Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Imposter at MacDill

From a security standpoint, this is hardly reassuring. From Tampa Bay On-line, the website of WFLA-TV and the Tampa Tribune:

When security personnel at the MacDill Air Force Base's Dale Mabry Highway gate detained Scott Allan Bennett in April, it appeared to be a simple case of a service member suspected of driving under the influence.

But that stop led to an investigation that ended with Bennett accused of something far more serious – breaching security at the home of U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and the 6th Air Mobility Wing.

Bennett, 39, was accused of obtaining base housing under false pretenses by pretending to be an aide to Special Ops head Adm. Eric Olson and storing a large amount of weapons and ammunition in the housing he was not supposed to have, according to federal court papers filed last month by Edward Garcia, a supervisory detective with the Air Force police at MacDill.

According to authorities, Mr. Bennett was a civilian intelligence analyst, working for BoozAllenHamilton, when he showed up at the base housing office in January of last year. However, Bennett identified himself as an aide to Admiral Eric Olson, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, which is headquartered at MacDill. Bennett told a housing officer that he had just returned from a visit to Afghanistan with Olson, who directed him to get base quarters "as soon as possible."

In his conversation at the housing office, Bennett mis-identified Admiral Olson as the head of U.S. Central Command, not Special Ops Command. The staffer never picked up on the mistake. Later, when they asked for a copy of his permanent change-of-station orders, Bennett told housing officials they were "Top Secret" and he would need CENTCOM's approval to provide them.

As you might have guessed, PCS orders are never classified. But again, the housing office never picked up on Bennett's deceit--or perhaps they were afraid to challenge him, based on claims that he was Olson's aide.

Bennett formally applied for base housing on 19 January 2010, and moved in 10 days later. On the application form, the 39-year-old Bennett identified himself as an active-duty Army officer, assigned to the 11th Psychological Operations Battalion, which was organized during the Vietnam War and disbanded in 1971.

Obviously, if Bennett was Olson's aide, he would have been assigned to SOCOM Headquarters, not a disbanded psyop battalion. But once again, base officials failed to spot the obvious holes in his story.

Bennett's little fraud might have continued indefinitely, if not for his own carelessness. In April of last year, he was arrested for DUI while entering the main gate at MacDill. Security personnel discovered unauthorized weapons in Bennett's car and in his base quarters. He was subsequently fired from BoozAllenHamilton and booted from base housing.

And his problems don't end there. He was arrested in Washington, D.C., last week on charges of violating a defense property security agreement and making a false statement on matters within the jurisdiction of the federal government. He was released on bond; a hearing in the matter is scheduled for this week.

Bennett's attorney says the charges are "overblown" and predicts that his client will be exonerated. But the facts (as they are) seem fairly clear. As an Army reserve officer, Bennett wasn't eligible for base housing, but he lied about his job to obtain quarters on post. Additionally, he failed to provide required documentation to support his housing request. Seems almost cut-and-dried to us.

But the real story here is how easy Bennett obtained base quarters. Ask any military member who's tried to obtain on-post housing in a metro area like Tampa. The list for NCOs and junior officers is typically quite long; it's not unusual to spend a couple of years waiting for base quarters. Bennett's neighbors must have been angry when they learned that he breezed into base housing just 10 days after submitting his application.

Base quarters at MacDill (like many DoD installations) are run by a private developer. The firm in charge of MacDill housing, AMC East Communities, declined comment on the matter. At a minimum, we'd say the firm needs to tighten up its procedures for determining eligibility for post housing and coordinating with other base agencies. We're also guessing that MacDill's host unit, the 6th Mobility Wing, has conducted its own review, to ensure that everyone in base housing is authorized to live there, and that none of the residents have any "undisclosed" weapons caches.


Vigilis said...

Very interesting indeed. Either a dismissal or conviction would tell us what his likely undercover purpose really was.

If, on the other hand, he is never heard of again, it will be a much tougher story. My guess, however, and I certainly hope to be proven wrong, is that Scott Allan Bennett gets a new identity and we will not learn more about this bizarre episode.

TOF said...

Sounds to me like some reservist who knew enough about the system to take advantage of some obvious weaknesses and get a free ride. Talk about hubris.