A count by a research center found that non-Muslim extremists have been far more lethal than Islamic militants on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001, running counter to public perception.
Washington — Two government watchdog agencies are investigating whether the Pentagon inspector general destroyed evidence improperly during the high-profile leak investigation of former National Security Agency senior official Thomas Drake. The Justice Department acknowledged the probes in a letter last week to a federal magistrate judge who recently received the allegations from Drake’s lawyers. The judge is determining whether she should take further action in a case that ended in 2011 when Drake pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge. The Justice Department told the judge the inquiries are being conducted by a committee that looks into allegations of misconduct by inspectors general offices and the Office of Special Counsel, a federal agency that investigates whistleblower complaints. “DOD OIG’s handling of documents . . . is within the scope of an ongoing inquiry by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC),” Raymond Hulser, the chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, wrote to U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Gallagher in a letter dated June 11. “In the event that OSC finds evidence of criminal conduct during the course of its work, it will refer that evidence to the Department of Justice for appropriate action.” The pair of executive branch probes renews questions about the federal government’s controversial pursuit of Drake on charges that he improperly retained classified information under the Espionage Act. Drake was one of the first officials to be targeted by the Obama administration in its controversial use of the Espionage Act against those it suspects of providing classified information to the news media. He was investigated after he’d cooperated with congressional and Pentagon inspector general inquiries of the NSA’s surveillance programs. When the Justice Department’s case against Drake unraveled in 2011, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett criticized the government for the prosecution and sentenced Drake to probation. It’s unclear what action, if any, Magistrate Judge Gallagher could order. The improper destruction of documents in a criminal case can violate evidence-retention rules that government lawyers are required to follow and can lead to sanctions. Drake’s criminal case is over, however, and the prosecutors themselves are not accused of wrongdoing. The Justice Department, the Pentagon inspector general’s office and Drake’s lawyers declined to comment. The Justice Department’s letter to Gallagher wasn’t filed publicly in court, although McClatchy obtained a copy. The government’s handling of documents first became an issue during the evidence-gathering stage of Drake’s prosecution, when his criminal defense lawyers sought records related to his whistleblower cooperation with the Pentagon inspector general’s office in order to defend him. At the time, the Justice Department told the judge that most of the “hard copy documents” related to the Pentagon inspector general’s office audit that Drake had cooperated with couldn’t be provided to the defense because they’d been destroyed “pursuant to a standard document destruction policy.” Drake’s current lawyers, who didn’t represent him in the criminal case, told the court in a letter in April that they learned otherwise while representing Drake in his recent whistleblower claim against the NSA. Drake’s lawyers wrote that the Pentagon inspector general’s office destroyed the documents “outside of normal policy and to impede . . . the criminal case.” The allegations arose out of a series of still-secret complaints filed by multiple former and current officials in the Pentagon inspector general’s office about the office’s handling of whistleblower cases, including Drake’s. The group accuses senior officials within the inspector general’s office – including those with the general counsel’s office – of attempting to water down or change findings in whistleblower investigations because of fear of political controversy. The destruction of the records allegedly prompted a debate within the inspector general’s office over whether they’d been improperly destroyed to cover up the office’s role in the leak investigation. Some officials in the inspector general’s office were concerned that Drake and other NSA sources weren’t being protected sufficiently as sources during the audit of NSA surveillance-related contracts. In the letter sent last week, the Justice Department defended the former prosecutors in the case. “We have spoken to the prosecutors,” Hulser wrote. “They have confirmed that the representation that the government made . . . regarding the destruction of records related to Mr. Drake’s whistleblower claim was based on representations that were made to the trial team by DOD IG.” Hulser told the judge that the Justice Department referred Drake’s allegations to the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, which investigates allegations of misconduct by senior officials within inspectors general offices. “I wish to assure the court that this office takes very seriously its duty of candor toward the court,” he wrote. The Pentagon inspector general’s office concluded last year that Drake had made protected disclosures to its office as a whistleblower. However, it rejected his claims that the NSA had retaliated against him as a result. NSA officials who suspended his security clearance denied they’d retaliated against Drake, saying they did not know Drake had cooperated with the Pentagon inspector general’s office. However, Drake’s lawyers criticized the conclusion by the Pentagon inspector general’s office because it looked at only two of the 10 years of alleged retaliation detailed in his account. The office did not explain the decision, only saying the allegations were “outside the time period considered practical for investigation.”
The Obama administration levied fines totaling nearly a million dollars this week against two of the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories, mostly for failing to keep track of classified materials and for repeatedly disclosing information related to nuclear weapons design in public presentations stretching over nearly a decade. In notices published by the Energy Department on June 5, the National Nuclear Security Administration provided only general information about the materials and data that got loose but said the breaches were among the most serious such infractions, and could have an “adverse impact on national security.” It said a private company that operates Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, would be fined $577,500 for its poor handling of classified nuclear bomb design information. A second private company that operates Los Alamos National Laboratories, also in New Mexico, faced a fine of $247,500 for failing to secure something that was identified only as classified “matter,” according to one of the notices, as well as a fine of $150,000 for an unrelated employee safety violation. The notice did not explain what the missing “matter” is, but accused Los Alamos of conducting a poor investigation into what happened to it and of wrongly assuming, for years, that it had been safely destroyed. The Energy Department said the two violations involving classified materials and data were labelled with its highest level of severity because they “involve the actual or high potential for adverse impact on the national security,” but it did not explain further. Even Los Alamos’s own internal inquiry “concluded that a compromise of classified information cannot be ruled out,” the Energy Department said. The notices suggest that the laboratories – which endured unusual scrutiny a decade ago over allegations that they had failed to safeguard highly sensitive nuclear weapons information – are still having trouble complying with security regulations. In January, the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General asserted that a Los Alamos classification officer had erroneously approved the release of classified information and said the lab had poorly trained its classification employees. In 2004, the laboratory’s director suspended the lab’s operations to fix problems that included the loss of classified computer disks, and in 2006, police responding to a domestic violence call at an employee’s home discovered thumb drives from the lab that contained classified information, along with illicit drugs. Those events helped provoke the Government Accountability Office to say in a 2008 report that Los Alamos “has experienced a series of high-profile security incidents that have drawn attention to the laboratory’s inability to account for and control classified information and maintain a safe work environment.” This week’s infraction notices add to the laboratories’ growing list of national security embarrassments. In one, federal investigators specifically said Los Alamos National Security, LLC, the corporate consortium that manages Los Alamos National Laboratory with a base contract of $2.2 billion annually, could not account for an unspecified piece of classified matter. It was last logged in at Los Alamos in 2007, the report said, shortly before it was supposed to be shipped to the Energy Department’s Nevada National Security Site for disposal. Personnel at the Nevada site did not determine until five years later that the missing material had never been shipped from Los Alamos, according to the notice, which did not explain the lapse. Los Alamos’s internal investigation into the missing material concluded that it was probably destroyed, but turned up no confirming documentation. An investigation by the Energy Department concluded to the contrary that “the probability of undetected removal cannot be regarded as ‘low,’” according to the notice. Energy Department investigators found the lab’s internal investigation to be riddled with factual errors. “The fact that [Los Alamos National Security] didn’t realize this material was missing for five years, and the unreliable nature of their review of it when they did learn about it is very disturbing,” Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, a nonprofit watchdog organization that tracks nuclear labs in that state, said. “It’s particularly troubling because the investigators’ report says it could have had a high level of damage to national security.” In a separate probe, Energy Department investigators similarly found a longstanding security breach went undetected for years at Sandia National Laboratories. Between 2003 and 2011, according to the notice, an unnamed employee of Sandia gave presentations at the lab and in settings open to the public that divulged classified nuclear weapon design information. In some cases, slides from the presentation were handed out on paper to the audiences, or computer disks containing the full presentation were distributed. A supervisor at the lab discovered the breaches in 2012, kicking off an Energy Department investigation that eventually turned up 47 versions of the employee’s presentation saved on unsecure servers at Sandia National Laboratory. They were stored there as early as 1997 and were accessible for years to foreign citizens, according to the violation notice. Even after the presentation’s presence on the unsecure network was discovered, Sandia did a sloppy job of purging it from the computer system, according to the notice. The lab searched only for documents with the same title, and overlooked others that lacked that label. Sandia’s internal review reached the same overall conclusions as the Energy Department, according to the notice. Both concluded that classified information about nuclear weapon design was compromised. The $577,500 fine was assessed against the Sandia Corp., the lab’s Lockheed-Martin-owned managing contractor. But Coghlan called it “a slap on the wrist” to a contractor that collected more than $26 million in bonuses and fees last year for managing Sandia. Sandia’s three full-scale nuclear weapon development programs have strained the lab’s capacity to manage classified information, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Sandia continues to experience a significant number of security incidents, topping out at 190 incidents of security concern in FY2014,” according the administration’s last annual performance evaluation of Sandia. “Failure of the workforce to follow established Corporate Policy relative to classification reviews continues to be a [safety and security] management concern.” “Sandia has taken this security issue seriously since becoming aware of it in 2012,” Jim Danneskiold, a spokesman for Sandia, said Friday, after the new notices were published. “After discovering and reporting the issue, Sandia analyzed the causes and identified, developed and carried out a series of improvements that will reduce the likelihood of security violations of this kind.” The Energy Department’s violation notices acknowledged that both labs had made progress correcting the problems that led to the violations. The contractors have until June 26 to contest the fines.
Transportation Security Administration screeners failed to detect weapons and other prohibited items 95 percent of the time in a covert test.