By JOSH GERSTEIN 08/16/16 11:42 AM EDT
Federal prosecutors are rejecting a Navy sailor’s effort to seek leniency by comparing his taking of classified photos on a nuclear submarine to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server authorities say contained highly-classified information.
In a court filing late Monday night, prosecutors asked a federal judge to send Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier to prison for more than five years for keeping six cell-phone pictures taken inside classified spaces of the U.S.S. Alexandria in 2009.
“The defendant is grasping at highly imaginative and speculative straws in trying to…draw a comparison to the matter of Sec. Hilary Clinton based upon virtually no understanding and knowledge of the facts involved, the information at issue, not to mention any issues if [sic] intent and knowledge,” prosecutors wrote.
Saucier’s defense attorney argued in a submission last week that it would be unfair to impose a prison sentence on his client when Clinton’s email account was found to contain eight chains with “Top Secret” information and 36 with “Secret” information. Prosecutors and the FBI closed that investigation last month without filing charges against Clinton or anyone else.
The contrast is fueling longstanding complaints that senior officials accused of mishandling classified information often get little or no punishment, while more junior-ranking offenders can be hit with severe consequences.
Saucier’s defense is urging U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill to give Saucier probation when he is sentenced on Friday in a Bridgeport, Conn. courtroom.
In addition to more celebrated cases, the defense notes that two of the sailor’s shipmates took similar photos in the same sub and received far more modest punishment, including a $560 docking of pay and—in one instance—a one-grade reduction in rank. One of those sailors is expected to be commissioned as an officer soon.
However, prosecutors say those episodes involved sailors who each took a single “selfie” in the engine room “while Saucier methodically documented the entire propulsion system of the nuclear submarine, including the design of its nuclear compartment and its nuclear reactor.”
“They are not the type of photographs that one would take to commemorate one’s service,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors are vague about what Saucier’s purpose was in taking the photos, referring ominously in their filing to a trip Saucier took to Mexico and to an “African Dream” phone card found after apparently being hidden at his home.
The government has not explicitly alleged that any espionage was afoot, but says Saucier showed the photos to his ex-wife and woman he was later living with as well as two other sailors on the Alexandria. All said that Saucier “understood that he was not allowed to” take the photos.
After being confronted by investigators in 2012, Saucier compounded his problems by destroying a laptop, camera and memory card and throwing the laptop in the woods.
Clinton has said she believed her email account contained no classified information, although authorities later determined that it did. None of the messages were properly marked as classified, although three contained stray paragraph markings that signaled the presence of classified information. FBI Director James Comey has said, however, that someone in Clinton’s position should have realized that some of the subjects being discussed were not appropriate for an unclassified system.
The Navy, through Rear Admiral Charles Richard, Director of the Undersea Warfare Division for the Chief of Naval Operations, also submitted a “victim impact statement” Monday urging a tough sentence for Saucier.
“The information Mr. Saucier captured in his photographs is crucial information related to the design and operation of nuclear-powered submarines,” Richard wrote. “If this information were ever to be obtained by a foreign adversary, it would provide them with the opportunity to close the gap in capabilities, which would require an extraordinary effort and resources to restore it….Resources will now be needed to develop information and technologies to respond to information Mr. Saucier exposed.”
One challenge to winning a long sentence in the case is that the most sensitive photos Saucier took have been classified as “confidential,” which is the lowest tier of classified information, although they are also separately restricted as nuclear-related information.
While prosecutors say Saucier’s conduct risked “potentially grave damage” to national security and the Navy claims “a serious and lasting adverse impact” from the sailor’s actions, those kinds of phrases are more typically applied to information the government safeguards as “Secret,” corresponding to data whose disclosure is expected to cause “serious” damage to national security, or “Top Secret,” corresponding to “exceptionally grave” damage to national security.
It’s possible that logistical and practical reasons lead the Navy to deliberately treat some of the sub-related nuclear information at a lower classification level than it might otherwise qualify for. Designating it as “secret” or higher could impose tighter security clearance requirements and require greater vigilance against disclosure.
In March, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urged agencies to consider the possibility of doing away with the “confidential” level of classification.
At three points, the government sentencing memo submitted Monday urges a 63-month sentence for Saucier. At one point, it proposes a sentence of 72 months—or six years —as appropriate “to serve both to deter future conduct and promote respect for the law.”
The Navy submission appears to advocate an even more severe sentence, urging that the judge sentence Saucier “at the high end of the applicable range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines,” which prosecutors have agreed runs from 63 to 78 months.
The 29-year old sailor, who is awaiting an “other than honorable” discharge from the Navy, faces a maximum possible sentence of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/blogs/under-the-radar/2016/08/kristian-saucier-sentencing-clinton-227052#ixzz4HWvDK8dt
Source: Feds reject Clinton comparison in classified sub photos case – POLITICO