Jury sees classified documents in Tampa trial of retired Special Forces soldier
Tampa Bay Times December 8, 2022
TAMPA (Tribune News Service) — The documents government agents say they found among Jeremy Brown’s belongings last year are so sensitive that the general public can’t see them and a jury in his federal trial could only look at copies inside special binders kept under close guard.
Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew paused briefly Wednesday amid testimony in Brown’s trial to instruct the 15 men and women hearing the case about how they would be able to view the classified materials. They were told to stow their notepads beneath their seats. Information security officers handed black binders to each of them.
The binders each held a clean notepad and copies of four documents: a report on the military’s efforts to respond to improvised explosive attacks in Afghanistan; a report on a roadside bomb attack which wounded three soldiers and killed one; data and analysis about efforts to counter such attacks, and an order with details about how the military investigates them.
“This is information that gives us an advantage over the enemy,” Michael Land, a program analyst at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, said of one of the documents.
A prosecutor asked Land repeatedly: If the information was released publicly, could it harm national security?
“Yes, sir,” Land said.
Brown, 48, served 20 years in the U.S. Army, much of that time in the Special Forces. He held a secret security clearance for most of his time in service, but that clearance ended in 2012 when he retired. Rules did not allow for secret materials to leave military control.
Brown is charged with 10 separate federal crimes including possession of unregistered firearms, possession of a destructive device and unauthorized possession of documents related to national defense.
Brown is also among the defendants who have been accused of breaching the U.S. Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021. Although he faces a separate criminal charge in Washington D.C., his alleged involvement in the riot has scarcely been mentioned in the Tampa trial.
Federal agents searched his Tampa home last year and said they found two illegal guns, a pair of hand grenades and a CD that held classified documents.
Court records link Brown to the Oath Keepers extremist group, which has been accused in a plot to disrupt certification of the 2020 presidential election results.
Brown ran an unsuccessful campaign for Florida House of Representatives while jailed awaiting trial.
In opening statements earlier this week, defense attorney Roger Futerman told the jury that agents planted the CD and hand grenades on Brown’s property. He suggested that they wanted to frame Brown in retaliation for his refusal to become a confidential informant.
As a string of government and military officials took the witness stand this week, Futerman questioned them about why the CD was not listed in an evidence log, and whether anyone could say how it ended up inside a recreational vehicle that belonged to Brown’s girlfriend.
The CD bore a red sticker marked “secret.” A header on the four documents labeled them the same.
Most of the information they contained had to do with the Army’s efforts to deal with improvised explosive devices — known as IEDs, or roadside bombs.
Land explained that IEDs were a vexing problem for the military in Afghanistan. Many such devices, he said, were detonated by remote control — a scenario in which a triggerman near the bomb transmits a radio signal for it to explode. To counter such efforts, the military sometimes tried to jam the radio signal. Details of those efforts were contained in some of the documents.
The binders the jury examined were collected from them afterward. They will be given back to the jurors when they start deliberating the case.
Brown faces an additional charge for a fifth classified document, which he authored, that agents said they also found among his belongings.
That document was referred to in court as a “trip report” from 2011. It related to search efforts for a missing soldier.
In the trial, it was revealed that the missing soldier was Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in 2009 after he walked away from his post in Afghanistan. His disappearance spurred a massive search in which Brown was involved.
Bergdahl was released in 2014 as part of a prisoner exchange. His story attracted widespread attention and his actions were the subject of criticism. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy and received a dishonorable discharge.
That same year, military officials received a tip that Brown might have possession of classified material relating to the Bergdahl search.
The nature of the tip was not disclosed to the jury. But prosecutors stated in a court filing that the tip came after Brown was said to have boasted to his former Army colleagues that he’d held onto some classified documents. His intent, one of the former colleagues reported, “appeared to be malicious,” prosecutors wrote.
An Air Force investigator, Andrew Koundarakis, went to Brown’s home in Tampa to check out the tip. He told the jury Wednesday that Brown acknowledged he may have mentioned something to some colleagues about classified information. But he denied he had the Bergdahl document.
Koundarakis said Brown let him search an outbuilding on the property, which held some of his military items. But Brown refused a search of his home.
The trial could wrap up as soon as Friday. Brown is expected to testify.
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