Feds Cracking Down on Classified Gatekeepers

     WASHINGTON (CN) - A federal contractor pleaded guilty to lying about conducting background checks on government employees - a crime that prosecutors say is becoming increasingly common.
     The U.S. government had indicted Ramon Davila in 2011 for 24 separate offenses related to his work at ManTech MSM Security Services; Systems Application & Technologies; and USIS, which was formerly known as U.S. Investigations Services.
     All three are private contractors work on behalf of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
     On Thursday, the 59-year-old resident of Fredericksted, St. Croix, confessed only to falsifying an unspecified number of reports of investigation for a year, starting on August 2006.
     "The purpose of the background investigations was to determine individuals' suitability for positions having access to classified information, for positions of impacting national security, and for receiving or retaining security clearances," according to the Statement of the Offense.
     Davila now faces a maximum five-year prison sentence, $79,468 in restitution and up to $250,000 in fines.
     The plea agreement and statement of offense give no indication as to what motive he had for falsifying the records, and his attorney could not be reached.
     Critics have questioned the rigor of security checks and clearances in the wake of high-profile cases such as National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning.
     Indeed, the Associated Press reported recently that USIS, Davila's erstwhile employer, is under criminal investigation in connection to giving Snowden his security clearance. USIS has reportedly declined to comment on the matter.
     In a statement showing the state of security from the gatekeepers' view, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia called Davila the 16th background-checker prosecuted for false representations in the last four years.
     "Federal Investigative Services, through its workforce of approximately 7,600, including 6,100 field investigators, is responsible for conducting background investigations for numerous federal agencies and their contractors, on individuals either employed by or seeking employment with those agencies or contractors," the office said. "Federal Investigative Services conducted more than 2.1 million investigations during the 2012 fiscal year. More than 770,000 of these investigations involved applicants for access or continued access to classified information."
     Steven Aftergood, director of Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy and author for Secrecy News, was reluctant to draw any conclusions from these cases.
     "Clearly the security-clearance process is not foolproof," Aftergood said in email. "There are occasional incidents of fraud, misrepresentation and error. Sometimes people get clearances without proper vetting. Other times clearances are wrongly denied to people who are fully qualified, but who may have difficult with a polygraph exam or some other technical issue. But it's not clear that these problem cases represent a significant fraction of the cleared population."
     "The best way to reduce or eliminate such deviations would be to shrink the number of security clearances," Aftergood added. "If there were 1 million cleared persons instead of nearly 5 million, quality control would be improved, along with security more generally."
     Davila's sentencing has been scheduled for Sept. 3.