News

Firm comes under fire for background check of Navy Yard shooter

Firm comes under fire for background check of Navy Yard shooter

Aaron Alexis, 34. Photo: Associated Press

By Tabassum Zakaria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The company that scrutinized former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden for a U.S. government security clearance said on Thursday it also checked the background of the Navy Yard shooter, allowing him to obtain a “secret” clearance.

USIS, working as a contractor for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), conducted a background review of Aaron Alexis, identified by law enforcement authorities as the shooter who killed 12 people at the Navy Yard before he was shot dead.

“Today we were informed that in 2007, USIS conducted a background check of Aaron Alexis for OPM,” USIS spokesman Ray Howell said in a statement.

He did not provide additional information. “We are contractually prohibited from retaining case information gathered as part of the background checks we conduct for OPM and therefore are unable to comment further on the nature or scope of this or any other background check,” Howell said.

Earlier this year, USIS became the focus of congressional scrutiny when it was discovered that the company handled the most recent background investigation of Snowden, accused of disclosing top secret materials taken from the National Security Agency facility where he worked.

“From Edward Snowden to Aaron Alexis, what’s emerging is a pattern of failure on the part of this company, and a failure of this entire system, that risks nothing less than our national security and the lives of Americans,” Senator Claire McCaskill said in a statement Thursday.

“What’s most frightening is that USIS performs a majority of background checks for our government. We clearly need a top-to-bottom overhaul of how we vet those who have access to our country’s secrets and to our secure facilities,” she said.

McCaskill, who heads the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, said USIS does about 65 percent of all background check investigations conducted by government contractors and more than half of those conducted by the OPM.

Earlier this week, OPM said it had identified a 2004 arrest for malicious mischief during the background review for Alexis, and the Defense Department granted his security clearance in 2008.

For a “secret” clearance, the applicant fills out a questionnaire and checks are made of federal records, credit history records, and criminal history records, OPM said.

In Alexis’ case, “the appropriate federal records were obtained, and the required fieldwork was performed,” Mert Miller, associate director for Federal Investigative Services at OPM, said in a statement on Thursday.

“OPM’s involvement with matters related to Aaron Alexis’ security clearance ended when we submitted the case to the Department of Defense (DoD) for adjudication in December 2007,” Miller said. “DoD did not ask OPM for any additional investigative actions after it received the completed background investigation.”

That Alexis had a “secret” security clearance and maintained it despite several violent episodes before and after the clearance was issued has reinvigorated lawmakers’ calls for a review of how security clearances are issued.

USIS has been undergoing an investigation by OPM’s inspector general since before the Snowden and Alexis incidents. OPM’s inspector general’s office had no comment.

USIS is owned by a larger investigative company called Altegrity, which in turn is principally owned by private equity firm Providence Equity Partners.

Latest Headlines

in Local

Maine Heating Prices Continue to Drop

Fresh
GENERIC COUNTERFEIT MONEY

A state of Maine survey indicates the average price of heating oil has dropped 4 cents over the past week to the lowest heating season price recorded in three years.

in Local

3 Whooping Cough Cases at Anson School

Fresh
GENERIC SCHOOL

Three cases of whooping cough have been confirmed at an Anson elementary school and district officials have organized a public meeting to discuss prevention and response measures.

in Local

Gardiner Man Pleads Guilty To Robbing Pharmacy

GENERIC PILLS

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - A Gardiner man who robbed a Bridgton pharmacy of prescription painkillers on Thanksgiving Day last year has pleaded guilty.

in Local

2 East Millinocket Residents Face Drug Charges

GENERIC METH

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine (AP) - Two people have been arrested on charges that they were running a methamphetamine lab in East Millinocket.

in Local

Theft Charge For Ex-New Hampshire And Maine Fire Chief

GENERIC INVESTIGATION LARGE

FARMINGTON, N.H. (AP) - The former fire chief in Farmington has been indicted on charges he stole at least $1,500 in town funds.