Because Private Enterprise Is Inherently Better Than Govt. (National Security/Fraud-or-Treason? dept.)

Lots of interesting national security stuff in the Times today.  As AL noted this morning, Charlie Savage has a sharp piece on the irrelevance of bulk data collection at the NSA to actual useful intelligence work.  And then there’s this, from Matt Apuzzo:

The company that conducted a background investigation on the contractor Edward J. Snowden fraudulently signed off on hundreds of thousands of incomplete security checks in recent years, the Justice Department said Wednesday.


The government said the company, U.S. Investigations Services, defrauded the government of millions of dollars by submitting more than 650,000 investigations that had not been completed. The government uses those reports to help make hiring decisions and decide who gets access to national security secrets.


Tumbrel time, I’d say.

Image: Jean François Millet, The Sheepfold, Moonlightbetween 1856 and 1860.

69 replies
  1. 1
    kdaug says:

    Kneejerk? Tear the whole damn thing down.

    But, ah, yeah, it’s the feds – buildings got built, budgets got appropriated, they’re here to stay.

  2. 2
    balconesfault says:

    Clearly, the contractor defined “efficiency” differently than the Federal Government does.

  3. 3
    Gex says:

    It is really inefficient, wasteful, and damaging to the bottom line to do the work you are paid for. Profits can be best maximized by taking money for nothing. Thank you Glibertarians for “fixing” bloated government for us.

  4. 4
    Tommy says:

    I am a huge tech nerd. But there is something I’ve learned. Every problem can’t be solved with technology. And in fact using tech can cause new problems.

    NSA case in point. Pre-9/11 agencies didn’t share info. So you open up the networks and people like Manning and Snowden have access.

    Or you try to gather everything. Which makes no sense to anybody that understands technology.

    Now way smarter people then me are working on this but it is my experience systems and programs are only as smart as the people using them.

  5. 5
    piratedan says:

    who vettes the vetters?

    sounds similar to the same delicious scam run by the Financial organizations…. oh sure these bonds are AAA, trust us!

    Oh yeah! Those people totally passed the security background check!

  6. 6
    Wag says:

    Who performed the security clearance on U.S. Investigations Services before they were awarded the contract, and when was the contract awarded?

    Is USIS a wholely owned subsidiary of Halliburton? It would be irresponsible not to speculate…

  7. 7
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    An expensive program with little to no positive results and questionable Constitutionality. What’s not to love?

  8. 8
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    Tumbrel time, I’d say.

    Also tar, pitchforks, flaming torches, and knitting.

    Unusually for him, Tom neglected to tell us about the painting: NEVER MIND, HE FIXED IT.

    Jean-François Millet (French, 1814-1875). ‘The Sheepfold, Moonlight,’ 1856-1860. oil on panel. Walters Art Museum (37.30): Acquired by William T. Walters, 1884-1887.

  9. 9
    low-tech cyclist says:

    I’m sure that everybody who is howling to have Snowden locked up for decades will fell exactly the same about this crew.

    And I’m equally sure I can sell the George Washington Bridge to Chris Christie for a million bucks.

  10. 10
    Tom Levenson says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Got there — just slowly.

  11. 11
    balconesfault says:

    I’m reminded of the elephant in Columbus Circle joke … where the man is banging a cane against the ground repeatedly in Columbus Circle until a cop comes up and asks him what he’s doing – and of course he’s “keeping the elephants away”.

    Bulk data collection has been our paying the man to bang the cane …

  12. 12
    Mnemosyne says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    I’d be happy to have these assholes locked up for decades, because they’re essentially embezzling taxpayer money.

    Yet another reason why the whole “smaller government” bullshit is, well, bullshit. You “shrink the government,” but those functions still have to be done, so you hire contractors instead. I’d rather cut out the middleman and just hire government employees to do this stuff.

  13. 13
    Butch says:

    Waiting for the defense of NSA from the useless Feinstein et al.

  14. 14
    Tommy says:

    @Wag: I have followed this story pretty closely and I can’t even recall a reporter asked who vetted the vetters.

    I’ve talked to my dad about this. At a time a GS18. Top secret clearance. He was always vetted by the DoD.

    He said he thinks the cost was $30,000. Took several months. But he, well what he did was pretty sensitive.

    Btw: swear I am not making this up. He knows the guy that vetted him. We ran into him. He works as a greeter at Sams.

  15. 15
    Cervantes says:


    I’m reminded of the elephant in Columbus Circle joke

    Turkish fable, 15th or 16th century:

    A neighbor saw Nasruddin scattering breadcrumbs. “Why?” he asked. “To keep tigers away,” came the reply. “But we have no tigers in this country,” said the neighbor. “Yes,” said Nasruddin. “It works, or why else would I be doing it?”

  16. 16
    Helmut Monotreme says:

    Leaving aside the issue of whether outsourcing critical government intelligence functions such as intelligence gathering, data analysis and background investigation to contractors is a good idea, why the hell is there not pervasive, or ubiquitous auditing of those same contractors? Why is is this coming to light now instead of 30 seconds after they submitted their first incomplete application?

  17. 17
    jrg says:

    So the NSA knows more about neckbeards playing WoW than they do about their own employees? That’s fucking awesome.

  18. 18
    Cervantes says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    I’m sure that everybody who is howling to have Snowden locked up […]

    Charlie Pierce:

    One of the more dishonorable ways to discuss the what our all-too-human, but curiously error-prone, heroes of the NSA have been up to since we all decided to hide under the bed in 2001 is to make it all about Edward Snowden, International Man Of Luggage, and what he did, and about Glenn Greenwald, and what he did. But the fact is that the available evidence is that the NSA was at the very least barbering its own regulations, and at the very most breaking the law.

  19. 19
    Ash Can says:

    @low-tech cyclist: Actually, yes, we do. Or let me clarify — I personally would prefer for Snowden to face justice for what he did, whether it involves any kind of sentencing or not. Russia’s not going to hand him over, however, so he’ll stay where he is. Oh well. In the meantime, though, if the assholes who snoozed through Snowden’s background check in the first place can be brought to justice — and get the fucking book thrown at them, because, like the ratings agencies in the financial crash, they’re really the ones who are ultimately responsible — I’d be thoroughly delighted.

  20. 20
    Cervantes says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    An expensive program with little to no positive results and questionable Constitutionality. What’s not to love?

    And illegality even before we get to questions of constitutionality.

  21. 21

    Whose idea was it to outsource background checks?

  22. 22
    C.V. Danes says:

    You mean utilizing multinational firms who have no real allegiance to any country to service critical parts of your national security infrastructure is probably not such a smart strategy?

    Jeez. Who could of predicted that?

  23. 23
    C.V. Danes says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Whose idea was it to outsource background checks?

    The people who’s background checks were outsourced.

  24. 24
    muricafukyea says:

    I counted exactly 1 post on Obama’s big NSA speech about what he is doing about it. It was only a half assed post (not that any other post is much different) by phone it in muckymux. I think it was only 1 or 2 sentences. You wankers have been going on and on about this NSA stuff about “oh noezzz, the gubmit knows how much porn you watch”…but when some actual facts and objectivity from the president is presented you are all…hey look at that shiny object over there.

    Now that everyone forgot about that speech you wanks are back to pissing and moaning.

  25. 25
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Tom Levenson: Faster than me!

  26. 26
    NorthLeft12 says:

    @Gex: Thanks for a succinct analysis of the capitalist mindset.

    The # 1 goal is to make a substantial profit on any contract, so things like doing the work to the customer’s satisfaction come in a distant second.

  27. 27
    geg6 says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    Not that I want Snowden hung or anything, but I think he certainly should be prosecuted and I also think that these and many other contractors hired on by our government in the last dozen years or so should be.

    Sorry to ruin your day.

  28. 28
    Tommy says:

    @Helmut Monotreme: good question. In another life I did a ton of work for DynCorp. Their IT division back in the late 90s.

    I had no idea until Blackwater was in the news that DynCorp had their own private army, much larger than Blackwater.

    So I started to look at them. They make billions in aircraft maintenence. The military to a large extent doesn’t even do repairs on their own planes.

    We outsource almost everything. And having a few friends and family members active service, I can assure you they get paid a lot less.

  29. 29
    ericblair says:

    @schrodinger’s cat:

    Whose idea was it to outsource background checks?

    That was Congress, as part of Al Gore’s civil service streamlining, unfortunately. There are contract and government clearance investigators, and from what information I have access to, historically there’s not a significant quality difference in contract versus government investigations (yes, they do monitor this). However, the contractors are sweatshops and the burnout on staff is really bad, and USIS has had a bad rep for years. This will probably be the end of USIS and good riddance.

    The underlying issue is that the clearance process itself sucks. It’s archaic, uses crappy tools, and is obsessed with irrelevant detail at the expense of actual analysis. This leads to time-consuming inefficiencies, which are coupled to an excessive workload and limited resources per investigation, plus rather stupid completion metrics. The main hangout for these guys is here, which is an interesting read if you’re into that sort of thing.

    My view is that this is an inherently governmental function and should be completely insourced; however, unless you change the system you’re still going to get overworked employees cutting corners.

  30. 30
    GxB says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: The one’s that stand to profit from outsourcing background checks… ahhh! – rhetorical question…

    What shaves my cat’s ass is the countless times I hear otherwise reasonable “moderate” (i.e. fence-sitters on many issues) regurgitate “big gubbamint is wasteful…” without a second thought. Ya gotta give it up to the GoP messaging team, they know how to market the lies like I’ve never seen.

  31. 31
    Tommy says:

    @geg6: Thomas Drake while at the NSA to follow the process, and there is a process, for intelligence officials to whistle blow. Tried and tried.

    After more then a year with no results he went to the press.

    The government has destroyed his life.

    Clearly Snowden knew this. So he did what he did. I find it very hard, knowing the history here, how anybody can fault Snowden.

  32. 32
    Gex says:

    @Tommy: Which is a good point to make about tech. But there is always going to be some level of tech and if we are going to use contractors for it, they better get vetted before getting access to tech and data. Unless we are getting rid of tech altogether, or rather, getting rid of sensitive data altogether, the background check process will be an important issue no matter what level of tech we settle on.

  33. 33
    Tommy says:

    @ericblair: called reinventing government. Gore wrote a book on it. The procurement reform good. But it also thought the private sector was better then government.

    So why hire IT people to run your network when you can outsource it?

    Why a good friend of mine runs help desks at the ATF. Goes in there everyday for work. Paycheck comes from Unisys.

  34. 34
    Cervantes says:


    I find it very hard, knowing the history here, how anybody can fault Snowden.

    Simple ignorance is part of it.

  35. 35
    Tokyokie says:

    This revelation hardly comes as a surprise to me. 30-some years ago, I worked as a security guard for a defense contractor in a position that required a top-secret clearance. (The company was working on cruise missiles and had information about targeting priorities for nuclear warheads.) At the same time, I had a second job working as a seasonal employee for the IRS. The background check by the IRS, which I believe was performed in-house was much more thorough; I had to list names and addresses of people who’d known me for at least 10 years, and the neighbor we lived near about 15 years before told my mom that the IRS had contacted her. The DoD check, which covered much of the same ground (and which I believe was farmed out to a contractor), didn’t seem as intensive, or at any rate, I don’t recall anybody I listed as a reference saying they’d been contacted about it.

    But the defense-contractor job was pure National Security Theater. A DoD requirement for the contractor was to have at least one person with a TS clearance on duty at all times, on the off-chance that the building were to be stormed by KGB agents and they were able to breach the safe in the secure area. To that end, twice a shift, the security guard making rounds would sign a log confirming that he’d checked and ensured that the safe remained locked. We’d usually carry pens of two different colors and sign it twice, postdating the second signing by four hours. Just like we’d reset the clock used to record our rounds so we could get them done more efficiently. (Higher-ups were supposed to check the tapes the clock made, but they were at least a year behind in doing so, so we were never called on it.) If the commies had wanted the targeting secrets contained in that safe, they could have found an engineer with crushing credit-card debt or used blackmail to get him to provide the information, and neither the company nor the security staff (especially not the nighttime security guard crew) would have known squat about it. And when the company for which I worked was replaced by one owned by a resident alien from the Netherlands (which itself was probably a breach of DoD security regs), nobody gave a shit.

    Yeah, that was 30 years ago, but these revelations are just the updated repertoire of the National Security Theatre in which I was once a minor performer.

  36. 36
    Elizabelle says:

    Al Gore or not, background checks seems like a bad segment to outsource.

    Do them inhouse.

    And enough with hiring gazillion Homeland Security related types anyway. Downsize that department, and bring back community-oriented policing, on the street.

    Government can do a lot of things well and cost-effectively. Time to spotlight that.

    For-profit background checks, paid on a piecemeal basis? And they didn’t foresee this kind of fraud and half-assed work would result??

  37. 37
    Tommy says:

    @Tokyokie: college friend went into the FBI. Two dudes in a Crown Victoria showed up at my house one day to ask a few questions.

  38. 38
    sparrow says:

    Maybe this explains something that happened to me. I’m a scientist working near a NASA center. I have colleagues there, and you need to either ask for a temporary badge a month in advance, or come up with a reason that you need to be assigned a permanent badge in order to enter the facility.

    So I put in my application for a permanent badge, which entails filling out a long form and a short interview. They ask for tons of names of people who can verify where you lived and what you were doing basically back to childhood. Fine.

    My badge was approved a few weeks later, to my surprise. I called the old friends that I had submitted as references, and most of them hadn’t been contacted yet, or hadn’t returned forms!

    At the time I joked that NSA already had a file on me marked “harmless idiot” or something…

  39. 39
    Tokyokie says:

    @Tommy: Pretty sure the FBI does its own checks, and yeah, I’ve also heard they’re thorough. And a guy I worked with at the IRS applied for a job with the CIA, and they seemed pretty thorough as well. (He was supposed to meet the guy at a Sirloin Stockade, intentionally got there 30 minutes early so he could spot the CIA guy, and the CIA guy was already there just in case he tried getting there early. And the first question he was asked was, “Tell me three instances of your comprising friends or family members to get what you wanted.) But the DoD? Not so much.

  40. 40
    Tommy says:

    @Elizabelle: one of my good friends works in a high security building. He asked me to make a call for him, since I knew high level people at the company with the contract.

    I told him I would not.

    It was a running joke in our group that almost nothing on his resume was accurate. I’d not put myself in that situation. He got the job.

    Assume nobody called anybody on his resume.

  41. 41
    geg6 says:


    Sorry, but I don’t accept that as an excuse for what he did. Just don’t. Sorry, but he went into this with malice aforethought, was indiscriminate in what he took and he immediately ran off into the arms of two countries who would like nothing better than to hurt the United States. He chose to be a liar and a coward who ran away. He’s no patriot or hero to me.

  42. 42
    Tommy says:

    @Tokyokie: my dad is retired. And maybe many years ago I might have smoked a lot of pot. Went to some protests.

    I was always worried that might show up when my father’s clearance was re-run. I just know my experience was the government does not mess around here.

    Clearly it seems they do now.

  43. 43
    different-church-lady says:


    He said he thinks the cost was $30,000

    It costs 30k to do a security clearance why?

  44. 44
    different-church-lady says:


    At the time I joked that NSA already had a file on me marked “harmless idiot” or something…

    Mostly harmless…

  45. 45
    different-church-lady says:

    @muricafukyea: Obama’s big problem is he likes to deal with things calmly and sanely, and that just doesn’t jive with the temperament of the politically internetty.

  46. 46
    Rafer Janders says:


    and he immediately ran off into the arms of two countries who would like nothing better than to hurt the United States

    Where would you recommend he run off to in order not to be immediately arrested and sent back to the US?

    It’s a big world, but given the reach of the American government, you pretty much have to escape to a country that’s not friendly to the US in order not to be caught.

  47. 47
    different-church-lady says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    you pretty much have to escape to a country that’s not friendly to the US in order not to be caught.

    No irony in that situation whatsoever, no sir!

  48. 48
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Ah, yes, I remember Rev. Martin Luther King’s epic “Letter From a Moscow Airport.”

  49. 49
    Rafer Janders says:


    Irony for the US, yes. We’ve been pretty explicit in threatening any friend, ally or non-aligned country that they better hand Snowden off to us, or else. So, given that, it was pretty much guaranteed to drive him into the arms of a country that was immune to American pressure, which pretty much meant countries not friendly to the US. It might in the long run have been better for us had we allowed him to flee to Iceland, Germany, Brazil, or a similar state.

  50. 50
    burnspbesq says:

    @low-tech cyclist:

    I’m sure that everybody who is howling to have Snowden locked up for decades will fell exactly the same about this crew.

    If they committed a crime, yes.

    Not all frauds are crimes. All thefts are crimes.

  51. 51
    burnspbesq says:


    Waiting for the defense of NSA from the useless Feinstein et al.

    Feinstein had some sort of road-to-Damascus moment recently. Search the Congressional Record back about three weeks and you’ll find a speech that was a major surprise.

  52. 52
    Elizabelle says:

    la la la. Comment in moderation …

  53. 53
    Elizabelle says:


    Indeed. Liar’s P o k e r, kind of.

    We had a beloved neighbor who was career FBI. He and his wife exited the neighborhood stealthily. We knew they’d sold their (gorgeously landscaped) house quickly. Then they disappeared shortly after, under cover of darkness.

    Not in the witness protection program. Just not believers in long, drawn out goodbyes or neighbors making a lot of fuss.

    (Tripped the moderation filter with the game reference. Unless my former neighbor is interfering from miles away.)

  54. 54
    different-church-lady says:

    @Rafer Janders: Gosh, it’s almost like some kind of law of physics or something — like gravity pulls things down.

    I mean, make off with a country’s security secrets and you become… like… not a person that country is happy letting run around the world with them! Who could imagine such a thing!

  55. 55
    Rafer Janders says:


    Do you remember Chelsea Manning’s “Letter from a Marine Corps Brig”?

    No, you don’t, because Manning was kept under very restrictive conditions, including forced nudity and limited access to paper and pen, and was never able to write and publish such a letter.

    Had Snowden been captured, he might have been similarly dealt with, and would not have been able to contact the outside world. If he wants to keep talking and making his case, he has to stay out of US custody.

  56. 56
    Rafer Janders says:


    Well, yes. But then we can’t act all surprised and indignant that someone we want to capture does not want to let himself be captured and so runs to those places where capture is difficult. It’s fundamentally illogical.

  57. 57
    different-church-lady says:

    @Rafer Janders: Agreed. So it was kind of built into the plan that Snowy would have to head somewhere “non-friendly” when he decided to green-light his little heist.

    I mean… he did have a plan, right?

  58. 58
    different-church-lady says:

    @Rafer Janders: Snowden joined the US Army? Man, I really have to do a better job keeping up with news…

  59. 59
    Rafer Janders says:


    No, he didn’t join the Army. Yes, you do have to do a better job of….

    Ah, deliberate obtuseness.

    We hold quite a few civilians in military jails. But then again, you don’t have to be in a military jail to be held in solitary confinement with limited to no access to the outside world — such treatment is also available in federal prisons.

  60. 60
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    You mean when she was held by the military for breaking military law while a member of the military?

    Oh, wait, you already hand-waved that away. I’d be curious to hear which civilians are currently in military jails, other than the foreign nationals in Gitmo. Which civilian US citizens are currently being held in military jails?

    But, hey, everyone knows a rich white guy is in much more danger from his government than a black minister was in the Jim Crow days, amirite?

  61. 61
    Cervantes says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Ah, deliberate obtuseness.

    That’s one thing, and we can hope it’s deliberate.

    And here’s the other thing.

  62. 62
    burnspbesq says:

    The United States needs more and better extradition treaties.

  63. 63
    Mnemosyne says:


    Or at least spies who can read lists in Wikipedia. Hong Kong has had an extradition treaty with the US since 1996. Iceland, his stated first goal, has had one since 1906. Ecuador — 1941.

  64. 64
    geg6 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I don’t expect him to not have to face consequences. He’s a coward. If he had the courage of your convictions, he’d be fine with dealing with them. Just as MLK and many others have had to. He’s not a hero by any stretch of the imagination. Heroes aren’t cowards.

  65. 65
    different-church-lady says:

    @Rafer Janders: I’m not sure which is more obtuse: my snark, or pretending that Manning’s treatment (or mistreatment, depending on who you believe) in the military justice system is the only model under which security miscreants are dealt with.

    I guess everyone will have to make up their own mind about that.

  66. 66
    different-church-lady says:

    @geg6: The thing is nobody should reasonably expect Snowden to behave like MLK. It’s only because his volunteer hagiographers keep making the comparison that the idea even comes up.

    Dude stole state secrets, then fled that state. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do when you steal state secrets.

  67. 67
    LanceThruster says:

    “What could possibly go wrong!?” ~ The Timmy Turner Diaries

  68. 68
    nathaniel says:

    As someone who thinks the government should not contract out so much, I don’t think outsourceing background investigation is that bad of an idea. It is a straight forward task that doesn’t call for someone to make many decisions (the adjucation is a different story). Plus most of the investigators I have talked to, and I have talked to many, are retired federal employees so contracts are perfect because they are not going to give up their annuities to work at a job that doesnt pay them that much. Plus the delays in background checks had been quite substantial, so something needed to be done

    What needs to be changed is more audits of all contract companies. Off course if you incentivize speed, the companies are going to try to cut corners (As will gov employees), because of this you need people doing random checks on the work. That to me is where the breakdown occured

  69. 69
    billB says:

    Nath, Dude, there needs to be NO private companies doing sensitive [poss all] gov work. The whores of ronnie raygun/al gore centrist free-market sht are proven wrong now. We need to go back to ALL GOV security w/ FBI grown-up background checks, for all security jobs. With full internal accountability, straight to the I.G.

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