Two Navy Admirals Put On Leave In Contract Investigation

The head of Naval intelligence and the director of intelligence operations have been placed on leave and their access to classified information suspended after they were swept up in the investigation of a foreign defense contractor. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman tells guest host Don Gonyea what the allegations mean.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea. Two U.S. admirals are under investigation as part of a growing bribery scandal in the Navy. Last night, the Navy announced that two Navy admirals have been placed on leave, and their access to classified information suspended after they were swept up in the investigation. NPR's Tom Bowman is with us in the studio to explain what's going on. Good morning, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Don.

GONYEA: So, we're talking about two senior officials here - the director of Navy intelligence and the Navy's top intelligence officer. Pretty amazing.

BOWMAN: It really is amazing, Don. It's important to note it has nothing to do with their current jobs in Naval intelligence at the Pentagon. It was in their earlier jobs in the Pacific, the area where the investigation began. Yeah, we have Vice Admiral Ted Branch, who's a director of Naval intelligence. He was commanding an aircraft carrier strike group in the region; and also Vice Admiral Bruce Loveless, now serving as director of intelligence operations. He was serving in that area as well. And the allegations against him we're told involve personal misconduct. We don't have a sense of exactly what that is, but the other officer is charged, so far in the case, have been charged with kickbacks and bribes. It's important to note here, the admirals have not been relieved of command or had their security clearances pulled, but, again, they no longer have access to classified information and are now on leave.

GONYEA: So, remind us how this scandal has developed.

BOWMAN: Well, it all revolves around a defense contractors based in Singapore. His name is Leonard Glen Francis. He was arrested in September. Now, he has a company that provides services to the Navy, everything from fuel and tugboats to sewage disposal. And his contracts were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, there had been suspicions going back to around 2005 that he was overbilling the U.S. government but they can never catch him. And now prosecutors say the reason is that Navy officers were tipping him off about government investigations, essentially serving as his moles and heading off any investigations. Prosecutors also say that these officials were providing what is in essence insider information about Navy ship movements, port visits, and that could give his company an edge in competing for contracts. Now, the other thing is some of that information is classified as well. In exchange for this information, these Navy officials, prosecutors say, got cash, prostitutes and things like tickets to a Lady Gaga concert, hotel rooms and so forth. And so far, two Navy commanders have been arrested along with a Navy investigative agent. A Navy captain is under investigation and has been relieved.

GONYEA: Captains, commanders, now two U.S. admirals - allegations at this level, how unusual is this?

BOWMAN: It's incredibly unusual and very rare. You know, every once in a while you'll get, you know, some sort of a sex scandal or a contracting scandal. But to have these many officers involved in something like this and, you know, they say it's widening too, is very, very unusual.

GONYEA: But, again, at this point, just allegations we're talking about.

BOWMAN: Right. Just allegations against all these folks. Some have been arrested by these admirals have not been arrested. And I'm told that being placed on leave is partly a precautionary measure because of their sensitive jobs. But, again, this investigation is widening.

GONYEA: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks for coming in.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Don.

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