Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Tale of Three Security Cases

Former University of Tennessee Professor J. Reece Roth may spend the rest of his retirement in prison, after being convicted of violating the Arms Export Control Act by allowing foreign graduate students to work on a USAF contract.

And Dr. Roth probably wishes he had the same prosecutors--and juries--who handled the cases of former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Ronald Montaperto, who ran a think tank for U.S. Pacific Command.

You'll recall, of course, that Mr. Berger received a slap on the wrist for "removing" classified documents from the National Archives, in preparation for his testimony before the 9-11 Commission. When his actions were discovered, Berger's cronies from the Clinton White House tried to dismiss it as a case of "slopiness," and the MSM (along with the Bush Justice Department) played along. For his acts, Berger received a $50,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and loss of his security clearance for three years.

Only later--when the National Archives Inspector General belatedly released his report on the matter--did we learn the extent of Mr. Berger's deceit. He removed extremely sensitive documents from a secure area and hid them under a construction trailer at the Archives, for retrival at a later time.

One of the items was a highly classified report that was disseminated to only 15 people at the highest levels of government. As we noted at the time, that limited distribution list suggested a report that was part of a special access program, which requires additional vetting beyond a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (TS/SCI) security clearance.

Had a "mere mortal" (read: active duty military or civil service employee) attempted such a stunt, they would still be a guest of the federal government. As for Mr. Berger, his clearance will be restored just in time to lend expertise to a Barack Obama foreign policy team.

As for Mr. Montaperto, he was sentenced to three months in prison back in 2006, for illegally retaining classified documents, and passing sensitive information to an intelligence officer from the PRC. But a federal judge decided to go easy on Montaperto, after scores of government and military officials wrote letters for their former colleague, urging lieniency in the case.

It's too bad the judge didn't throw the book at him. As the Washington Times reported, questions about Montaperto's activities--and loyalty--dated back more than a decade. While working as a senior China analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the early 1990s, Montaperto applied for a job at the CIA. He flunked a pre-employment polygraph that sugested he might be an espionage threat.

While CIA counter-intelligence officers passed their concerns to DIA, the agency never bothered to follow up. Montaperto remained at the agency until he was hired for the think-tank position in Hawaii. In both jobs, he consistently down-played the potential military threat from Beijing.

Dr. Roth, on the other hand, is looking at a possible sentence of 150 years in prison. He ran afoul of the export control law after agreesing to work as a sub-contractor on an Air Force project that uses plasma actuators on drones. Despite warnings from the primary contractor--and University of Tennessee officials--Roth allowed two foreign graduate students to work on the project, and took data from the research effort to China in 2006.

According to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Roth claimed that the research wasn't covered by the export control act until it actually produced a product. Prosecutors scoffed at that notion, producing Roth's own notes that affirmed the project was covered by export controls.

While Dr. Roth probably won't receive the maximum sentence, it seems likely that he won't escape with a fine and community service, as Mr. Berger did. And, if he goes to jail, it's almost certain that Roth will spend more time behind bars than Ronald Montaperto.

Obviously, the three cases cover different aspects of national security law, and federal judges have a certain degree of latitude in sentencing. But if the retired professor gets the prison term he deserves, it will only raise more questions about the handling of the Montaperto and Berger cases.

Giving foreigners access to sensitive research information is a serious matter. But so is the theft (and destruction) of classified documents, and the transmission of data to a known intelligence operative. In a just world, Dr. Roth would have a couple of "friends" waiting for him in the Big House.


J.R. said...

One more for the pile of "slaps on the wrist": former Atty General Alberto Gonzales mishandled Top Secret and SCI files, and is not even going to be charged. AP report on same. That means his clearance probably won't even be suspended!

When regular schmucks drop the ball on classification there's hell to pay... but somehow senior leadership is never held to the same standard.

jeff said...

Looking over the recent years security incident trends, employees seem to be the largest threat. We spend a lot of time and effort on infrastructure and IT to prevent espoinage. However, the biggest return on investment seems to be security awareness and getting folks to understand that they cannot remove classified material at their discression.