OPM’s Background Investigation Process: A Special 60 Minutes Report
60 Minutes aired a special report on November 8th that revealed the details of their special investigation into how the likes of Snowden, Alexis, and Manning were all able to pass the background investigation process and be granted security clearances. The report revealed data sources and information that clearly brought to light incidents with glaring red flags that should have raised concerns and resulted in immediate suspension of their security clearances.
Errors, Omissions and Costly Carelessness
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was the main target of the report that outlined numerous gaps, process failures, and a sense of tunnel vision by OPM that focused on meeting timeliness and quota requirements over thoroughness. Former DoD adjudicators were interviewed and told the story of numerous instances where discrepant information reported by OPM in the Report of Investigation (ROI) caused serious concerns. For example, in seven out of ten cases where the ROI reported that the FBI name check had no pertinent information, there was actually a record of an arrest that should have been reported and followed up on. Another example detailed how Edward Snowden was able to bypass OPM’s check of his past employment by claiming that the information was classified. OPM, despite having investigators who are cleared at the Top Secret level, failed to follow up to verify his previous employment. Had OPM done this they would have found issues and concerns documented by the CIA that would have raised serious concerns.
OPM declined to comment or provide any corroborating information on anything brought up in the report, but rather just stated that it was working aggressively to incorporate new data sources and reviewing key aspects of the security clearance process. Perhaps a return to the 80’s, where the Defense Security Service conducted the background investigations, would fix some of these issues. In my experience as an applicant, clearance holder, security manager, investigator, and adjudicator I have been interviewed many times, have interviewed many others, and read many ROIs. By far the best ones were written in times before we were just worried about timeliness, quotas, and the bottom line.