The New Yorker alleges that retired General Michael Flynn, who Donald Trump has chosen to be his National Security Adviser, committed what I’m told is a huge security breach while working in the Pentagon.
The violation was so serious, experts tell me, that it would have gotten any normal Pentagon staffer fired AND subject to a criminal investigation for espionage.
But it didn’t.
Here’s the New Yorker:
Flynn broke rules he thought were stupid. He once told me about a period he spent assigned to a C.I.A. station in Iraq, when he would sometimes sneak out of the compound without the “insane” required approval from C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He had technicians secretly install an Internet connection in his Pentagon office, even though it was forbidden. There was also the time he gave classified information to NATO allies without approval, an incident which prompted an investigation, and a warning from superiors.
It’s unclear from the article if Flynn allegedly did this while he was the top intelligence aide to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, or the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, or perhaps some other position (the article doesn’t make clear what position Flynn had at DOD when this allegedly happened).
I had Top Secret SCI clearances while working in the US Senate on arms control negotiations in the 1990s. When I heard this, my alarm bells went off. So I went and talked to folks who know more about US intelligence than I do, and they were mortified when they read what Flynn had allegedly done.
It is illegal to tamper with or otherwise try to impair or avoid any official government security or monitoring capability. Every time you log on to a US government computer, whether it is unclassified or classified, a statement about all this comes up and you have to press a button on the screen to acknowledge that you’ve read it, understand it, and intend to comply with it, under penalty of criminal prosecution if you don’t. It’s that serious.
Flynn’s offices would likely all have been in Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs, in the vernacular). A SCIF is a super-secure location that guards against electronic surveillance and data leakage — in other words, the SCIF stops the Russians from listening in, and stops you from secretly sending the Russians classified documents (because your communications are being monitored).
The fact that Gen. Flynn is alleged to have violated the security of the SCIF would be a serious violation of Pentagon security protocols. This would have been extra-illegal due to the risk of either Flynn or his staff passing classified information out of the SCIF on a non-secure or unauthorized line, and/or Flynn introducing a virus or malware into the classified systems from the outside, whether intentional or not.
Now, let’s say, arguendo, as some Trump supporters have claimed, that maybe Flynn’s Pentagon office wasn’t inside a SCIF. In the law we call that “a nuance without a difference.” It doesn’t matter what you call the security perimeter of Flynn’s Pentagon office. What matters is that, according to the New Yorker story, it was “forbidden” to install an Internet connect in Flynn’s DOD office, and he did it anyway.
You simply are not permitted to have any channel that the tech and counter-intelligence security people can’t see or monitor for misuse both by the authorized user and by a potentially malicious outside actor like, say, Russian or Chinese cyber-espionage units.
This is a huge deal. In fact, it’s interesting to note that part of the GOP complaint about Hillary’s email server was the fact that she had an unauthorized Blackberry in her State Department Office, which was also a SCIF. And Hillary paid a dear price for her mistake — it may have cost her the election.
The charge that the incoming National Security Adviser, and former head of Defense Intelligence, would be this sloppy with information security, especially after Trump spent the entire campaign savaging Hillary Clinton in part a similar offense, is extremely troubling.
Interestingly, during the GOP convention this year, Flynn told the crowd that not only should Hillary be locked up, but that had he done one-tenth of what Hillary did, he’d have gone to jail. In fact, the allegations are out there, and Flynn hasn’t seen a prison cell.
If Hillary didn’t deserve to be in the White House, then neither does Michael Flynn.