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.