The Pentagon inspector general’s office thought they might be dealing with a toxic work environment when they launched an investigation into the director of the Defense Digital Service last year, after 30 complaints to their tip hotline.
Investigators couldn’t substantiate any poor treatment of subordinates, according to a report released Monday, but during their inquiry, they discovered that Brett Goldstein, whose two-year term ended earlier this year, had been skirting official government communications policy.
“We concluded that Mr. Goldstein used and condoned his subordinates’ use of Signal, an unauthorized electronic messaging and voice-calling application, to discuss official DoD information,” the report states. “We found that Mr. Goldstein used Signal regularly to communicate with DDS employees and other DoD officials to discuss official DoD information.”
Goldstein, the head of an office that seeks out technology for government use, would have known that Signal, an encrypted app, is not authorized for official Defense Department business.
“We implement thoughtful technology to better government services, strengthen national defense, and care for service members and their families,” the Defense Digital Service’s website reads.
While he had discussed possibly of getting Signal approved for official use by his team, according to the report, the IG could find no evidence that process had ever been completed.
As for the complaints that kicked off the investigation, the IG looked into allegations of sexism, coercion and shouting profanities at subordinates.
After interviewing his team, the IG found a mixed bag of reviews, but nothing alarming.
“Although a few subordinates used unfavorable terms to describe Mr. Goldstein’s leadership, the majority of his subordinates described his leadership favorably,” according to the report. “Mr. Goldstein’s supervisor could consider his actions as matters of performance, but his actions did not constitute matters of misconduct. Accordingly, we did not substantiate the allegation.”
The IG recommended “appropriate action” in response to Goldstein’s violation. Through an attorney, he declined to offer a comment in the report.
On Friday, he did not immediately respond to a request for comment through DDS.
Goldstein is no longer DDS’s director, as his two-year term ended earlier this year, Pentagon spokesman Russell Goemaere told Military Times on Friday.
He was not authorized to discuss any personnel actions against Goldstein, who is still a cybersecurity consultant with DoD.
Members of Goldstein’s team told investigators that they believed Signal’s encrypted platform was more secure than using their government phones, but some thought his enthusiasm for the app wasn’t fully wholesome.
Some of them thought he was using it to discuss “classified or sensitive information,” according to the report. Others “told us that there was a perception that Signal was used to avoid complying with the Freedom of Information Act requirements and DoD’s records retention policies.”
One of the perks of encrypted apps is that once the messages are deleted, they’re gone forever. That’s strictly prohibited for official government business, however, because of laws requiring communications to be archived and available in the event of a records request.
Which is why, when organizations have approved something like Signal in the past, its use has included clear parameters.
When soldiers deployed to the Middle East early last year amid tensions with Iran, their leadership asked them to use Wickr, another encrypted messaging app, as well as Signal, to coordinate meeting times and other administrative issues ― which is more secure than classic text messaging.
Operational or other sensitive information was never shared, a spokesman for the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team told Military Times.
Officials at the time, however, did not respond to requests from Military Times to verify whether the apps had been audited by the Pentagon.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.