In what may come as a surprise to the American public, naval intelligence director Ted Branch has been suspended from accessing classified material for more than two years now after being named in connection with a fraud case currently under investigation by the Justice Department.
The case specifically involves a Singapore-based defense contract company named Glenn Defense Marine Asia, and its president, Leonard Glenn Francis, who bribed Navy officials to disclose classified information and direct ships to his ports.
Francis was arrested in September 2013 after being lured to San Diego by undercover U.S. federal agents, and ultimately plead guilty in January 2015 to fraud and bribery charges.
Over 100 of the Navy’s personnel are still under investigation for divulging state secrets in exchange for cash, prostitutes, expensive dinners and luxury items.
While the Navy publicly claims that there is no evidence that Admiral Branch gave Francis classified information, Branch told the Navy Times in November 2014 that the government’s investigation into his involvement with the case has to do with contracts related to the USS Nimitz which he commanded in 2005.
Nevertheless, Branch has been barred from discussing state secrets with other intelligence officers, and even his own staff. Even more frustrating for Branch, fellow naval officers must secure classified documents before he can enter their respective offices.
Civilian Navy expert Norman Polmar wrote an op-ed for Navy Times in September 2015 describing the absurdity of the situation, writing that “intelligence management is being hampered at a moment of great turmoil.”
“I have never heard of anything as asinine, bizarre, or stupid in all my years,” Polmar said later in an interview.
While it is ludicrous to have a Direct of Naval Intelligence who cannot even look at the information he is supposed to be overseeing, the corruption case Branch is apparently tied to is not insignificant. The U.S. government has been defrauded of approximately $20 million from “millions of dollars in bribes and gifts to scores of U.S. Navy officials,” according to the U.S. attorney in San Diego.
Glenn Defense Marine Asia has been doing business with the U.S. Navy for more than 25 years now.
As for a replacement, the Navy formally nominated Rear Adm. Elizabeth Train to become the new intelligence director in September 2015, but the Senate Armed Services Committee is not expected to bring her nomination up for a vote until July.
Adm. Branch has not been indicted or cleared of any criminal charges to-date.
[Washington Post] [Navy Times]