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US Sues Firm That Checked Snowden

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Updated: 14:22, Friday January 24, 2014
The US government is seeking billions of dollars in penalties and damages from the company that did the background check on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

The US government is seeking billions of dollars in penalties and damages from the company that did the background check on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.

The Justice Department, in its complaint, said US Investigations Services, the largest of several companies that have government contracts to investigate current and prospective federal employees, lied about 665,000 checks it conducted between March 2008 and September 2012.

USIS devised an elaborate scheme in which the Virginia company told the government it had completed investigations of people whose backgrounds, in fact, had not been thoroughly vetted, according to the complaint, which was filed on Wednesday in a federal court in Alabama as part of an continuing civil lawsuit against the company.

USIS set production quotas - monthly, quarterly and annual targets - and then used a process of 'dumping' or 'fishing' to submit incomplete background reports to meet the quotas, the Justice Department said.

The company used a software system called Blue Zone to help run the fraudulent reports, according to the complaint.

It said the US government's Office of Personnel Management relied on the reports to pay USIS.

'Due to its fraudulent conduct, USIS received millions of dollars that it otherwise would not have received had OPM been aware that the background investigations had not gone through the quality-review process required by the fieldwork contracts,' the Justice Department said in its complaint.

The OPM oversees employment background checks and investigations for security clearances granted to federal employees.

It does some of its own investigations but hires USIS and other companies to do most of them.

USIS received more than $US2 billion ($A2.29 billion) from the OPM to conduct security checks in the four years covered by the Justice Department brief, according to USAspending.gov, a government website that compiles federal contracting data.

Ellen Davis, a USIS spokeswoman, said in a statement that the alleged fraudulent behaviour was limited to 'a small group of individuals.'

While the government doesn't say that USIS submitted a phoney security check on Snowden, that check was purportedly completed in 2011 during the time covered by the Justice Department brief.

The 665,000 allegedly phoney background checks represented 40 per cent of all such checks conducted by USIS in that time for the federal government.

The government also hired USIS to do the security check on Aaron Alexis, another contract employee, who shot and killed 12 people September 16 at the Washington Navy Yard.

Snowden stole huge caches of classified digital data from the NSA and leaked them to news organisations before fleeing the country for Hong Kong last May.

USIS executives joked about defrauding the government, according to internal company emails obtained by the Justice Department and contained in its brief.

'We all own this baby, and right now this is one ugly baby,' the company's vice president of field operations wrote in one email, according to the Justice Department.

Edited by Turk
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