Questions linger about ‘top secret’ papers found in Fairborn home

Incident sheds light on possible NASIC security weaknesses

Taking 1,000 pages of classified information from an Air Force facility may be easier than it sounds.

Izaak Vincent Kemp, 33, a contractor at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, told investigators he did just that, printing 1,000 pages of classified information and taking that sensitive material — with many pages clearly marked “top secret” — to his Fairborn home, federal records show

Questions abound in the case, and for now, federal authorities are saying little. According to a narrative presented in court documents, a routine local police investigation ballooned into the federal investigation that is now ongoing.

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A May 25 Fairborn police search of Kemp’s 1231 Harmony Lane home — a search for a “marijuana growing facility” — led to Kemp’s admission, FBI Special Agent Brandt Pangburn testified last month in an application for a search warrant of Kemp’s electronic devices.

“During a voluntary interview, which took place during execution of a (Fairborn police) search warrant, Kemp admitted to printing the classified materials at work and bringing them home for storage,” Pangburn testified.

“It happens more than people think and certainly more than what anyone hopes,” said Mark Zaid, a national security attorney in Washington, D.C. who represents federal employees and contractors who work in classified arenas.

Workers in secure government facilities typically aren’t searched at the end of work days, Zaid said. No one knows what kinds of papers they bring home in brief cases or folders, he said.

“I think a lot of people might be surprised at just how easy it is to abscond with classified documents,” said Sean Bigley, a security clearance defense attorney and a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

A June 24 FBI search of Kemp’s Fairborn home yielded a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 cell phone, a Hitachi 750 -gigabyte computer hard drive and a Sony laptop computer. Those devices are being kept in FBI offices in Centerville, according to court filings.

‘At a minimum there are some flaws’

Kemp has not been charged with a crime. A look at court records shows no serious criminal charges or convictions in his past. No one responded when a reporter knocked on the door of his home last week.

“No charges have been filed yet in the Kemp case,” said Fred Alverson, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Ohio. “And in keeping with Justice Department policy, we will not be making any detailed statements regarding ongoing investigations.”

A Wright-Patterson spokesman referred questions about the case to an Air Force press office, which declined comment.

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Kemp’s Columbus attorney, Mark Wieczorek, has declined to comment or make his client available for comment.

Kemp does not have a broad social media presence. He earned a master of science degree in physics in 2009 from Wright State University, and he received a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Dayton in 2012, officials at those universities said. A photograph of an Izaak Kemp can be found on an alumni page for the Wright State “Terahertz and Ultrafast Photonics Research Group.” A caption beneath the photo indicates that he was enrolled in the UD electro-optics Ph.D. program.

Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton School of Law professor, said the overall situation points to possible security flaws at NASIC.

“I don’t know if you can get around that,” Hoffmeister said. “You would think at a minimum there are some flaws and there would need to be some oversight.”

One lingering question is what Kemp was doing with the NASIC documents. The federal search warrant authorized investigators to look for ties to “co-conspirators” and possible contacts by Kemp with foreign operatives.

The warrant authorized searches into “records and information relating to communications with other individuals associated with foreign intelligence services, their surrogates, co-conspirators, accomplices and associates.”

“Identifying and contact information of co-conspirators and other individuals engaged or otherwise involved in the unauthorized possession of classified material” was also subject to search, according to court filings.

Kemp has a “top secret” security clearance, but his home was not an authorized site for the storage of classified information, Pangburn said in his warrant application.

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“Kemp is known to work on computers as part of his duties at NASIC and reported to interviewing agents that the classified documents found at his residence were printed from U.S. Air Force computers,” Pangburn said in the affidavit.

The agent further testified that he has “probable cause” to believe that Kemp violated Title 18 of the U.S. Code, section 1924.

According to that section of the law, “Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, by virtue of his office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.”

‘It should have raised eyebrows’ 

One thousand pages of classified data is a lot, said those interviewed for this story.

“I would be very hard pressed to believe in this case, with that volume of documents, it was anything but intentional,” said Bigley, a Los Angeles attorney who represents clients with security clearances.

“It should have raised eyebrows because printing a thousand pages of classified documents is a major red flag,” said Darrell West, founding director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation. “But a lot of people print documents at work because they find it easier to read printed documents.”

NASIC is a place where employee assessments can help make the difference between war and peace, as defense analyst Loren Thompson once put it. And NASIC and Wright-Patterson are known to have strong security measures.

In November 2015, Edward Novak — who was not a Wright-Patterson employee — drove through base gate 22B in violation of a sentry’s order and made his way on foot into a restricted-access building in the Sensors Directorate.

The situation caused a major disruption, causing employees in Air Force Research Laboratory buildings 600 and 620 to evacuate for about three hours and a nearby child care center to impose a shelter-in-place order. Police blocked roads on and off the base in Area B while area law enforcement agencies, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, the base fire department and an Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team responded.

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In 2017, a federal judge sentenced Novak to two years probation.

Still, Zaid and others said that when employees leave government facilities, security can be lax, particularly when it comes to familiar employees. While visitors to government offices are often screened through metal detectors and other safeguards, few regular employees and contractors have briefcases or bags checked when leaving, he said.

“When you’re an employee or contractor, and you have a green or blue badge, that gives you open access, no one checks your bags or folders or anything when you leave the office,” Zaid said. “You can easily do it.”

The printing of classified documents, however, should be tracked.

“That’s a little more difficult, as far as what you can print out,” Zaid said. “That is all monitored and tracked.”

That’s how Reality Winner, a former National Security Administration contractor, was caught and charged. Winner, accused of leaking confidential information to the media, was sentenced last year to more than five years in prison.

“They knew she was one of six people who printed a particular classified document that then got leaked,” Zaid said.

West, of Brookings, said workers carry papers all the time and little is thought of it. Secure government IT systems are set up to monitor digital downloads, and digital defenses have been stiffened, he said.

“But they sometimes ignore old-fashioned espionage,” West added. “We need to be aware of digital theft as well as removing (physical) classified documents.”

‘A rogue actor’

Kemp was hardly alone in having a “top secret” clearance. For better or worse, top government security clearances are not rare.

As of October 2017, more than four million people were found to be eligible to hold a government security clearance, or a little over 50,000 fewer individuals than the year before, according to a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In all, about 1.3 million people held a top secret clearance in the fall of 2017, and 2.7 million more were eligible for confidential or secret access, the report shows.

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“The sheer number of people walking around with access to classified information is so large that it’s very hard to account for a rogue actor,” Bigley said. “That’s a lot of bodies to keep tabs on.”

When the federal government grants workers security clearances, that merely represents the “predictive judgment of the U.S. government” about whether an employee or prospective employee can be trusted, Zaid said. And that judgment can be faulty.

“Obviously, there are times when the government makes mistakes,” Zaid said.

Bigley believes NASIC will re-evaluate its security protocols after this “spill of classified information.”

“There’s a whole range of things that would be looked at there,” Bigley said.

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