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Marine Generals Questioned in Pendleton Intell Case

* Editor’s Note: In October 2007 I broke this story while working for a newspaper in San Diego. I later interviewed Gary Maziarz following his release from the Camp Pendleton brig. Because of that interview, the Marine Corps recalled Maziarz to active duty and charged him with violating his plea agreement by speaking to the media. His defense attorney subpoenaed me to testify at his court-martial. I fought the subpoena, but lost. In July, Maziarz was acquitted of all charges. I never took the stand.

** Military investigators quietly quit this case some months ago when the chief suspect in the case, Col. Larry Richards, died just days before he was to go to trial. This isn’t a story, it’s a book. Gen. James Conway has since retired and Gen. James Mattis now runs U.S. Central Command. When I look into my crystal ball, I see more being written about this.

By Rick Rogers

The case of an intelligence breach at Camp Pendleton that began more than three years ago when naval investigators stumbled upon stolen national security documents has taken an intriguing turn.

Two of the Marine Corps’ most revered generals have now been questioned about an alleged ring of reservists who military prosecutors say operated under their watches and funneled domestic intelligence to law enforcement in Los Angeles County.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents asked Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway and Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command, if they had tacitly approved the transfer of intelligence to the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning Group while in command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Pendleton.

Both generals, according to government files obtained by DefenseTracker, strongly denied any knowledge of a rogue intelligence-network that prosecutors say broke laws by delivering counter-terrorism information to the Los Angeles anti-terrorism group or allowing it to happen.

“This case is electric. It raises fundamental questions about the role of our military, our law enforcement agencies and our intelligence network,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Federation of American Scientists project on government secrecy in Washington, D.C. The organization works to reduce government secrecy and to promote reform of official secrecy practices.

Two NCIS agents questioned Conway and Mattis separately at their Pentagon offices on Sept. 16, according to unclassified files obtained by DefenseTracker.

Conway told investigators he knew nothing about intelligence being passed by his information operations section to Los Angeles law enforcement while in command of the 1st MEF from 2002 through 2004. He called such acts “reprehensible and unacceptable,” according to a case report.

The commandant added that he passed a polygraph examination that covered the issue of information sharing.

During his interview with NCIS agents, Mattis, who commanded 1st MEF after Conway before leaving in 2007, said he never approved of intelligence being shared with civilian law enforcement agency.

“Mattis explained that such activities (sharing intelligence data) were not allowed and that he was fully aware of the appropriate interactions between civil and military authorities due to experiences in previous assignments,” according to an NCIS report.

Aftergood said federal law makes certain disclosures of specified national security secrets a crime. For example, he said there are statutes prohibiting disclosures of national defense information and intercepted communications or codes. Other statues restrict the disclosure of restricted data, including the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and the Internal Security Act.

Mattis mentioned one interaction with the Los Angeles County law enforcement. He said he met with former Los Angeles Police Department Chief William Bratton to discuss anti-gang tactics that his Marines might use against insurgents in Iraq.

“Mattis said only tactics were discussed and that no intelligence was passed between LAPD and 1st MEF,” read a section of the two-page NCIS case report done on the meeting.

The naval investigative branch issued a statement about meeting with the generals.

“NCIS investigations routinely include the interviews of individuals in position to assist in determining the factual circumstances surrounding the allegations.

“In this case, the interviews of Marine commanders were conducted to clearly understand the context and status of policy that may have been germane to the NCIS investigation, which continues. Neither Gen. Conway nor Gen. Mattis are accused of any wrongdoing.”

The NCIS declined to say whether the generals were read their legal rights prior to questioning or if they had lawyers present.

Commanders can be disciplined for the transgressions of their subordinates. For example, the captain of a ship can be relieved of command if a junior officer runs the vessel aground or even charged with dereliction of duty.

The central question hanging over the case is what did Conway and Mattis know or should have known about the actions of their subordinates. Should a credible witness step forward saying the generals knew and condoned Marines passing federal intelligence to local law enforcement, it could be very damaging.

But military legal experts briefed on the questioning doubted that either Conway or Mattis would be charged short of overwhelming evidence.

“Not a chance in hell,” said Colby Vokey, a former regional defense counsel at Camp Pendleton, where he directed defense services for Marine bases west of the Mississippi. Vokey now practices military law in Texas.

Sparking the NCIS inquiries are the incendiary claims by former Gunnery Sgt. Gary Maziarz that Conway and Mattis each knew and approved of “some of the most sensitive information in the world” going to the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning Group.

The Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning Group was composed of two-dozen local, state and federal agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Secret Service and the FBI.

In July 2006, Los Angeles County law enforcement christened the Joint Regional Intelligence Center in Norwalk to take over the function of the LA TEW, but over a seven-county region composed of Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

NCIS agents stumbled upon the intelligence case in October 2006. While investigating Maziarz for stealing government property from a Camp Pendleton armory, they found more then 100 classified files along with war trophies from Iraq.

An ensuing search of storage units Maziarz rented in Carlsbad, Ca., and Manassas, Va., produced 250 pages of secret defense files suggesting an intelligence breach at the Marine Corps base.

At his July 2007 court-martial, Maziarz said patriotism motivated him and others to break national security laws to thwart terrorist attacks on the United States emanating from Los Angles County. He said bureaucratic walls were keeping federal information from those who needed it most.

“I decided to make a difference and act,” Maziarz testified at his court-martial at Camp Pendleton. A Marine reservist, he had picked through the rubble in New York City looking for survivors after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

A former intelligence analyst in the information operations unit at Camp Pendleton, Maziarz was sent to prison for 26 months after pleading guilty to mishandling classified materials and stealing government property in July 2007. Maziarz faced decades in prison before agreeing to plea bargain deal with prosecutors.

Since Maziarz’ arrest in October 2006, six Marine and one Navy reservist have been implicated or charged with mishandling national security intelligence at Camp Pendleton.

Maj. Mark Lowe, 46, is the most recent service member to appear in military court. The Marine Corps charged him in July with conspiracy, dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming an officer and wrongful handling of national defense documents.

Lowe is accused of first allowing intelligence to be passed to individuals who didn’t have a right to see it and later playing an active role in supplying such information.

At a preliminary hearing in October, an attorney for Lowe raised eyebrows when he said, Gens. Mattis and Conway knew that this was going on “and they didn’t seem to mind.”

Recently Lowe’s case was referred to a court-martial. He is expected to go to trial next year.

Maziarz told investigators in July 2008, according to NCIS reports, that he believed the group had “top cover” to pass information about alleged terrorist and their sympathizers in Southern California to the Los Angeles anti-terrorism group.

He said Col. Larry Richards, his former commander at the Strategic Technical Operations Center, where highly sensitive intelligence was managed, referred to a “top cover” arrangement.

“Col. Richards has always said that we had “top cover,” Maziarz testified at Lowe’s hearing. “Basically, we acted with impunity.”

Maziarz interpreted that to mean that Conway and possibly Mattis – who commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at different times between 2002 and 2007 — would use their influence to shield them in the event of an investigation.

“I question whether Gen. Mattis was involved or had any knowledge of what was going on,” Maziarz testified in October. “Mattis and Richards did not get along. I have a much stronger feeling that Richards kept Conway apprised of what was going on.”

The Marine Corps declined to comment on the case.

Maziarz said Richards and Conway had a particularly close working relationship and that Conway had approved a Bronze Star for the colonel based on his intelligence work in Iraq.

A call to Richard’s military attorney, Marine Lt. Col. Jon Shelburne, seeking comment went unreturned.

During an interview with DefenseTracker, Maziarz also mentioned what he perceived as other forms of encouragement.

He said Conway approved office space for the reservists in a sensitive intelligence center — known as the Secure Compartmented Information Facility – and then allowed them to stay after at least one Marine security officer questioned their need to be there.

“He (Conway) made sure we got all of our equipment,” Maziarz said. “But the biggest thing was working in the SCIF. There was no reason for us to have an office in the top secret SCIF faculty because we didn’t have a need to know. But Conway decided that we had a need to know.”

“Mattis reaffirmed our need to know because he kept us in place and demanded more information for us in relation to deployed operations.”

In August 2006, Lt. Gen. Conway, who looks like he walked straight from central casting, was promoted to four-star general and became 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps that November.

In the book “The Iraq War,” Conway is described as “big, buff, well-read and well-educated … He represented all that was best about the new United States Marine Corps.”

Mattis, known for re-coining the phrase “no better friend, no worse enemy” to describe his Marine forces in Iraq and nicknamed the “Warrior Monk,” is a walking legend among war-fighters and rumored to be a top candidate to one day run the U.S. Central Command.

“The joke (among the Marines providing intelligence to the Los Angeles TEW) was that if we had top cover before, we really had when Gen. Conway became commandant,” Maziarz said in an interview.

The questioning Conway and Mattis faced apparently did not extend to how Richards, 52, and David Litaker, 55, – both Marine reserve colonels with direct ties to law enforcement in Los Angeles County — came to be assigned to the sensitive intelligence post.

Richards was a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy and co-founder of the LA TEW, and Litaker was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department.

In his position as intelligence chief at Camp Pendleton, Richards had direct access to highly classified files, including CIA and FBI reports that he could not legally share.

“When you learn something on active duty, how do you unlearn it in your civilian job, especially if it is the same job?” Maziarz said of Richards’s dual role.

In 1996, John Sullivan and Richards, both members of the Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department, began the Los Angeles County Terrorism Early Warning Group as way for federal agencies, first responders and local law enforcement officers to exchange information about potential terror threats.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Los Angeles TEW became a template for other cities and states. Former Department of Homeland chief Tom Ridge hailed the organization in 2003 during a speech in Los Angeles.

“Let me also say a word about your Terrorism Early Warning Group. It is a model for other cities and states. I am really looking forward to seeing the operation up close later today,” Ridge said.
The Los Angeles organization that Richards had helped create might have been a beacon for others to emulate, but that didn’t mean that it was worthy to share truly top-tier intelligence.

Even after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal intelligence agencies routinely refused to share intelligence with local agencies like the TEW. The sharing issue existed then and it continues today.

In March, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee held a hearing on intelligence sharing.

At the hearing nonfederal authorities repeated their long-standing lament that they are not fully included in the homeland security intelligence process.

Harman served as the keynote speaker at TEW’s 2006 conference. Though she heads a committee that could hold hearings into the apparent mishandling of state secrets at Camp Pendleton, apparently none are contemplated.

Calls to the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security asking if the Camp Pendleton case is on its radar were not returned.

The Marine Corps charged Richards in June with conspiracy, dereliction of duty, violating regulations, making a false official statement, conduct unbecoming an officer and soliciting others to commit offenses in connection with the leaking of classified information.

Litaker has not been charged.

Richards and Litaker worked together at the Strategic Technical Operations Center at Camp Pendleton, where Litaker was Richards’ deputy before becoming the chief once Richards was released from active duty in the summer of 2004.

Maziarz testified that the same year Richards was demobilized that the colonel recruited him to replace him in filching classified documents from Camp Pendleton.
Government investigators have yet to detail the full nature and scope of the intelligence allegedly passed, though Maziarz has claimed it centered on the activities of suspected terrorists – mostly people of Muslim decent — and their sympathizers in Southern California.

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties joined Islamic organizations in calling for congressional hearings into the matter in May 2008.

David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial counties, said he was not aware of any hearings.

Blair-Loy said the ACLU is also awaiting information it requested under a Freedom of Information Act more than a year ago about the content of the files that were allegedly passed to Los Angeles law enforcement.

In interviews, Maziarz, 40, said he handed over “dozens of files” to the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning Group that were dossiers on Muslims and Arabs living in Southern California.

Maziarz said he routinely plucked intelligence from secure government computer networks at Camp Pendleton for Richards and the LA TEW.

He called the practice “data mining” and said that information from the FBI, Defense Intelligence Agency, CIA and National Security Agency was passed along.

“Some of the most sensitive information in the world,” Maziarz called it.

According to NCIS case reports and testimony provided by Maziarz, one or more reservist used Richards’ logon and password to access confidential computer accounts on the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System and Secret Internet Protocol Router Network after he was deactivated from duty.

A person close to the case said a search of Richard’s office and home uncovered a huge amount of intelligence information reaching back to the 1990s.

FBI agent Randy Thomas testified at Lowe’s hearing that “enormous amounts of documents” were found in Richards’ possession, which represented “hundreds if not thousands of files.” He said “eight or nine classified files” were found at the offices of the Los Angeles Terrorism Early Warning Group.

“Other than hording it, it is unclear what he was trying to so with it,” Thomas said.

Marine prosecutors have not alleged that any of the information – which is believed to have included a large numbers of FBI, National Security Agency and CIA files – ever reached foreign hands.

Richards and Maziarz have told NCIS investigators that Lauren Martin, a naval reserve commander working as a civilian intelligence analyst at the U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, played a pivotal role in the operation by passing along Southern California-specific information.

Richards told NCIS investigators, according to an unclassified report dated Dec. 16. 2006, that Martin was sending him “high side” national intelligence through Maziarz concerning civilian investigations he was working on.

In an unclassified NCIS report dated Feb. 14, 2007, Litaker told investigators that Richards was getting “some sort of report from NORTHCOM.”

“Almost weekly, Cmdr. Martin would e-mail me information to tell Col. Richards, or Col. Richards would ask me to pass information to Cmdr. Martin,” Maziarz said during his court-martial.
Sometimes, Maziarz said, he handed intelligence documents to law enforcement officers whom Richards had sent to Camp Pendleton.

When asked why Martin had not been charged in the case, a Marine prosecutor said “because she is in the Navy and we have no authority over her.” He did not elaborate.

The U.S. Northern Command was created in October 2002 to oversee Defense Department homeland security efforts and to coordinate defense support of civil authorities.

Its area of responsibility encompasses the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and the surrounding water out to about 575 miles. It also includes the Gulf of Mexico, the Straits of Florida and portions of the Caribbean to include The Bahamas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The support that the Colorado Springs-based command can provide civil authorities is limited under the Posse Comitatus Act, which limits the role of the U.S. military in domestic law enforcement.

In October 2008, the Army’s 1st Brigade Combat Team was assigned to U.S. Northern Command, marking the first time an active unit had been assigned to Northern Command. The force will serve as an on-call federal response force for terrorist attacks and other natural or man-made emergencies and disasters.

Where related cases stand:

* In October 2009, Master Sgt. Reinaldo Pagan was acquitted of four specifications of dereliction of duty while serving as the senior staff non-commissioned officer of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Information Operations Cell at Camp Pendleton. He was also acquitted of one specification of violation dereliction of duty for improperly handling and safeguarding classified materials.

He was found guilty of one specification of dereliction of duty for willfully failing to prevent the sharing of passwords on unclassified and classified government computer systems; one specification of violation of making a false statement. He was also found guilty of three specifications of violating federal criminal laws for unlawfully removing and retaining classified materials at an unauthorized location; unlawful possession of a stolen firearm and for wrongful possession of a machine gun.

He was sentenced to reduction in rank to gunnery sergeant, 60 days confinement and a fine of $597.

* Col. Larry J. Richards has been recalled to active duty, and is facing charges that include conspiracy, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming of an officer in addition to the wrongful transmission, retention and/or use of classified material.

* Maj. Mark Lowe was charged in July with conspiracy, dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming an officer and wrongful handling of national defense documents.

* Gunnery Sgt. Eric Froboese pled guilty in June dereliction of duty, disobeying regulations and conspiracy and is awaiting sentencing. He is expected to testify in future cases if called upon.

* Gary Maziarz was convicted at a general court-martial in 2007 and given 26 months confinement in the Camp Pendleton brig in a plea bargain deal.

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