Disobedient Media recently spoke with Michael F. McMahon regarding widespread, long term, systemic corruption in the FBI’s vetting process. McMahon served in the FBI as unit chief in the FBI’s records management division during 2008-09, and had previously served in the Navy’s Office of Intelligence. McMahon held top secret clearance, but eventually resigned due to systemic problems with vetting procedure which he stated pose a serious threat to national security.
He was present during the time period that the Awans were vetted, but he told us that he does not have personal knowledge of the case. McMahon emphasized that two fundamental changes would be necessary in order to truly implement change: whistleblower transparency, and real accountability for those who make serious mistakes in vetting.
McMahon told True Pundit that USIS had forged as many as 665,000 federal security clearances. He stated that one of his goals is to notify the Office of Personnel Management of improper background checks and vetting procedure which had been paid for. He further said that tens of thousands of name checks would need to be re-conducted.
McMahon wrote in The Hill that he had sought bi-partisan support for increased whistleblower protections and accountability for vetting failure:
“After my FBI service, I met personally with representatives of the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and communicated this national security issue to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Moreover, I have either met with or have been in communication with representatives of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and other legislators.”
Furthermore, he said that “classified/sensitive information was sent to OPM without FBI Counter Espionage Unit’s knowledge or approval. McMahon described “collusion between the FBI and Contractor Research Analyst Firms’ management who he said “colluded to get me terminated because I would not play the ‘numbers game.’ of processing name checks for sake of expediency, not quality.”
McMahon also spoke with Senator Grassley on this issue a number of years ago. McMahon told Disobedient Media that a “non-tiered whistleblower protection” system was needed in order to protect whistleblowers from prosecution regardless of what realm of IC they originated in. He also felt that those who conduct improper vetting procedure need to be held to account in an enforceable way. Ideally, McMahon stated that this would take place via hearings in closed-door Congressional committees, in order to protect potentially sensitive information involved.
At present, he said, no one is held to account for falsified background checks, adding that, “fear drives the silence.” Before resigning over the issue, he spoke about his concerns to upper management, who he says then colluded to have him fired. He labeled the current power structure within the FBI as being made up primarily of “ladder climbers” who were paid by the number of checks performed, not for the quality of vetting.
McMahon told us that this structural issue then led to a chronic rush and poor vetting procedure, with the FBI paid cash per name check by the OPM. He explained that this structure had been created after Congress had complained of a vetting backlog in 2003. However, he added that in his view the primary issue is FBI procedure, not in Congressional bad intent.
McMahon wrote in a contribution to The Hill:
“It is critical that full, concrete whistleblower protections be given to those agencies not included in the Follow the Rules Act because injustice, crime, gross mismanagement and impropriety can occur in any agency within our federal government. Whistleblower protections must not and cannot be a tiered system. Without the bill’s whistleblower protections for all agencies, our national security and the welfare of the American people could be placed in jeopardy.”
McMahon explained that whistleblower protections must be enforced alongside strong accountability measures. He told us that failure to properly vet individuals who later committed violent crimes must result in serious consequences much like military prosecutions that take place for “dereliction of duty.” McMahon was of the opinion that this is necessary in order to properly ensure that sloppy, rushed vetting does not continue to be widely accepted norm.
McMahon explained that the latest Awan scandal is a symptom of a larger, long term, systemic failure which is ingrained into the FBI’s procedure at present, with improper vetting having been regularly practiced for at least ten years. He expressed the primary importance of the issue due to the role of the FBI in setting a primary example or “gold standard” for all other vetting operations.
He wrote in The Hill: “I made numerous disclosures of violations of federal law, rules, and regulations. My disclosures focused upon my concerns with irregularities and departures from protocol in the way that name (or background) check cases were being conducted, closed, and disseminated. These cases were being closed for the sake of expediency. Name checks were being concluded prematurely in order to meet a 40-day name check deadline, known as the “steady state” timetable.”
McMahon said that his primary goal at present is to speak with President Trump and Congress. He has previously spoken with Senators Grassley and Feinstein. McMahon told Disobedient Media that he is unconcerned with political party affiliation, saying: “This is neither a GOP or Democratic issue, it is an American issue.” He told us that he takes his FBI and Naval oaths extremely seriously. He hopes that he might serve as a trailblazer, encouraging more hesitant whistleblowers to come forward.
McMahon believes that, given his stellar record with the Navy and FBI, both Trump and Congress would be highly motivated to act on the issue should he be given the opportunity to speak with them.