WASHINGTON — A government watchdog testified Thursday there may have been problems with the security clearance background check conducted on the 29-year-old federal contractor who disclosed previously secret National Security Agency programs for collecting phone records and Internet data.
Appearing at a Senate hearing, Patrick McFarland, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management's inspector general, said USIS, the company that conducted the security clearance investigation of former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden, is now under investigation itself.
McFarland declined to say what triggered the inquiry of USIS or whether the probe is related to Snowden. But when asked by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., if there were any concerns about the USIS background check on Snowden, McFarland answered: "Yes, we do believe that there may be some problems."
Meanwhile, new details emerged about the scope of two recently disclosed NSA programs — one that gathers U.S. phone records and another that is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism.
Top-secret documents published Thursday by The Guardian newspaper said NSA can keep copies of intercepted communications from or about U.S. citizens if the material contains significant intelligence or evidence of crimes.
McFarland declined after the Senate hearing to describe to reporters the type of investigation his office is conducting. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she was told the inquiry is a criminal investigation related "to USIS' systemic failure to adequately conduct investigations under its contract."
USIS, based in Falls Church, Va., said in a statement that it has never been informed that it is under criminal investigation. USIS received a subpoena from the Office of Personnel Management IG in January 2012 for records, the statement said. "USIS complied with that subpoena and has cooperated fully with the government's civil investigative efforts," according to the company.