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Generals and admirals caught in sex scandals could lose clearances under defense funding bill

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., holds up a copy of an inspector general's report at a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on senior military leader misconduct, on Feb. 7, 2018 on Capitol Hill. According to a report on Thursday, Aug. 2, an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act would require the Pentagon to investigate senior officials guilty of sexual assault, harassment and fraud to determine if they should retain their security clearances.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA TODAY | Published: August 3, 2018

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Generals, admirals and senior Pentagon civilians caught in sex scandals could lose their valuable access to classified information – even in retirement – under a new bill passed Wednesday by the Senate.

An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act would require the Pentagon to investigate senior officials guilty of sexual assault, harassment and fraud to determine if they should retain their security clearances. The measure passed last week in the House, and the Senate approved the legislation Wednesday. It now awaits President Trump’s signature.

Continued access to top secret information in retirement is often required by defense contractors offering lucrative jobs.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed the amendment in part after reporting by USA TODAY and other news media on a spate of scandals involving senior officers and sexual misconduct.

The act authorizes $717 billion in military spending. The Senate’s action, by a 87-10 vote, approves a compromise reached with the House.

“For too long, lax punishment of senior military officers has let these violators get off easy and failed to deter other transgressions,” Speier said. “The security clearances that retired military officers hold even after they retire is worth its weight in gold.

“Those who have been found to commit crimes should not retain those clearances. Increasing the likelihood misconduct committers lose their clearances is an important step in the right direction,” Speier said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue increasing accountability and justice in the military.”

Culture of accountability

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the passage of the defense bill means “it is now our duty to implement these policies responsibly and ensure a culture of performance and accountability.”

Speier’s amendment directs Mattis to conduct a security clearance background re-investigation under expedited procedures for military brass and senior civilians ensnared in sex scandals.

Loss of a security clearance can cost a retired officer tens of thousands of dollars per year, said Mark Zaid, a Washington-based national security attorney. Defense contractors often require employees to have access to classified information before hiring a retired officer.

Just one Army general out of 14 from 2015 through August 2017 had his security clearance revoked after being issued a memorandum of reprimand, according to Pentagon records obtained by USA TODAY. Such a memo is typically a career-killing action taken after misconduct has been found.

That officer, David Haight, was busted from a two-star officer to a lieutenant colonel after his extramarital affair and allegations of a swinging lifestyle became public.

Twelve were allowed to retain their clearances in retirement, and the other general continued to serve on active duty and kept his clearance.

All of the armed services would be affected by the measure, including the Navy, which is struggling with one of its worst-ever scandals. Named after the defense contractor who lavished money, meals and prostitutes on officers in return for information that allowed him to gouge the Navy for his services in the Pacific, the “Fat Leonard” saga has prompted the investigation of dozens of admirals.

In February, Speier and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., held a hearing on senior officer misconduct prompted by reporting on unethical behavior.

There have been 590 substantiated allegations of misconduct among generals, admirals and senior civilian officials from 2013 to 2017, although trends show a steady decline in misbehavior, according to figures by the Defense Department Inspector General.

But the overall number of complaints against senior officials has more than doubled since 2008. Investigators received 395 complaints in 2008 against generals, admirals and senior civilians. In 2017, there were 803 complaints.

The number of substantiated allegations of misconduct peaked in 2013 at 167 cases and dropped to its lowest point in 2017 with 58. In fiscal year 2017 there were 963 generals and admirals in the ranks and another 1,364 senior civilian officials with an equivalent rank.

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