Justice Department joins lawsuit against company that vetted Snowden

The Justice Department said Wednesday that it was joining onto a lawsuit against the firm that conducted the background check of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden.

The lawsuit, filed by a whistleblower, alleges that United States Investigations Services (USIS) charged the federal government for reviews of background checks that it knew weren’t performed properly.

The lawsuit, which was not tied to Snowden’s background search, was filed by a former employee of USIS in Alabama, Blake Perival.

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Falls Church, Va.-based USIS, the leading private company that conducts background checks for the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM), has been under increased scrutiny for its background checks this year.

At a June hearing shortly after Snowden revealed he'd leaked troves of classified NSA documents, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said that USIS was under investigation by the OPM inspector general for a systematic failure to properly conduct investigations.

An official in the inspector general’s office said the firm’s background check of Snowden confirmed the investigation was ongoing, but said the check of Snowden conducted in 2011 before the IG investigation began.

USIS also vetted Aaron Alexis, the Washington Navy Yard shooter, when he received his security clearance in 2008 in the Navy Reserves.

Nonetheless, the Justice Department’s decision to join the lawsuit will only add to the public scrutiny of USIS.

McCaskill said in a statement that she wanted federal prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges were warranted.

“Given the systemic problems that recent high-profile events have uncovered, no one should be shocked by today’s announcement,” McCaskill said. “USIS’s contracting practices were a recipe for disaster and constituted a clear threat to our national security.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said USIS was "cutting corners with our national security.

Lawmakers are looking at changes to the security clearance and background check processes in the wake of the Snowden leaks and the Navy Yard shooting.

A USIS spokeswoman said in a statement that “the behavior by a small number of employees alleged in the complaint is completely inconsistent with our company values, culture and tradition of outstanding service to our government customers."

"USIS has taken these allegations seriously since they were first brought to our attention more than 18 months ago," the spokeswoman said. "We have put in place new leadership, enhanced oversight procedures, and improved protocols that have been shared with OPM.  We have been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with the government’s investigation into these allegations.”

The spokeswoman also said that OPM found the background check followed all federal guidelines.

Pervial’s lawsuit alleges that USIS engaged in a practice known as “dumping” since 2008. It accuses the company of computer software to release to OPM background investigations that had not gone through a full review process in order to meet revenue targets.

“The lawsuit alleges that USIS concealed this practice from OPM and improperly billed OPM for background investigations it knew were not performed in accordance with the contract,” the Justice Department said in a statement.