What happens to people who send classified data through unsecured e-mail channels? Unless his or her name rhymes with Millary Minton, it usually results in legal discipline or prosecution. As a reminder of what happens to rank-and-file Americans who act with gross negligence in retaining and transmitting classified data, The Daily Beast’s Michael Daly spotlights the legal battle of a Marine Corps officer and New York City firefighter who violated the law — in an attempt to warn people of a danger that went tragically ignored:
As the protégé of an accused drug lord with connections to the then Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, Jan might have imagined himself untouchable. But Brezler and Terrell kept pushing and were finally able to pressure the provincial governor into removing Jan from his post, a rare and notable bright spot in the bloodiest province in the bloodiest year of the war.
Now here was that name in the subject line.
“My reaction was visceral, and just seeing his name brought me great concern,” Brezler later testified.
The accompanying message from Terrell read, “Jason, I just got an email from one of my friends in Afghanistan; he just met Sarwar Jan. He is looking for anything we have on him. Do you still have that paper Larissa wrote on this guy in Now Zad? It could be very helpful. Anything you can think of would be useful. Thanks brother, Andrew.”
Larissa Mihalisko was a Marine intelligence officer who had prepared a report on Jan with information provided by Brezler and Terrell. Brezler had kept a copy along with other necessary operation reports on the personal laptop he used in the war zone, the Marines not having provided him one. …
In the next instant, he sent the report to the email address that Terrell had provided for another Marine in Afghanistan. He gave no thought to the document’s classification.
“I just reacted the same way that I would in a gunfight; the same way I would at a fire,” he said in the court papers. “I just immediately reacted.”
When he finally contacted the recipient, the Marine in Afghanistan informed him that he had just sent classified material over an unsecured communications service. Brezler did what he had been trained to do under these circumstances: he self-reported the spillage. Two weeks later, Brezler’s worst fears had come true. One of Sanwar Jan’s “chai boys” had indeed been a Taliban infiltrator in the unit at FOB Delhi in New Zad, killing three Marines in an exercise room.
Brezler got a reprimand for his security breach, but no one got disciplined for the lack of reaction to Brezler’s warning. However, when Brezler tried to tell the story to Rep. Peter King (R-NY) and the Marine Corps Times picked it up, the Marine Corps acted … to reopen the security breach case and prosecute Brezler.
Daly first began writing about Brezler in November 2013, long before anyone knew about Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server and the classified material that passed through it. Even at that time, the injustice of taking a second bite at the apple with Brezler in light of the circumstances outraged Daly:
More than a year after three Marines were shot to death on their base in an insider attack by an Afghan police chief’s “tea boy,” there is still no official explanation for why a warning that could well have prevented the tragedy seems to have gone unheeded.
There is also no explanation for why the police chief was allegedly allowed to sexually assault children with apparent impunity on an American military facility.
But authorities have taken action against one person they should be praising, the 32-year-old Marine Reserve officer who issued the warning about the police chief and his crimes.
A month later, the New York Daily News reported that members of the New York Congressional delegation demanded that the Marine Corps and/or the Navy clear Brezler’s record:
A New York City firefighter and decorated Marine reservist who broke protocol by sending classified information overseas to warn comrades of a deadly threat should be tossed from the military but given an honorable discharge, a panel decided Thursday.
The case against Maj. Jason Brezler, a Marine with the FDNY’s elite Squad 252 in Bushwick, has drawn the attention of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.) and FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano, who urged the Marines to clear his record.
“The one person who did the right thing is the person who’s being penalized,” King said.
Let’s be clear, though, that Brezler did the right thing the wrong way. It was his responsibility to know whether that document was classified before copying it to his laptop, and then before transmitting it over an unsecured channel. However, Brezler self-reported as soon as he was aware of the violation, and the intent was to protect fellow Marines. The reprimand was the appropriate disciplinary action, and it should have been left at that. Indeed, there is no indication at all that Brezler found it an unfair outcome or challenged it.
Contrast that with Hillary Clinton’s situation. She deliberately set up an unauthorized and unsecured communications channel, over which Top Secret/compartmented intelligence flowed and on which it existed for years on a personal computer. Not only did she not fulfill her responsibilities in safeguarding that data, she never reported the violations or took any steps to mitigate further spillage. When the system was discovered, there was no effort to bring in intelligence experts to determine whether any sensitive material may have been exposed. Instead, she printed out the e-mails she chose to share with the State Department and then destroy the evidence of possible wrongdoing. Hillary didn’t do that to save lives; she did it to protect her own political ambitions.
The differences between the two cases are stark and staggering. If Brezler’s the only one to pay with a career for it, the Obama administration will have done tremendous damage to the rule of law and its equal application of it. And one has to wonder why we’re not hearing this from Kirsten Gillibrand or Peter King at the moment.
Update: Darn it, I had put “court martial” in the headline when I started the post, but meant to change it to “discharge” prior to publication. The latter is accurate, as the process here is not a court martial. My apologies for the error.