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Navy won’t punish vice admiral stripped of security clearance during ‘Fat Leonard’ probe

Vice Adm. Ted "Trig" Branch, the former director of Navy intelligence, was stripped of his security clearance amid the Fat Leonard bribery scandal.

U.S. NAVY

By CARL PRINE | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 23, 2017

SAN DIEGO — Fretting about his possible role in the “Fat Leonard” bribery scandal, in late 2013 the Navy stripped the security clearance of its top spy, destroying the career of Vice Adm. Ted “Twig” Branch.

On Friday, the Navy closed its review with what it called appropriate administrative action for Branch, the former director of Navy intelligence.

The U.S. Department of Justice — which has handled the prosecution of those who took bribes from contractor Leonard Glenn Francis and his Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia — brought no charges against Branch.

“The Department of Justice declined to prosecute Vice Adm. Ted Branch and forwarded his matter to the Department of the Navy’s Consolidated Disposition Authority,” said Navy Fleet Forces Command spokesman Cmdr. Mike Kafka in a written statement. “After completing a thorough and detailed review of the evidence, the CDA took appropriate administrative action. This matter is closed.”

Administrative action can include a non-punitive letter of reprimand or an oral counseling chiding a sailor for questionable conduct. Unlike other judicial or military sanctions, administrative action cannot take pay and privileges from a shipmate.

“We are very proud of my 37 years of service in the Navy,” Branch said by telephone. “The last three years were extremely difficult for my family and me, but we are glad now to turn the page. I look forward to being able to continue to serve the Navy and our nation as a civilian.”

Helmed by Adm. Philip Davidson, the disposition authority has been sifting through hundreds of cases that federal prosecutors passed on. Federal investigators have uncovered widespread instances of Francis defrauding the Navy on contracts after lavishing officers with teams of prostitutes, pricey resort stays and envelopes stuffed with cash.

Federal prosecutors and Navy leaders have charged 40 sailors, Department of Defense civilians or Fat Leonard associates in the scandal, including Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless, the Navy’s former director of intelligence operations. He has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial in federal criminal court on conspiracy, wire fraud and bribery charges.

Federal investigators grilled Branch in November of 2013, forcing the Navy’s leadership to make hard decisions about Branch’s case, said former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Mabus said by telephone that investigators assured Navy leaders in late 2013 that they had substantial evidence pointing to Branch’s wrongdoing and that they would soon make a decision on charging him.

“Obviously, both of those things weren’t true,” said Mabus, adding that “the way it was handled wasn’t fair to Ted Branch and wasn’t fair to the Navy.”

Mabus and his admirals felt that they couldn’t fire Branch from his intelligence post, but they also fretted that he was close to classified information and they needed to protect that. So they left him in his job but wouldn’t clear him to hear or analyze intelligence data.

What he thought would be settled in weeks ended up dragging on for months, then years.

“As time went on, they (at the Department of Justice) questioned us, ‘Why aren’t you replacing him?’ But we were in a horrible position,” Mabus said. “They made us aware of potential problems, but we had no grounds to relieve him.”

Branch retired from the Navy on Oct. 1 and lives in Coronado.

A highly decorated career aviator recognized repeatedly for combat valor over the skies of Grenada, Lebanon, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq, he now directs a program at the San Diego-based nonprofit group CyberTECH that’s designed to spark technological innovation.

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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