We’ve been following the burgeoning bribery-meet-sex-meets-espionage scandal surrounding the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, which has already brought down two commanders and a senior agent of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). The shocking scandal has it all – two rising officers (both visible minorities and diversity stars of the sort beloved by the image-conscious Navy), an NCIS agent who previously was that service’s Agent of the Year, plus a shady Malaysian businessman nicknamed “Fat Leonard.” Not to mention debauchery and corruption on a truly grand scale. Plus Lady Gaga. Since the charges include selling classified information to foreigners, the national security implications are serious.
And they got a whole lot more serious today, when the U.S. Navy’s intelligence leadership – two top admirals – were placed under suspicion of involvement in the case and had their security clearances suspended. The Washington Post has the rest …
Two U.S. admirals — including the director of naval intelligence — are under investigation as part of a major bribery scandal involving a foreign defense contractor, Navy officials announced Friday night.
Vice Adm. Ted Branch, the service’s top intelligence officer, and Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the Navy’s director of intelligence operations, were placed on leave Friday and their access to classified material was suspended, the Navy said in a statement.
Both admirals are being investigated for their ties to a Singapore-based defense contractor, Glenn Marine Defense Asia, whose chief executive was arrested in September on charges that he bribed other Navy officers into giving him classified information in exchange for prostitutes and cash.
Two Navy commanders and a senior Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent have already been arrested in the case, and a captain was relieved of his ship’s command last month after officials said he was under investigation as well.
But the announcement that two admirals in charge of protecting the Navy’s secrets have been swept up in the investigation makes the case the worst to tar the Navy since the 1991 Tailhook sexual-harassment scandal, which resulted in the demotions, firings or early retirements of more than a dozen admirals.
The Navy did not disclose why Loveless and Branch had drawn the scrutiny of investigators, but said “there is no indication, nor do the allegations suggest, that in either case there was any breach of classified information.” Neither admiral has been charged with a crime or violation and both men retain their rank while the investigation proceeds, the Navy said.
The suspension of two senior intelligence officials, however, raises serious questions about the degree to which national security may have been compromised because of improper contact between Navy officers and Glenn Defense Marine Asia.
Federal prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego have charged the two Navy commanders with passing classified information about ship and submarine movements to Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian national and the chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine.
Navy contracting officials raised suspicions about Francis — who is known as “Fat Leonard” in Navy circles because of his imposing girth — as far back as 2005. But prosecutors allege he was able to dodge scrutiny by bribing Navy officers and the NCIS agent for inside information about law-enforcement probes and contract reviews.
To recruit the moles, Francis plied the officers with female escorts, cash, paid travel and other perks, including tickets to a Lady Gaga concert in Thailand and the Lion King musical in Japan, according to court records.
Glenn Defense Marine has serviced and supplied Navy ships and submarines at ports around the Pacific for a quarter-century. Prosecutors, however, allege that the firm routinely overbilled for everything from tugboats to fuel to sewage disposal, defrauding the Navy of more than $10 million.
Got that? The Navy’s two top intelligence admirals are under suspicion – of what, exactly, isn’t quite clear yet. No doubt it will be cleared up in time. Given the Chinese angle hanging over this shocking case, be prepared for surprises …