there are thousands of us and they can’t keep up with SAP and SCI polys.

  5. Avatar


    Come over to the darkside–things have been really good lately.

  6. Avatar

    Really Joe? You paint with a mighty large brush. You’re bias is also shining through your charming personality. Get over yourself.

    I work damn hard at what I do. Nights, weekends, unpaid overtime, countless hours of travel, all just to get the job done and done right. Those who skirt the rules are a fucking blight on all the good I and thousands of other Investigators do.

  7. Avatar

    Read the comments to the linked article. Totally hilarious!! They’re all about Obama, did those people even read the article? I love the internet.

  8. Avatar

    I don’t know who the guy at Rand Corp. is, but either he was misquoted or he doesn’t know very much about security clearance investigations. Federal background investigations were never “the purview of retired FBI agents and police detectives.” Probably just another researcher with very little practical experience and knowledge, but has a Ph.D. A friend of mine once commented on college degrees as Bull Sh*t, More Sh*t, and Piled higher and Deeper.

    I’m also getting tired of the media rehashing this story. There’s nothing new here. Since there are between 6,000 and 7,000 field investigators doing federal background investigation for OPM, we’re looking at less than 0.1% a year that we know have gone bad. The first case of ghostwriting (or curbstoning) I heard about was back in the 1960s. It’s not a new phenomenon. Also there is no difference between the relative numbers of federal investigators and contract investigators that have gone bad.

  9. Avatar

    One other thing. The report didn’t say that hundreds of investigations were falsified. It said that 170 interviews and records checks were falsified and another 1000 were unconfirmed. A single investigation could easily have 17 interviews and record checks, so it’s possible (however unlikely) that only 10 investigations were proven to be falsified.

  10. Avatar

    That Washington Times article was poorly written with a lot of subjective information. And, as Mr. Henderson said, it is simply a rehash.

    All OPM investigators (federal and contractor) are required to go through SSBIs and SSBI-PRs; we are required to maintain TS eligibility. I must live my life as if I had an active TS, however, I do not have the luxury of shopping an active TS around to other employers. If anyone with an active TS would like to change places with me, please, let me know!

    It’s also important to note that it has been widely reported numerous times that the proven falsification cases have fallen about 50% on the federal side and about 50% on the contractor side. Neither group has had significantly more proven falsification cases than the other.

    Investigators, like any other group of people, are simply a representation of our society; a cross-section. Good and bad.

  11. Avatar

    I am looking daily on your company’s website yet nothing in
    my area yet. Also I am waiting for the contract renewal to see what happens. We should know soon if OPM does not extend the current one.

  12. Avatar

    I don’t mean to paint with a broad brush. I just find it somewhat humorous that (some of) the people entrusted to investigate the trustworthiness of others are untrustworthy themselves. The entire reason for the security clearance process is to reduce risk by filtering out people whom among other things might be dishonest. But we can’t even do that right.

    Where does the trust start..I’m sure all of you say, “You can trust me. I’m honest” But we’ve decided that a man’s word along with the investigations you all perform isn’t enough and we put people through polygraphs, in the name of National Security.

    Doesn’t this disclosure that some investigators have falsified forms demonstrate that an SSBI isn’t sufficient. So why shouldn’t investigators be subject to polygraphs?

  13. Avatar


    So what do you ask a new Investigator during an initial SSBI/Poly. “Have you ever lied” answered is yes as would be yours and mine to. An initial poly will not cover falsifying reports as there is no grounds to ask that question. From time-to-time, we get people like you who see humor in it because, usually, things for these people went south during their investigation.

  14. Avatar

    There is NO such thing as a perfect person. I’ve certainly never found one in my 15+ years in law enforcement and my subsequent 6+ years in federal security clearance background investigations.

    I took several polys while in law enforcement – before and during my service – without complaint (or any problems, for that matter). If they told me today that our requirements were being increased to include polys it wouldn’t bother me a bit.

    Here’s something that you may not have considered: as far as I have read, NONE of the proven falsification cases, when re-worked, was ever found to have led to a security clearance being granted to someone who was not qualified.

    Don’t let that Washington Times article fool you; there are FAR fewer proven cases of falsification than that article (without its bogus statistics) leads one to believe.

  15. Avatar

    You could ask “Have you ever falsified an official document?”. Additionally, I don’t know what kind of paperwork you sign when you submit your interrogatories, but are the penalties the same as those indicated on the SF86 for dishonest responses?

    As to the humor, it is humorous, and sad, and indicative of a system in bad need of reform. Because, using the broadest stroke possible, the information collected on candidates for access to national security information and decisions made thereupon is incomplete and sometimes inaccurate, due to the dishonesty of applicants as well as investigators.

  16. Avatar

    Subjects (applicants) who commit material falsification can be charged with felonies, prosecuted in federal court and do time in federal prison under Title 18, Section 1001 of the United States Code. However, I have NEVER heard of a subject actually being charged or prosecuted, let alone convicted and sent to prison.

    HOWEVER, investigators in proven falsification cases ARE charged, prosecuted, convicted AND go to federal prison.

  17. Avatar

    A system in need of bad reform? What are going to reform? Do you grasp the scale to which you are dealing with?

  18. Avatar

    I do grasp the scale of the national security bureaucracy. I don’t think it’s easy. And I don’t know off the top of my head what we reform. But there are clearly problems. In the aftermath of the OBL killing, so much was leaked to the press that both the SECDEF and the DCI came to the media to say, “Stop Leaking.” Who are these people leaking operational details of probably one of the more secret operations in US history? Highly highly cleared and violating NDAs. PFC Bradley Manning gives reams and reams of secret info to wikileaks. The NSA guy, Thomas Drake, leaking to the Sun. Sandy Berger. Wen Ho Lee. Brian Regan.

    And these are just Identified problem personnel. I don’t know. Maybe restructure or reprioritize factors in the adjudication process. Maybe Implement “prior performance” requirements that don’t allow people without a history of properly protecting less-sensitive classified info access to highly-sensitive classified info? It seems that some of the people i listed above are traitors plain and simple, and that some of them, however misguided or not, were trying to act as whistleblowers. Perhaps provide a venue for whistleblowers that is less-secret and arbitrary than the current way to bring up potential legal violations.

    On the investigative side, the fact that the falsifications of the these investigators haven’t caused people to be cleared that shouldn’t have been cleared, maybe that points to the idea that we should have investigators looking for different information. Or empower the investigators to decide that additional interviews with people are unnecessary. That’s probably why the interviewers lied in the first place, because they made decisions that additional interviews wouldn’t add value?

  19. Avatar

    I understand your concern. I can think of no area of human activity that does not have it cheats and scoundrels. CBP has had it share of officers involved in drug smuggling and CBP polygraphs its officers; the clergy has its pedophiles. OPM and the other agencies have an effective method of policing its investigators, and it works very well. Last year OPM chose to begin criminally prosecuting investigators who falsified reports. Perhaps that will act as a greater deterrent.

    Allowing investigators to decide which “leads” are necessary and which not, is not wise. Most investigators hate doing neighborhood checks, so those would be deemed unnecessary for many investigations. Some investigators would truncate cases in remote areas that require a lot of travel time. In other words their decisions would be influenced by convenience rather than necessity. I was in the business for a long time as a field investigator and supervisor and had first hand experience dealing with “ghostwriters.” No one becomes an investigator with the intent to cut corners and falsify reports. They just become unwilling to work as hard as they did when they were first hired. During the first few years, it’s possible to handle the crushing caseload because they are still enthusiastic and the work is interesting. But it’s difficult to sustain that level of energy for a prolonged period when there is very little opportunity for advancement, and eventually the undisciplined investigators become overwhelmed. Most quit, as is evidenced by the high turnover rate. Unlike most other investigator positions, the work of background investigators is very easily quantified, and number of leads and cases closed is monitored very closely by supervisors. Most of these investigators work from their homes with very little face-to-face contact with supervisors and coworkers and almost no recognition for the quality of their work or other positive reinforcement regarding quality. It’s very solitary work because they can not engage in meaningful non-work related conversations with the people they interview. Basically you can discuss your work with anyone, except your supervisor, and in most cases your supervisor doesn’t have the time. Nor can you blow of steam with your coworkers, because your rarely see them. The only rewards are for closing large numbers of leads and cases. Without a very strong sense of integrity this type of work environment can easily lead to “ghostwriting.” I’m surprised there haven’t been more cases.

    Overall 85% of cleared personnel only have a Secret clearance and about 15% have Top Secret clearances. Hardly anyone is granted a Confidential clearance anymore. In most cases it’s just not possible to start people out with a Secret clearance and move them up to a TS clearance later. The job determines the clearance level required. Who would accept a position of lower responsibility (and lower pay) if they were qualified for a higher position. In some fields all positions (including entry level positions) require a TS.

  20. Avatar

    oops. There should have been a “not” after “Basically you can . . . .”

  21. Avatar

    I swear to the maker, Mr. Henderson, your post almost made me tear up. Damn it if you didn’t hit the nail on the head, in regard to the investigators.

    Joe, I appreciate the thought you put into your post. I mostly agree but not sure what could be reformed that would have a 100% success rate.

  22. Avatar

    Our company has hired an outside consulting firm to determine how to improve how are company works. So far there have been a few focus groups and the data/information the consulting company is getting from these focus groups is the same information and data we out in the field have been telling upper management for years. Too much work, not enough time to get it done and not enough investigators. This equals burnt out investigators who want to leave and feel this career choice was the worst choice they have ever made. I wonder how many millions of dollars was wasted paying this consulting company. Our upper management says they will take the consulting firms findings seriously and try to improve things. I highly doubt that will happen.

  23. Avatar

    The first line should read “….how our company works.”

  24. Avatar


    Smoke and mirrors. This business model is simple–too much work, too little time and not enough people as you said. Hey, maybe I should consult. I am pleased to say that I have not been slammed by any of our staff. They seem to understand our best effort is what works. I’m 7 years into this and things have changed so much that even I struggle getting things done on time. Alot of this may be the fact that I’m exhausted. I really had less stress 20 years active duty military.

  25. Avatar

    Fed Inv,

    Is it just me or are things just getting harder these days. Seems like even the old minimum 10 source cases were easier to work. At least these were like shooting fish in a barrel. I know alot of good people are making bad decisions these days, but I also see the trend where mistakes in reporting get you into the stigma of possibly false reporting–Not liking this trend. Even if cleared, you are known as the “Liar” and we all know these folks are watched like a hawk.

    There will never be a day where there are no falsifications–people do bad things, it’s human nature.

  26. Avatar


    Dead-on. The first thing I would eliminate is residence checks–man you know investigators too well 🙂

    Although I do enjoy driving to the same homes over and over just to not get a call. I especially like the 3 times rule when the home is rural and is about 150 miles one-way.

  27. Avatar


    Appreciate your thoughts and you should voice your opinions as a citizen. You can bet the UBL Op info was released by insiders (Not the military is my guess). What better way than to be the cool-guy on the block for media purposes.

    There is no humanly way possible to weed out everyone. This is why internal layers of security are set. I will tell you a large percentage of everyone I talk to is call by another person for verification that I’m doing my job. If you lie, you will be found eventually–this goes for all investigators; we are all subjected to the same checks irregardless of who we work for directly. This also includes an additional letter inquiry sent by OPM.

  28. Avatar


    So everyone knows, I have never had a day in 7 years where I have actually caught-up with work. It never ends and is a continual flow. There is never a time investigators have any down time, unless we just take it, which will undoubtedly cause us to fall behind on work.

    My .02 for anyone who thinks we don’t break our backs every day (Including nights, weekends and holidays).

    Wait, sorry, I thought on was on job vent for a minute 🙂

  29. Avatar


    I refuse to correct my mistakes (Ha, Ha, so there) 🙂

  30. Avatar

    BW, it sure does seem harder. More issues than ever, coverage is more confusing than ever and review is more obnoxious than ever. I’m way, way burned the f*ck out and honestly, I don’t know how you contractors do it, we have it good compared to you all. I’m so looking forward to this upcoming three day weekend. I don’t care how far it puts me behind, I’m not thinking about cases for three whole days and it will be glorious!!

  31. Avatar

    Federal Investigator,

    Ya, I’m clocking off and turning my phone off this weekend. I think we all have it hard from inv’s to CRA’s and Adjudicators. This is a tough business, but they can KMA. I used to be at full throttle, but now have learned a balance.

    Hope everyone has a great and safe 4th. I’ll tip one (Or more) to ya. Peace.

  32. Avatar

    No doubt! Cold ones all around this weekend, for all the overworked and underappreciated folks, I’ll have three or four or twelve for ya’!

    (If OPM management is reading this, by twelve cold ones, I mean Diet Cokes).

  33. Avatar

    Fed Inv –

    Pass me one of those Diet Cokes, please…

    I second BW’s wishes for everyone to enjoy their holiday. I, too, am turning off my laptop and phone and plan to chillax all weekend!

  34. Avatar

    Fed–I meant frosty cold beer and alot of them and maybe a good cigar while sitting next to my pool 🙂

    Then after several, I’m lighting fireworks–always makes it more fun 🙂

  35. Avatar

    OK, OK, you caught me, I really meant frosty cold beers as well. I also do plan on drinking twelve of them although I won’t light off anything afterword.

  36. Avatar

    You trickster you.

  37. Avatar

    It’s ironically refreshing to see the number of frustrated investigators on this website. I would bet that most of them work for a certain Altegrity company which just won the OPM Support Services contract a few weeks ago and has somehow promised OPM that it will review 100% of cases transmitted in the new contract. My guess is that this company will lose a lot of money from the number customer reopens it sees when this new contract is put in place. I honestly cannot see how this company will last when the new contractual obligation that OPM will fine it for every case reopened on the customer level. At some point, something has to change.

  38. Avatar

    Contract Investigator

    Are you new to the board? If so, you may want to change your screen name as it is being used. I don’t think “Over-worked Investigator” is being used 🙂

    If new, welcome aboard and looking forward to your input.


  39. Avatar

    Hello all,

    Been reading the site somewhat regularly since late last year. I’ve been working inside the Beltway as an contract investigator for about a year now. Based on my discussions with other investigators (which isn’t much, of course), I’d say that I tend to have a brighter view of this job than most. That said, I deal with the same less-than-ideal aspects of the job as everyone else.

    Anyway, just wanted to say hello. I’ve enjoyed the site so far, and have probably learned more about the larger BI process from this site than through work.


  40. Avatar

    Welcome. Join us over at the most recent blog topic. I don’t check the older ones very often and some of the others might not either.