For more than two years, the Navy’s intelligence chief has been stuck with a major handicap: He’s not allowed to know any secrets.
Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch has been barred from reading, seeing or hearing classified information since November 2013, when the Navy learned from the Justice Department that his name had surfaced in a giant corruption investigation involving a foreign defense contractor and scores of Navy personnel.
Worried that Branch was on the verge of being indicted, Navy leaders suspended his access to classified materials. They did the same to one of his deputies, Rear Adm. Bruce F. Loveless, the Navy’s director of intelligence operations.
More than 800 days later, neither Branch nor Loveless has been charged. But neither has been cleared, either. Their access to classified information remains blocked.
Although the Navy transferred Loveless to a slightly less sensitive post, it kept Branch in charge of its intelligence division. That has resulted in an awkward arrangement, akin to sending a warship into battle with its skipper stuck onshore.
Branch can’t meet with other senior U.S. intelligence leaders to discuss sensitive operations, or hear updates from his staff about secret missions or projects. It can be a chore just to set foot in colleagues’ offices; in keeping with regulations, they must conduct a sweep beforehand to make sure any classified documents are locked up.
Some critics have questioned how smart it is for the Navy to retain an intelligence chief with such limitations, for so long, especially at a time when the Pentagon is confronted by crises in the Middle East, the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and other hotspots.
“I have never heard of anything as asinine, bizarre or stupid in all my years,” Norman Polmar, a naval analyst and historian, said in an interview.
In an op-ed in Navy Times last fall, Polmar urged Navy leaders to replace Branch and Loveless for the sake of national security. He cited complaints from several unnamed Navy officers that “intelligence management is being hampered at a moment of great turmoil.”
Cigars and suckling pigs
About the same time, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Justice Department were intensifying an investigation of Glenn Defense Marine Asia, a Singapore-based firm that had resupplied U.S. Navy vessels at Asian ports for a quarter century.
As the case unfolded in federal court, prosecutors described in astonishing detail how Francis had bribed Navy officers with prostitutes, cash-stuffed envelopes, lavish hotel stays, spa treatments, and epicurean dinners featuring champagne, Cuban cigars, Kobe beef and Spanish suckling pigs.
In exchange, prosecutors said, some Navy officials provided Francis with classified information and steered Navy vessels to ports he controlled so he could overcharge the U.S. government for fuel, food, water and other supplies.
On Nov. 8, 2013, late on a Friday night, the Navy announced that Branch and Loveless had been swept up in the case.
The Navy gave no details about what they were alleged to have done. Although the Navy said there was no evidence that either admiral had compromised military secrets, it suspended their access to classified material, saying the move was “prudent given the sensitive nature of their current duties.”
Even if Branch were cleared of wrongdoing by the Justice Department and the Navy tomorrow, he would face a much longer wait to regain access to military secrets.
Pentagon officials said his security clearance would have to be restored by a separate arm of the bureaucracy — the Defense Department’s Central Adjudication Facility — in a process that usually takes months.
Full article: The admiral in charge of Navy intelligence has not been allowed to see military secrets for years (The Washington Post)