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Lawyer: IG made false statements about Marine who warned of insider attack

Aug. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Enduring Freedom
Maj. Jason Brezler, shown as a captain during a 2009 deployment to Afghanistan, is facing discharge from the Corps for sending classified information by email. An attorney representing Brezler said the Marine Corps inspector general wrote false statements about the Reserve officer when emailing top Corps officials. (Cpl. Albert F. Hunt/Marine Corps)
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The lawyer for an officer facing discharge for negligently conveying classified information in an email – which he admitted doing as an urgent warning of an imminent war-zone threat – alleges “false statements” and “mischaracterizations” were included in reports to top Marine brass.

The attorney, Kevin Carroll, made the claim in an Aug. 15 letter to top Navy officials in seeking a review of the case against Maj. Jason Brezler, a Marine Corps reservist.

Carroll, who represents Brezler pro bono for the firm Quinn Emanuel, asked the officials to review a series of allegedly false statements provided by acting Inspector General of the Marine Corps Carlyle Shelton to top officers, including Gen. Jim Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. Carroll contends the information kept elected officials and senior officers from taking a closer look at Brezler’s case.

A board of inquiry recommended last December that Brezler be discharged, finding he demonstrated negligence and conduct unbecoming an officer for having sent Marines in Afghanistan, via his personal Yahoo account, a classified report about Sarwar Jan, an Afghan police chief suspected of criminal behavior and Taliban ties.

During the board’s hearing, Brezler admitted sending the report in 2012 but said he did so only out of concern that Jan posed a serious threat to troops at Forward Operating Base Delhi. Just days after Brezler sent the email, three Marines were killed others wounded in an insider attack perpetrated by one of Sarwar Jan’s teenage servants.

Brezler’s fate lies now with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has yet to issue a decision on the discharge recommendation.

In his letter, Carroll wrote that Shelton made false statements on Oct. 31, 2013, in a series of email exchanges with Amos and a number of other general officers. Carroll contends the statements were in retaliation for Brezler’s having made statements about the attack to members of Congress, the Department of Justice and the Defense Department Inspector General.

News stories about allegations by a member of Congress that Brezler was being treated unfairly after attempting to warn deployed Marines of danger had caught the attention of Marine brass, and Amos had tasked Shelton in August with digging up “the ground truth” of Brezler’s situation in an Aug. 26 email exchange reviewed by Marine Corps Times.

Speaking on behalf of Shelton, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Eric Flanagan said the Marine Corps IG was aware of the letter, but had no further comment at the time.

Shelton’s emails to brass contain a number of claims disputed by Carroll:

■ That the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had found Brezler in violation of two felonies related to mishandling of classified and defense documents.

■ That Brezler had taken more than 150 classified documents back from the war zone after his deployment to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010, and that his computer had been “confiscated” by NCIS after he was found to have sent the email about Jan.

■ That NCIS recovered documents on Brezler’s computer, “despite Maj. Brezler’s efforts to delete them” and that all the documents on his computer were clearly marked with various levels of classification codes.

Carroll told Marine Corps Times he has seen no documentation that states Brezler violated classification law. An unclassified 22-page version of the NCIS report on Brezler reviewed by Marine Corps Times contained no formal findings regarding law violations.

Testimony from Brezler’s board of inquiry did show there were 107 documents in Brezler’s possession with classification markings, though Carroll says only 13 of them included classified information. Moreover, the NCIS report states that Brezler contacted NCIS special agent Pia Roth in October 2012 to inform her of the classified information in his possession, and that he turned over the computer and hard drive to her the same day. Brezler testified that he reported himself to his immediate superiors soon after he sent the document and was quickly alerted that he had sent classified information outside the proper channels.

In his letter, Carroll wrote that his most serious concern was a recent statement from the Marine Corps IG that made its way into a letter from Larry Turner, acting assistant inspector general for the Defense Department, to Brezler’s congressman, Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. That letter said information provided by Shelton’s office states that “neither Maj. Brezler’s email, nor any other available intelligence, indicated that Sarwar Jan was a force protection threat to the Marines in the Garmser district.”

Carroll said the classified document Brezler sent, titled Sarwar Jan: Abdul Rahman Jan’s top lieutenant and an enduring source of instability in Now Zad, contained descriptions of how Jan helped to facilitate Taliban attacks, and dealt in arms and drugs in regions where Marines operated.

“A serious injustice has been and is being perpetrated against Major Brezler,” Carroll wrote in his letter to Peter Oostburg Sanz, head of the Navy’s office of general counsel, and Vice Adm. James Caldwell, the Naval Inspector General.

A Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Katie Cerezo, said the Navy Department’s general counsel and IG offices had received Carroll’s letter.

“There is an ongoing inquiry,” she said.

Carroll’s letter comes as the Defense Department Inspector General begins a new whistleblower reprisal investigation into Brezler’s case. Brezler received an Aug. 19 letter informing him that the IG had launched a probe into the actions of Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, commanding general of Marine Forces Reserve, who ordered Brezler’s case to a board of inquiry.

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