Federal law enforcement agents working the Imran Awan and Hina Alvi fraud probe said the couple, along with other members of the family, were never properly vetted for Congressional security clearances.
Instead the clearances, which provided the Awans access to dozens of Congressional Democrats computer networks and IT systems, were likely approved absent each individual background file getting “fully investigated.”
“I seriously doubt they could have passed a full background (check),” one FBI insider said. “These clearances were pushed through.”
FBI insiders used the word “forged” to describe the process of what happened to the Awan files. Federal law enforcement sources with knowledge of the case divulged:
- Either someone with clout in Congress, or higher, made sure the Awans received their security clearances despite glaring problems or the investigators pushed their files through for approval as part of a systemic breakdown.
- Many assertions in the Awan-linked applications and files could not be verified by subsequent FBI vetting as part of the criminal case now pending against Imran and Hina. The files are problematic, FBI sources said.
- The FBI did not conduct the background checks on members of the Awan family who were granted security clearances in Congress..
- A former FBI section chief and security clearance expert said this type of malfeasance is commonplace in D.C.
- The Inspector General found widespread fraud in firms conducting Congressional and government background checks, often cutting corners to approve files without vetting the applicants.
This type of overt government malfeasance regarding security clearances is very common, according to former FBI section chief Michael F. McMahon. As an agent, McMahon was the FBI’s key whistle blower on the troublesome gaps plaguing the federal system which too often rubber stamps security clearances for unqualified applicants.
“I do not know agency or agencies that performed background investigations on Awan and cohorts,” McMahon said. “The FBI is the bellwether or gold standard by which vetting, background checks, name checks are conducted throughout the intelligence community.”
But McMahon said the FBI does not conduct background checks for Congressional aides like the Awan-linked family, even though the personnel are granted access to classified intelligence. Instead the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is tasked with providing security clearances for such employees and hires subcontractors to do the work. The results can be quite haphazard, McMahon said.
Federal agents with knowledge of the Awan investigation echo McMahon: The FBI did not work the cases which provided the Awans access to a treasure trove of government intelligence, including the emails of over two dozens Democratic member of Congress.
This is not something new in Washington, D.C.
According to a 2014 audit by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General, which oversees OPM, thousands of background clearances for Congress and elsewhere in government were forged, or pushed through without more than a few minutes of investigation.
Among many failures, the IG found OPM had no way or verifying if all components of each applicant’s security clearance file had been vetted. One company, USIS which likely conducted the majority of Awan background sweeps for Congress, was caught forcing through thousands of security clearance cases without having examined their contents, the report shows. One USIS investigator approved over 15,000 case files in one month “with most of these occurring within minutes of each other on multiple days,” according to the report. USIS conducted clearance sweeps for OPM until late 2014 when the businesses folded.
Portion of the Inspector General’s Finding on OPM Fraud on security clearances.
Former FBI McMahon said USIS forged as many as 665,000 federal security clearances.
McMahon has been trying to meet with President Donald Trump to discuss ways to seal the dangerous trap doors in government background checks.
“If the FBI had fixed the name check issues when I blew the whistle and held those responsible publicly accountable while in FBI during 2008 to 2009 or thereafter, I believe Navy Yard killer, Riverside killers, Mr. Manning, Mr. Snowden and the 665,000 falsified USIS background checks might never had occurred,” he said.