Ex-AG Gonzales mishandled classified documents: US Justice Department report

[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) [official websites] released a report [PDF text] on Tuesday concluding that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [White House profile; JURIST news archive] violated DOJ regulations by storing highly classified documents in unsecure locations. Written by Inspector General Glenn A. Fine [official profile], the report noted that although Gonzales' conduct might have violated federal criminal statutes [text] as well, the DOJ's National Security Division [official website] declined to pursue the matter. The allegations, referred to the by the head of the National Security Division in August 2007, initially involved the handling of Gonzales' handwritten notes pertaining to a warrantless domestic surveillance program [JURIST news archive] run by the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website]. The OIG investigation expanded to include Office of Legal Counsel opinions regarding the surveillance program and interrogations of detainees [JURIST news archive], as well as memoranda related to both programs, and correspondence from congressional leaders. The OIG report stated:

In sum, our investigation concluded that Gonzales mishandled classified materials regarding two highly sensitive compartmented programs. We found that Gonzales took his classified handwritten notes home and stored them there for an indeterminate period of time. The notes contained operational aspects and other information about the NSA surveillance program that is classified at the TS/SCI level. By regulation, such material must be stored in a Sensitive Compartmented Storage Facility (SCIF). At the time he took these materials home, Gonzales did not have a SCIF at his house. Although Gonzales did have a safe at his residence at this time, we found that he did not use it to store the notes.

We also found that Gonzales improperly stored other highly classified documents about the two compartmented programs in a safe at the Department that was not located in a SCIF. Several employees in the OAG had access to the safe where Gonzales stored the documents even though they lacked the necessary security clearances for this information. We concluded that Gonzales’s mishandling of both the notes and the other classified documents violated Department security requirements and procedures.
The OIG found that Gonzales' handling of the documents violated an executive order [text] prescribing standards for classified national security information [CRS backgrounder, PDF], as well as DOJ regulations [text]. In response, Gonzales' attorney George Terwilliger [firm profile] released a 19-page memorandum [PDF text] denying that Gonzales had caused any unauthorized release of classified information:
We also submit that the Report demonstrates that Judge Gonzales' best recollection is that he always placed the Notes in the most secure place over which he had immediate personal control. While the Report provides a basis to conclude that information made available to Judge Gonzales would indicate that the safe was not a proper storage place for the Notes or other SCI material, we submit that a fair assessment of the facts does not support a conclusion that Judge Gonzales consciously knew that the safe was inadequate because it was not in a sensitive compartmented information facility ("SCIF") and acted in contravention to that knowledge.
Gonzales left office last year [JURIST report] amid controversy surrounding the firings of several US Attorneys and subsequent allegations that he might have perjured himself while testifying on the matter before Congress. Gonzales retained Terwilliger [JURIST report] last year to represent him during the investigation of the perjury allegations.


 

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