The FBI is investigating a leak of more than 1,000 pages of highly sensitive classified documents from a critical American air and space intelligence unit, Forbes has learned.
The files were taken home by a contractor at the U.S. Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) based out of Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, according to a search warrant filed June 21. NASIC is a Department of Defense intelligence unit that analyses intelligence on foreign air, cyber and space threats. That includes intelligence on military systems and equipment of other nation states.
“This case is particularly concerning given the intelligence mission, with implications across U.S. security apparatus not just housed at the base,” said Graham Brookie, a former U.S. government advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism.
The files, many of which were marked ‘TOP SECRET,’ were uncovered by the Fairborn City Police Department on May 25, the FBI wrote in its search warrant application. Officers came upon the files as they were investigating an alleged “marijuana growing facility” believed to have been located at the home of the suspect, Izaak Vincent Kemp, according to the warrant. The police did find marijuana, but the case was escalated to the FBI after the discovery of the classified papers, the warrant revealed.
The documents should have had especially strong safeguards from leaking as they were marked as being protected by “Special Access Programs.” Such files are deemed so sensitive they require additional security beyond what’s normally provided for classified files and should only be stored in segregated, highly protected environments.
The Air Force said the contractor was never authorized to remove the classified documents from the NASIC “and would have had to make a concerted effort to bypass security checkpoints” when taking them home, the search warrant read. The government did not reveal just what was contained in the files.
Little is known about Kemp, though public records indicate he’s 33 years old, while he is listed as a past student of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, where he wrote papers on technologies for applications in aerospace. No charges have been filed against anyone with his name, either in state or local court, according to searches of government records databases. The search warrant didn’t detail his job title or employer, but did note he was “known to work on computers” in his role at the intelligence center and had a top secret security clearance.
Kemp declined to talk to Forbes. His counsel, Mark Wieczorek, from the Columbus-based Joslyn Law Firm, said he didn’t have a comment “at this time.”
Kemp admitted to police that he’d printed the files at work and had simply taken them home “for storage,” according to the government’s narrative. After being questioned, he gave consent for police to seize and search his laptop, phone and hard drive.
The FBI said it had no comment. The U.S. attorney’s office for southern Ohio said the investigation was ongoing, no charges have been filed and so it wouldn’t be commenting. The Wright-Patterson Air Force Base had not provided comment at the time of publication.
That the files were taken from NASIC is a concern given the information it holds, said Jim Lewis, a former U.S. foreign service officer and now senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think tank. If the government’s account is accurate, Kemp “has access to a lot of good data,” Lewis said. “NASIC is one of the big centers they have to look at foreign military airspace activities and technologies. So, it’s good stuff.”
“Usually when people take these things they mean to sell them to someone . . . normally it’d be the Chinese,” he added, noting the intent was not specified in the court document.
As for what the investigation indicates regarding the prevention of such leaks, Lewis added: “Security wasn’t tight enough if they only found it by stumbling on his dope farm.”
“Leaks of top secret material are always serious and almost always require some degree of premeditation—as opposed to impulse—because of the complex, layered systems in place to guard that material,” added Brookie, who’s now director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab.
The probe into Kemp’s actions is reminiscent of the investigation into Harold T. Martin III, a contractor at the NSA who was arrested for taking classified files home from work whilst a Booz Allen Hamilton employee. It was alleged Martin took home much more data than Kemp, though: up to 50 terabytes about NSA operations. He pleaded guilty in March to willful retention of government property and faces up to nine years in jail when he’s sentenced later this month.
Source: Forbes/ Thomas Brewster