September 19, 2013

Contractor that screened Snowden also vetted alleged Navy Yard shooter

The government contractor that screened Edward Snowden also was responsible for a background check that granted "secret" security clearance to Aaron Alexis, the alleged Navy Yard shooter.

USIS, a private company based in Falls Church, Va., said on Thursday that it had vetted Alexis in 2007.The security clearance he subsequently received in 2008 was good for ten years, until 2018.

A USIS spokesman declined to say what Alexis' background check revealed, although government officials have said it turned up a 2004 arrest in Seattle for malicious mischief.

"We are contractually prohibited from retaining case information gathered as part of the background checks we conduct for (the federal Office of Personnel Management) and therefore are unable to comment further on the nature or scope of this or any other background check," USIS spokesman Ray Howell said in a statement.

USIS recently came under scrutiny for performing a five-year “periodic reinvestigation” for Snowden’s security clearance in February 2011. The 30-year-old systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton later leaked documents to the media, revealing massive secret surveillance by the National Security Administration.

At a Senate hearing in June, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said USIS was under criminal investigation for systemic failure to adequately conduct background checks. McCaskill chairs a Senate subcommittee on contracting oversight.

On Thursday, the senator said she's concerned about what she sees as "a pattern of failure on the part of this company, and a failure of this entire (security clearance) system."

At risk is nothing less than the country's national security and the lives of Americans, she said.

"What’s most frightening is that USIS performs a majority of background checks for our government," McCaskill said. "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. I plan to pursue such an overhaul, and won’t rest until it’s achieved.”

The Office of Personnel Management has reviewed the file for the 2007 examination of Alexis' background and found it "complete and in compliance with all investigative standards," said Mert Miller, the agency's associate director for the Federal Investigative Services.

For a "Secret"-level security clearance, a background investigation consists of a questionnaire completed by the applicant and checks of federal records, credit history records and criminal history records.

While the Pentagon made the final decision whether to grant or deny the clearance or request further inquiry, it "did not ask OPM for any additional investigative actions after it received the completed background investigation" Miller said in a statement.

Greg Gordon contributed to this post.

August 01, 2013

White House: Russia gave us no heads up on Snowden

The Obama administration is "extremely disappointed" with Russia's decision to allow Edward Snowden to leave a Moscow airport -- a decision it made without giving the White House a heads up, Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

The decision came "despite our very clear and lawful requests in public and in private to have Mr. Snowden expelled to the United States to face the charges against him," Carney said, reiterating the administration's stance that Snowden is neither a dissident, nor a whistleblower.

"He is accused of leaking classified information and has been charged with three felony counts, and he should be returned to the United States as soon as possible, where he will be accorded full due process and protections," Carney said.

He said the US would be in contact with Russian authorities, "expressing our extreme disappointment in this decision, and making the case clearly that there is absolute legal justification for Mr. Snowden to be returned to the United States."

And he said the U.S. is evaluating whether Obama will attend a planned September meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Continue reading "White House: Russia gave us no heads up on Snowden" »

Boehner talks about Snowden

House Speaker John Boehner says it's up to President Barack Obama how to engage Russian President Vladmir Putin over the Edward Snowden matter.

Snowden, who leaked documents about secret American data gathering programs, was granted temporary asylum Thursday in Russia.

Here's the exchange with Boehner, R-Ohio, at his weekly news conference:

Q. Edward Snowden has left the Moscow airport.  Senator McCain put out a statement saying that it's a slap in the face of America (and) fundamentally changes our relationship with Russia.  What do you think? 

SPEAKER BOEHNER:  Mr. Snowden's actions have hurt the ability of our country to protect our citizens.  And I would hope that President Obama would engage President Putin on this issue and resolve it in a way that's satisfactory to the American people. 

Q:  Could you be more specific?  Engage in what way?  I mean, how?   

SPEAKER BOEHNER:  I'll let him decide -- I'll let him decide the best way to engage the president.

Snowden departs Moscow airport, enters Russia

National security leaker Edward Snowden, wanted in the United States for espionage, has left Moscow's airport and entered Russia, his lawyer told the Associated Press.

Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said Thursday that Snowden was issued papers that allowed him to leave Sheremetyevo airport, where he had been stranded since June 23. He said Snowden was granted asylum for one year in Russia. The location was not released.

The Obama administration had declined to comment Thursday morning.

"We would like to thank the Russian people and all those others who have helped to protect Mr. Snowden," tweeted WikiLeaks, a website that’s published classified U.S. information and helped Snowden. "We have won the battle -- now the war."

The issue has further complicated U.S.-Russian relations. The White House has hinted President Barack Obama may cancel a previously scheduled trip to Moscow in September.

Continue reading "Snowden departs Moscow airport, enters Russia" »

July 16, 2013

Will Obama scrap Moscow visit over Edward Snowden?

The White House announced last month that President Obama would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow when he travels to St. Petersburg in September for the annual Group of 20 summit meeting.

But with U.S. and Russian officials a bit at odds over the fate of currently-marooned NSA leaker Edward Snowden, that visit may be up in the air.

Asked today whether the president's plans for the summit would be disrupted if Russia should decide to grant Snowden temporary asylum as he's requested, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney played it coy.

"The president intends to travel to Russia in September for the G-20 summit," Carney said, adding a tantalizing, "And I don't have any further announcements with regard to that travel."

Hmmm, reporters asked. Do his plans for Russia still include the Moscow leg that was only recently announced?

"I'm just saying that the president intends to go to Russia," Carney said. "Again, I don't have anything to add to our previous announcements."

The White House wants Russia to expel Snowden and return him to the United States: "Mr. Snowden has all of the rights that every American citizen charged with a crime in the United States has, and he should be returned here where he can stand trial and take advantage of those rights," Carney said. "So that's the conversation we're having with foreign governments; that’s the conversations we're having with our Russian counterparts."

July 12, 2013

President Obama to speak with President Putin

UPDATE: The White House says President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday and the conversation included the "status of Mr. Edward Snowden."

The phone call came as Snowden said he's asked Russia for asylum. The White House readout of the call didn't divulge much: "President Obama spoke by phone today with President Putin of Russia. The two leaders noted the importance of U.S.-Russian bilateral relations and discussed a range of security and bilateral issues, including the status of Mr. Edward Snowden and cooperation on counter-terrorism in the lead-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics." 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier that plans for the call have been in the works for several days and that the pair are likely to talk about Snowden, as well as other issues.

Snowden met today with human rights groups at the airport and Carney criticized Russia for "providing a propaganda platform" for Snowden, saying it "runs counter to the Russian government's previous declarations of Russia's neutrality and that they have no control over his presence in the airport."

Continue reading "President Obama to speak with President Putin " »


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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