Background Investigations

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.

Comment Archive

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    Well that was a letdown… Pretty disappointed with the “reporting”. A lot of the issues they highlighted wouldn’t have come out during a background investigation because they aren’t investigative requirements. They could have addresses the elephant in the room but chose not to. Disappointing.

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    That 60 minutes interview was nothing new to me. If 60 minutes really wanted to do some investigative journalism then they would have interviewed some former or current investigators about the issues with the corrupt OPM contractors (Especially those that worked for USIS) and the glaring weaknesses and intricacies of the OPM process in general. I thought they barely scratched the service on the problems with the BI process.

    How about less emphasis on investigators having to worry about why the home telephone is different than the mobile phone and how someone attended college while employed full time and more emphasis on character, conduct, integrity, and the overall person as a whole. That’s the real problem with the BI process.

    Problem is nothing will change…its just a rubber stamping process…to most of us we don’t feel like any real investigations into the person are being done when we spend more time on why the Subject’s home and cell phone are the same number.

    If they really want to blow the lid off of this…then they need to read these forums and about USIS and KGS or interview the people actually doing the investigations. That would make people perk up a little by reading those things.

    Yeah…didn’t learn much…oh by the way in that 60 minute piece..something they failed to discuss was that the Seattle PD didn’t cooperate with the Alexis investigation or that police report would have been in the investigative file. The Investigator had to note out the item. Seattle PD should be to blame for that also in regards to not cooperating with the OPM BI process.

    The other thing that needs to be mentioned is the ajudicative process is way too lax in determining who gets a clearance. We have all completed that horrible 65 page report of people with major issues and derogatory information with less than half of the people recommending the candidate only to find out that the person still got a clearance or was able to still retains his/her clearance…I realize it’s a futile process.

    A lot of the problem in this process that doesn’t get enough discussion or is rarely ever is questioned is the lax adjudicative process. They let damn near anyone get a TS or Q clearance. The adjudicative process is a big part of the problem and the government needs to address it.

    Anyways, the only thing we can control in this process is the integrity and thoroughness of the product we deliver. Timeliness is outside of our control. Quality is getting to that point also unless you have integrity to do a thorough job and tell management to pound sand about timelines.

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    It’s amazing that not once did they focus on the nefarious acts committed by USIS or the insanity its employees went through daily or the insanity that CACI’s and KGS’s employees go through daily to close cases to meet revenue. Not to aid in the protection of national security. Overall, a weak segment by 60 Minutes which left me wanting more.